Washington Post Profile on CEI Climate Work Misses Half the Story

Last week, The Washington Post published a story profiling the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the head of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment Myron Ebell, and the Cooler Heads Coalition. Cooler Heads is an ad-hoc coalition chaired by Ebell that counters unscientific claims from global warming alarmists and energy-rationing schemes that imperil America’s affordable energy sources and our economy.

The Post’s story was weeks in the making, and although it gets some things right, the story continually injects presumptions and bias, resulting in an entirely unbalanced picture.

It’s true that CEI and our allies have had tremendous success combating climate scaremongering and anti-energy policies for more than two decades. However, it is wholly inaccurate to paint CEI’s or Myron’s efforts as a “fight against climate science.” At CEI, we have a high regard for science and seek to defend liberty from the spin, hype, and speculation that activists use and peddle as “science.” We actively work to discredit those who spread junk science, weaponize data, and stoke fears to force political decisions that will take away Americans’ freedoms and undermine the U.S. Constitution.

CEI’s job is to cut through the political hyperbole and help policymakers and the public understand the risks, benefits, and tradeoffs of competing agendas. CEI will continue to strive to this end and advance empirically-driven, sound policy solutions.

Thanks to Myron and the Cooler Heads coalition, millions of people around the world continue to have access to reliable and affordable energy, a critical determinant for lifting people out of poverty and empowering stronger, healthier, and more peaceful communities.

Paris Climate Agreement

The fundamental problems with the Paris Climate Agreement are not limited to its reliance on questionable climate change projections. As a matter of law and economics, it was a bad deal for Americans, and President Trump made the right decision. 

The Paris Agreement would require U.S. leaders to continually negotiate domestic energy policy with foreign governments, it sidesteps the Constitution’s treaty requirement of Senate approval, and would drive up gasoline and electricity prices for everyone. These higher energy prices would hit our wallets and kitchen-tables hard. Increased costs would destroy jobs, prevent small business from hiring and expanding, and make domestic manufacturers less competitive in the global marketplace.

Let’s not forget the practical impact the Paris Agreement would have had on the climate: ZERO. Even according to the rosiest projections, if all nations meet their emission-reduction targets in 2030 and maintain those commitments for the next 70 years, the agreement would avert only 0.17°C of global warming by 2100. That tiny fraction means the effects on polar bear populations, weather patterns, and the coast would likely be too small to even detect. And yet, the Paris Agreement would still cost the world trillions of dollars in compliance burdens and reduced economic growth, with the bulk of the bill landing on U.S. taxpayers and consumers.

On Climate Science

CEI advocates for policies based on the abundantly documented phenomenon that affordable, plentiful, and reliable energy makes the world safer, healthier, and more livable, hence it should be accessible to all, especially the world’s poorest people.

Experts at CEI agree with the real “consensus” on climate change, although it is quite shallow: Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, fossil fuel combustion and deforestation are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, and the rise of concentrations is likely responsible for some portion of global warming since 1950. Virtually all scientists agree with that assessment. However, prediction is the hallmark of science, and climate models continue to project more warming than is observed. In Myron Ebell’s own words:

There is a huge divide in the climate debate between those who believe the climate models and those who look at the data. The models, according the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have no predictive capacity; and yet the models are relied upon to predict rapid temperature increases. For example, the data show variable and modest warming since the mid-1970s that is far below the model predictions. 

This point on prediction matters for policy analysis. If one accepts the climate models underpinning the Paris Agreement, meeting the pact’s 2°C warming target would require developing countries to make draconian cuts in their current consumption of fossil fuels. Yet, more than one billion people in those countries have no access to electricity to begin with and billions more have too little reliable energy to support development.

Clearly, policymakers and citizens should consider the risks of both climate change and the consequences of the policies proposed to solve it. Oftentimes, coercive climate policies like the Paris Agreement are either an expensive exercise in futility or a cure worse than the disease.

For example, an aggressive “Keep It in the Ground” program would make people much less safe during hurricanes. As author Matt Ridley observed about Houston’s rapid response to Hurricane Harvey:

Note that this survivability depends heavily on non-renewable energy: wind farms and solar panels are no use during hurricanes, while gas plants work fine, as do outboard motors on rescue boats.

One-Sided Narrative on Nonprofits and IRS Tax Status

Coalitions among for-profit companies and non-profit organizations are as commonplace as gambling in Las Vegas. And, this isn’t limited to any one region, industry, or political affiliation. Yet, the Post story would lead one to believe these coalitions only exist among right-of-center organizations. In reality, the climate industrial complex of alternative energy companies, environmental advocacy groups, and regulatory bureaucrats is a much bigger, better-funded effort. After all, unlike CEI’s refusal to accept government funding, the climate industrial complex is massively funded by the U.S. government (taxpayer dollars) and foreign governments.

The omission of any mention of the political and financial interests of billionaire environmental donors, lobbyists, advocacy groups, the United Nations, and 190-plus other governments that labored in favor of the Paris Climate treaty shows the Post is missing at least half of the story.

Anyone with an Internet connection can find ample evidence that the green movement’s funding sources dwarf those of free-market organizations. Groups like Sierra Club and Greenpeace boast annual budgets that surpass CEI’s by a factor of ten. And over the past decade, environmental activists and pressure groups spent millions of dollars and built cozy relationships with government officials to promote President Obama’s climate agenda and help draft the EPA’s unlawful Clean Power Plan.

The Post strategically describes Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) as “nonprofits” but CEI and other free-market groups as “charities.” The Post uses this distinction to imply that free-market groups are attempting to flout the law by pretending to be “charities.” It’s an odd and meaningless distinction since all of these organizations are governed by the same definitions and rules. There are indeed strict IRS guidelines for “lobbying” that restrain this activity to 10 percent of our group’s resources.

Many groups on both sides of the global warming debate engage in advocacy and lobbying efforts. For example, Greenpeace flashed messages on the Vatican to influence President Trump’s decision on Paris and scaled a 270-foot construction crane in Washington, D.C., to protest the Inauguration, creating a public safety hazard. And yet, the Post fails to discuss the tax status, activities, or government funding of any pro-regulatory, anti-energy, or left-leaning organizations. Either the Post does not understand the tax code or it’s hoping this story will illicit outrage from liberals and mislead the public.

Role of Think Tanks in Public Policy Education

Free-market think tanks provide valuable research and analysis to help people better understand the consequences of policy proposals on consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy. For more than 30 years, CEI has fought against economically devastating regulatory policies that rig markets, suppress enterprise, and reduce living standards. At CEI, our work strengthens the rule of law, promotes the separation of powers, and supports checks and balances—the indispensable framework for enabling citizens to hold their government accountable. We also seek to cut red tape, protect property rights, and in general get government out of the way so people can pursue their dreams more freely—building, creating, and innovating.

CEI is not a partisan organization and we have a strict independence of research policy. We cheerfully seek to advance common objectives with those who disagree with us on policy issues, regardless of political ideology or party. In the past, we have worked with groups like the ACLU, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Friends of the Earth, and the National Center for Transgender Equality. After spending weeks working on this story, we would have thought the Post might have gotten a glimmer of what CEI is about, especially since we provided ample evidence of these points. Maybe next time.