20-Year Study Finds That Corporate Funding Has Affected The Public's Perception Of Climate Change

There is often a stark divide when it comes to climate change. a katz/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 24 Nov 2015, 23:31

Climate change has long been a polarizing subject, with a gulf between those who “believe” in it and those who are “deniers” widening and becoming more intense in recent years. Some argue that this is because the science isn’t proven, or that there are doubts in the data, but a new study claims to have found the real reason that this rift exists: corporate funding.

After analyzing 20 years’ worth of data, Yale University’s Dr. Justin Farrell has found that there is a connection between corporate funding and messages that are likely to polarize and cast doubt on the issue of climate change. Not only that, but those organizations that got their money from the corporate sector were also more likely to be influenced on what they actually write. In other words, funders were swaying the actual content of the climate countermovement.

While this is unsurprising news to many, the study has been able to highlight in stark terms how corporate powers have been making it look as if there is more of a debate around climate change than actually exists, muddying the waters and leading to public uncertainty and policy stalemate. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust,” Dr. Farrell, whose research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, told The Washington Post.

His work looked at two separate data sets. The first was a network of over 4,500 people who had links to 164 organizations that have been skeptical of climate change. The second was a collection of every single text that these same organizations have produced about climate change from 1993 to 2013, and included almost 50,000 policy statements, press releases, articles, and published papers. Dr. Farrell’s overall conclusion was that corporate funding has been influencing the actual language and thematic content of polarizing messages.

He managed to identify several “themes” among the organizations denying human-driven climate change that were receiving this corporate money, such as that climate change is cyclical in nature and that there were positive benefits to carbon dioxide. Over time, all these separate groups giving the same message had the effect of providing an increasing sense of cohesion.

We already know that certain companies – such as ExxonMobil – knew about climate change and the harmful impact that greenhouse gas emissions were having on the environment as far back as the late 1970s, and then proceeded to mislead the public and investors. But another way for such corporate companies to prompt inaction over climate change is to polarize the debate, making it seem like there is more evidence against climate change, or less evidence for it. This has the effect of creating a stalemate, blocking the introduction of any policy that might limit fossil fuel extraction or carbon emissions that could ultimately lead to the corporations losing money. 

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