By Graham Readfearn. This article was first published on Desmoblog.
When it comes to climate science denial, some names come easily and deservingly to mind.
There’s oil giant ExxonMobil — a company that contributed millions of dollars to organizations that told the public there was no risk from burning fossil fuels.
There are the oil billionaire Koch brothers — Charles and David — and their ideological zeal against government regulations that drove them to pour vast amounts into groups spreading doubt on the realities of human-caused global warming.
But a name that has not yet reached those heights of climate science denial infamy — but likely should — is the Mercer family.
Who Are the Mercers?
A DeSmog analysis of Federal Electoral Commission returns shows Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund manager, has donated $30.1 million to politics since January 2015 (a further $2.3 million has come from daughter Rebekah and wife Diana).
Some $15 million of Robert Mercer’s money went into the Make America Number 1 super-PAC that was headed by Rebekah Mercer and that bankrolled the final months of Donald Trump’s campaign. One source told The Hill: “The Mercers basically own this campaign.”
But DeSmog has found the Mercers have also pumped at least $22 million into organizations that push climate science denial while blocking moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump too refuses to accept the evidence that climate change is caused by humans and has consistently called the issue a hoax.
Before diverting to Trump, the Mercers’ cash was backing Senator Ted Cruz, who made climate science denial a main feature of his speeches.
Those positions on climate change, challenged by every major scientific institution in the world, are identical to those of the groups and individuals the Mercers have been handsomely funding through their own family foundation.
Climate science denial also fits well with Robert Mercer’s reported investment in Breitbart — the hyper partisan media outfit that calls climate change a hoax. Many see Breitbart as Trump’s very own propaganda vehicle — the Trump Pravda.
Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former chief, was picked by Trump (or, more likely, by the Mercers) to lead his campaign. The controversial figure will be Trump’s chief strategist.
Climate Denial Funded
Very little is known about what the Mercers think about climate change or, for that matter, anything else. Both father and daughter avoid media interviews.
But Rebekah has been described as the most powerful woman in GOP politics and is a pivotal member of the Trump team. Rebekah also runs her father’s charitable foundation.
So, the best way to get a handle on what the Mercers think, is to see where they spend their millions.
DeSmog has analyzed the Mercer Family Foundation’s tax returns since 2005 and finds some $22 million has gone to groups pushing climate science denial.
Across the board, the groups funded by the Mercers have misrepresented climate science, promoted fossil fuels, denigrated renewable energy, and pushed to strip powers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Chicago-based Heartland Institute has received $4,988,000 from the Mercers, cashing its first $1 million check in 2008.
The Heartland Institute holds regular “international climate change conferences” where denialists, fossil fuel-funded scientists, and politicians come together to talk tactics.
In 2012, the institute famously started a billboard campaign that used a picture of terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski next to the phrase: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”
Despite the generosity of the Mercers, the Heartland Institute does not publicly acknowledge the funding, perhaps indicative of the Mercers’ desire to stay below the radar.
The Mercer name was even left out of internal Heartland budget documents leaked in 2012. If the Mercers had asked for anonymity, then Heartland’s coyness is not unusual.
Another organization shy about getting cash from the Mercer Family Foundation is the George W. Bush Foundation, the organization set up in 2006 to look after the official archive of the George W. Bush presidency.
The George W. Bush Foundation publishes a lengthy list of its financial supporters and the Mercers are not on it. But tax records show the Mercers have given the Bush Foundation $4.1 million since 2010.
Alongside funding for Breitbart and the Heartland Institute, Robert Mercer has also spent $1.25 million supporting an obscure group known as the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, led by Art Robinson.
Robinson was behind a long-debunked “survey” of university graduates, known as the Oregon petition. First published in 1998, the petition claimed that 30,000 “scientists” had declared humans were not to blame for global warming.
Robinson also thinks climate change is a hoax. His institute sells nuclear survival manuals, is currently stockpiling human urine for testing, and sells home schooling kits for parents worried about their children being exposed to socialism.
Robert Mercer also supported Art Robinson’s failed 2010 Republican run for Congress.
As well as Robert and his family donating to Robinson’s campaign committee, Robert Mercer personally gave $643,750 to a super-PAC that ran attack ads against Robinson’s Democratic opponent (that opponent, Peter DeFazio, has noted that he had co-sponsored legislation to tax hedge fund transactions).
The MRC’s outlets regularly give favorable coverage to climate science denialism, while ridiculing credentialed climate scientists and others who place a priority on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
MRC alumnus Marc Morano, communications manager at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, recruited his former employer to help him produce the climate science denial documentary Climate Hustle. Rebekah Mercer is an MRC director.
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is another group on the receiving end of the Mercers’ generosity, to the tune of more than $1 million since 2011.
The institute’s researchers tend to argue against renewable energy while promoting fossil fuels and underplaying or ignoring the impacts of climate change.
Rebekah Mercer recently joined the institute’s board of trustees.
The Heritage Foundation is a relative newcomer to the Mercer family’s giving, but the think tank’s positions on energy, political ideology, and climate science fit the pattern perfectly — underplay and misrepresent the science, promote fossil fuels, and push for low government regulations.
Predictably, Rebekah Mercer is a trustee at Heritage, a think tank seen as influential in the Trump camp. The Trump team is drawing heavily from Heritage Foundation staff for its transition teams.
On the EPA “landing team” is Heritage’s David Kreutzer, who claims the recent run of record-breaking hot years globally is nothing unusual.
Rebekah Mercer is also on the board of the Moving Picture Institute (MPI), a group that helps finance and distribute movies which, according to its website, “make an impact on people’s understanding of individual rights, limited government, and free markets.”
MPI even has a program to support stand-up comedians who promote this “freedom” ideology in their stand-up routines.
Climate Denial’s Most Powerful Ally?
Until now, the Mercer family’s funding of climate science denial groups has gone relatively unnoticed.
Most of the attention of investigative journalists had fallen on three overlapping groups that have either influenced or funded the climate science denial movement across the United States.
The first was the network of groups funded and orchestrated by the Koch brothers, who have invested millions into creating and sustaining conservative “think tanks” that take positions protecting the Koch brothers’ fossil fuel interests.
Groups like the Cato Institute (which cashed a $300,000 Mercer check last year) and Americans for Prosperity have attacked the science of human-caused climate change while challenging the legitimacy of solutions, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles.
Both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund are “donor-advised funds” and are used by rich conservatives to funnel money to “libertarian” causes while hiding the identity of the donors.
A third major supporter of the climate science denial industry are those who stand to lose most from the public fully understanding the implications of climate change — the fossil fuel industry itself.
Companies including ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, alongside trade groups representing the fossil fuel industry, have helped fund the machinery of doubt for decades.
Now, Robert Mercer’s fortune and the political prowess of daughter Rebekah have created another wealthy and powerful ally for the climate science denial industry.
President-elect Donald Trump is the most powerful vehicle yet for those billionaires willing to spend big to misrepresent climate science and gamble on society’s future.