The rich guys fighting clean energy spend a staggering amount of cash making the world a dirtier place.
Like many other big oil companies, ExxonMobil loves to boast about how much money it spends on renewable energy research, but what they don’t tell you is that they’re spending millions fighting clean energy legislation at the same time. A nearly untraceable amount of cash goes into lobbying against renewable energy each year, and fossil fuel giants are hardly alone in doling it out. The list of deep-pocketed companies and organizations actively smearing clean energy is disturbingly long. But what if we could take those millions and put them toward good causes instead?
The organizations that send lobbyists to Washington to campaign for fossil fuels and against clean energy projects are so tangled, it’s hard to figure out who’s who. Many of them are backed by the same powerful businessmen, like the Koch brothers, and many are fronts for the dirty energy industry. A project called Fight Clean Energy Smears, which is run by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), gathers them up and gives us a broad look at who they are and what they’re doing.
Here are just a handful of examples:
- ExxonMobil recently put $600 million aside for algae biofuel research, but the company’s total expenditures on clean energy are less than 1% of its total earnings, and it also spends millions on lobbying for fossil fuels. Exxon is also among the financial supporters of the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), an organization that produces inaccurate analyses of climate change legislation that have affected US Chamber of Commerce ‘forums’ on climate. This allows Exxon and other companies to engage in dirty tactics to protect their billions in government subsidies without stamping their name right on them.
- The Chamber of Commerce has also joined conservative, climate-change-denying groups like American Crossroads in spending $70 million on anti-clean energy ads. These groups also spent a collective $242 million on lobbying on behalf of polluters.
- The organizations behind the Clean Coal marketing campaign have spent at least $35 million on ‘educational’ and lobbying efforts trying to convince the government and the public that coal power can be an environmentally friendly enterprise.
- Peabody Energy Company, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, spent $14.2 million in direct federal lobbying in 2008 and 2009, and Arch Coal, America’s second-largest coal company, spent $3 million.
- The organizations funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, who also fund the bulk of many Republican political campaigns, outspends ExxonMobil on clean energy disinformation. Greenpeace has learned that Koch Industries has spent $48.5 million since 1997 on climate change denial and anti-clean energy efforts.
What a mess, right? From this, we can assume that these companies and organizations have spent at least $412 million on anti-clean energy efforts in the last few years, and that’s undoubtedly an incredibly low estimate, even assuming that some of these figures may overlap a bit. The real number likely reaches into the billions.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the hugely important humanitarian and environmental issues that could be tackled with that amount of money:
- Clean water for over 4.12 million people in developing countries like Kenya and India. According to The Water Project, a single well serving 3,000 people costs about $30,000.
- Switch 27,466 U.S. households from grid power to solar power. The average cost for a single household to set up a solar energy system, after government tax breaks, is $15,000.
- Plant 8.24 million trees. Oxfam America Unwrapped will plant a forest of 1,000 trees for $500.
- Stock cereal banks in 1.648 million villages. $250 will fill a storehouse with corn, millet and other grains to feed the hungry and ensure food stocks in case of emergency.
- Plant 10.3 million fields of organic cotton. It costs just $40 to start a single field. Switching from conventional to organic cotton farming could eliminate a large quantity of toxic pesticides like cyanide from the environment.
- Start 824 mobile health clinics and fund each of them for an entire year. Mobile health clinics can respond to disasters like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and serve thousands of migrant farm workers and their families in the United States.
- Feed 22.89 million African AIDS orphans lunch each day for one year, which costs just $18 each.
- Build 686,666 houses in Haiti, where living conditions that were already poor before the 2010 earthquake have deteriorated rapidly. With four people per house, this amount of new construction could shelter nearly a third of the nation’s population.
Of course, none of this is to say that these companies and organizations can – or should – spend that money on these particular things. But it does provoke thought on how money is thrown around by the few who hold the most of it – and why.