Climatic Heresy: 3

Red Hot Lies book cover

(Charles Platt is a guest blogger)

In the 1990s an attorney named Christopher Horner was appropriately disconcerted when Enron, his employer at the time, told him to lobby in favor of restrictions on carbon emissions during negotiations relating to the Kyoto treaty. Enron liked the idea of regulations that would raise the operating costs of coal-fired power stations, because it wanted to make more money from its pipelines supplying gas. (Natural gas creates about half as much CO2 as coal per unit of energy released, according to DoE figures.)

Thus one of the most despised corporations in history shared the interests of environmental activists. In fact, according to Horner, Enron donated almost a million dollars to the Nature Conservancy. Meanwhile some provisions of the Kyoto treaty were endorsed by BP (which owns companies that manufacture solar power systems) and General Electric (which has a substantial interest in wind power).

Massive government programs always create a feeding frenzy among large corporations. If we fight a war against climate change, how many new Halliburtons will profit from it? How many are exaggerating the consequences of warming right now, simply to further their own interests?

Christopher Horner’s recent book, Red Hot Lies, is an angry denunciation of “green” lobbyists who have a vested interest in subsidies for alternative energy. High on his list is Al Gore. He wants to know how Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection came up with $300 million for a public education campaign, and what the donors of this huge sum may be hoping to gain in return. During a 60 Minutes episode, Gore refused to reveal their names.

According to an estimate by Bloomberg News, Gore was worth about $2 million when he left office; but Fast Company reported that after pursuing his new career as an environmental activist for a few years, his net worth had grown to more than $100 million. He is a partner in Kleiner Perkins, which is putting $1.2 billion into “green” technologies that are unlikely to be profitable unless they receive government subsidies. He has put $35 million of his own money into Capricorn Investment Group LLC, a hedge fund that invests in eco-friendly products. During a speech at a TED conference, Gore stated that he also owns stock in numerous startups developing solar power, geothermal power, and fuel cells. (My source for these statements is here). Therefore, apparently he will be enriched by legislation favoring alternate energy. While we may respect his sincere belief in anthropogenic global warming, we may also note that he has a huge conflict of interest.

The more I thought about this, the more it bothered me—causing me to draw a chart suggesting some of the financial relationships that may exist (see below).

Christopher Horner’s book uses an in-your-face style that I find abrasive, and his uncompromising attitude has caused Greenpeace to label him a “Climate Criminal.” Still, the questions he raises are significant.

Al Gore conflict of interest chart