So the Trump Administration withdrew from the Paris climate accords back in June. As everyone knows, this ensures that the earth is doomed and we need to head for the hills and prepare for the inevitable environmental apocalypse.

But before civilization ends and we all get to live in an endless Mad Max movie, some people have suggested that it might be a good idea to look at why the Administration made its decision.

Robert O’Harrow does this in this Washington Post article, which is mostly about the nonprofit Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).[1]

I am not one to reflexively claim “liberal media bias” on stories I don’t like. I believe that while most reporters are liberals they’re also professionals trying to do their jobs. However, O’Harrow’s article is biased, and O’Harrow deserves to be rebuked.

The bias begins with the headline, on the lower corner of the front page.


Ummm, OK, the headline writer says “charities” when he means “nonprofits.” What does the headline on page A10 say?


Are you shocked yet? Why, here are these groups who are fighting science. They must be bad. Who could possibly be opposed to science?

O’Harrow focuses on Myron Ebell, a long-time CEI fellow who served as head of the Trump transition team on environmental issues. “Long dismissed as cranks by mainstream scientists and politicians in both parties, Ebell and his colleagues were embraced last year by the Trump campaign,” O’Harrow writes.

O’Harrow offers no evidence that any politician or “mainstream scientist” ever called the Competitive Enterprise Institute or its allies “cranks.” It’s just bias on his part.

What’s his evidence that CEI and its allies are up to no good? He offers some ripe old chestnuts, many from the last century.

For example, before Ebell joined CEI in 1997 he worked for the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a now-defunct nonprofit founded by Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R—Wyoming). As part of the massive tobacco settlement of 1998, a huge tranche of internal memos from the big tobacco companies was made public in an easily searchable database. It turns out that Frontiers of Freedom tried—and apparently failed—to get tobacco money when Ebell worked there. Ebell responded, when presented with this fact from the 20th century, that he’s never taken any public position on tobacco issues.

I’ve written about much of O’Harrow’s evidence in earlier posts. Remember the 1998 memo (unearthed by the Pew Charitable Trusts) where the petroleum paymasters tried to set up an “action plan” for “Global Climate Science Communications” that never materialized? I discussed this memo when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse used it as evidence in 2015. Well, O’Harrow digs this memo up. He also discusses ExxonMobil’s past funding of CEI without disclosing that the company cut off all grants to free-market groups in 2006, when Rex Tillerson became CEO.

O’Harrow also interviewed Robert Brulle, the Drexel University sociologist whose flawed study of think tanks I discussed here. Brulle said that “public charities serve as so-called independent think tanks, providing analysis to create the appearance they are independent, third-party voices.” He didn’t give any evidence that CEI’s donors gave marching orders, probably because he doesn’t have any evidence.

Finally, O’Harrow interviewed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate scientist Benjamin Santer, a MacArthur Fellow. Santer said that Ebell “is not a climate scientist. He will never be a climate scientist. Mr. Ebell seems to believe that it’s possible to magically assimilate scientific understanding from thin air.”

Gee, I wish someone would ask Santer what he thought of John D. MacArthur’s famous statement that environmentalists were “little old ladies and bearded jerks” who “are obstructionists who just throw rocks in your path.”

Notice who is not mentioned in O’Harrow’s piece.

He writes as if the large environmental organizations and their funders do not exist, even though they are ten times as large and spend ten times as much as free-market groups do. The message O’Harrow is sending the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the MacArthur Foundation is: Nothing you say makes news anymore. Your promotional budgets are completely wasted. You’re the establishment and you’re boring.

For it’s clear that the environmental groups made a major mistake when they doubled down in support for Democrats and the left. Events such as the March for Science made its participants feel good, but did nothing to change anyone’s minds on any issue.

Instead of indulging in virtue signaling and the daily competition on who screams most loudly, environmentalists might begin to realize that there are two sides to issues such as climate change and they might actually try to persuade people who disagree with them.

They might study the work of ClearPath’s Jay Faison, which I wrote about here, for example, and wonder why Faison’s voice is such a lonely one.

Free-market environmental groups scored a major victory when the U.S. withdrew from the Paris climate accords. But the more interesting story, that has yet to be written, is not why these free-market groups won, but why environmental groups, lavishly funded and with many allies in the press, decisively lost this battle.

[1] I have written one paper for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.