The annual gathering of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in San Diego, California this week has ignited fresh debate over the powerful disinformation campaign in the U.S. that purports the notion that the role of human activity in causing climate change is uncertain.
ALEC is a non-profit with a broad agenda that is both political and economic in its promotion of limited government; the group largely consists of conservative politicians and private sector individuals. Its mission — according to its website — states: “The American Legislative Exchange Council works to advance limited government, free markets, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.”
The group has come under fire for its lobbying against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (E.P.A.) regulations put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In April, ALEC threatened legal action against other organizations accusing it of denying climate change, saying that it has more recently been open to talk of the climate change “debate”. But its history of policy creation points to an active agenda that aims to stymie the work of the E.P.A. and the development of clean tech like renewable energy sources. The group creates model legislation to be distributed among state governments, and — among many other verticals of political action — has supported state withdrawal from regional climate change compacts, has pushed for deregulation of the electrical industry, has pushed for legislation that would penalize homeowners who install solar panels, and has warned that measures regulating the emission of greenhouse gasses will damage the economy.
Last November, Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication at Yale University, told the audience at the Crowds and Climate 2014 conference that — out of the dwindling number of Americans who believe global warming is happening — only half of them believe it is human-caused, despite the fact that nearly all climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and is human-caused. Leiserowitz described how a drop has occurred since 2007 in the number of Americans aware of and concerned about global warming — a statistic for which disinformation groups and political action committees devoted to countering climate change policy are partially responsible.
That detail — the use of the word “nearly” and the one that says that if 100% of scientists do not agree then there is still room for doubt — is what groups like ALEC bank on. If ALEC can make it appear as though the jury is still out on whether or not climate change is human-caused, then it is easier to disseminate the notion that we do not have a political or economic obligation to try to stem global warming. That line of thinking fits perfectly with the agenda of ALEC’s funders, namely fossil fuel companies. BP announced earlier this year that it was pulling its funding of ALEC, but companies like Shell and Chevron remain bankrollers.
And ALEC’s presence in San Diego this week — the irony of which is not lost on the Southern California city struggling with its epic, historic drought — has not slipped under the general public’s radar. Protests against ALEC’s work and its funding from fossil fuel companies are occurring at the time of this writing, although they will likely go unnoticed from the Manchester Grand Hyatt.