Acton Institute Hosting a Lecture that will likely Minimize the Reality of Human Caused Global Warming

On Thursday, the Acton Institute–a local rightwing think-tank–is hosting an event titled “What Should Christians think about Global Warming.” Those who attend the talk will likely hear some version of the Acton Institutes’s routine claims that “we don’t know” if global warming is being caused by humans and that as such we should not take any steps to stop it.

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On Thursday, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty a local “think-tank” that blends Christianity and free-market economic principles, is hosting an event titled “What Should Christians think about Global Warming” here in Grand Rapids. The event is a lecture by Jay W. Richards, an Acton fellow, who will–according to the event description–explore “the biblical foundations for our stewardship over the environment and its importance in Global Warming” and “discuss mainstream views on Global Warming.”

This is interesting given that the Acton Institute does not generally promote a mainstream view of global warming. Its website regularly publishes commentary and blog entries that question whether global warming is either happening or is caused by humans. While its founder Robert Sirico recently said in an interview that global warming is happening, he said the question is whether humans are causing warming. This really is not much of a question as there is widespread scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. It is also worth noting that the Acton Institute is one of several rightwing think-tanks that have received money from Exxon-Mobil. The Acton Institute has also brought the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Fred Smith–one of the most well-known organizations attempting to deny and downplay the existence of global warmingto Grand Rapids. The Acton Institute is also involved in efforts to minimize concern in the religious community about global warming.

The Acton Institute’s Thursday event–“What Should Christians think about Global Warming”–features a lecture by “Director of Acton Media and Research Fellow” Jay W. Richards. Richards’ writings on global warming and creationism appear widely on the Internet, and he writes for a blog called “Planet Gore” that discusses global warming for the National Review. With regard to global warming, Richards says that there are four key questions that need to be addressed:

“(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference and, if so, would their cost exceed their benefit?”

In an article titled “Evangelicals and Global Warming: Enough Serious Thinking?,” Richards says that the Earth is “probably” warming and that “we’re probably in the middle of a slight warming trend.” While his qualifying use of “probably” is objectionable, at least he admits the Earth is warming–that’s better some “skeptics.” With regard to CO2 activity, he says, “we don’t know” if CO2 is causing warming because “natural feedbacks” such as plant growth may be lessening the impact of CO2. As noted previously, it is widely accepted that CO2 is causing global warming. Assuming that the global warming is happening and that it is caused by CO2–which Richards does not admit–he says that global warming could still be “a net gain” for humanity. Finally, he says that it is “not obvious” that changes in CO2 emissions would make a difference. Again, there is widespread support for such efforts among scientists doing research on global warming. It is also worth noting that Richards does not cite any specific evidence for his claims. Overall, he chastises religious leaders who accept a consensus on global warming that is “more manufactured than real.”

In an article that appears on the Acton Institute’s website titled “Carbon Dioxide’s Day in Court” Jay Richards argues that CO2 should not be consider a pollutant under the Clean Air Act because it is a essential molecule for life:

“First, CO-2 is a naturally occurring gas that supports life on this planet. We emit CO-2 every time we exhale, after all. Making a case against CO-2 without making a case against nature is like making an omelet without breaking the proverbial egg. It is impossible. Second, while our current sources of energy also emit CO-2, the scientific evidence that such CO-2 causes catastrophic global warming, and that this global warming is a threat to the earth, is tenuous at best.”

Of course, nobody is arguing about whether or not CO2 is essential for life. The question is about what is the proper amount of it. The EPA–not exactly the most radical source around–states quite clearly:

“Scientists know with virtual certainty that:

* Human activities are changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.

* The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.

* An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7*F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).

* The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.

* Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.”

Richards’ writings–often addressed at Christian evangelicals who have responded to global warming by calling for Christians to take action on the issue–fit into a larger attack by the Acton Institute on the religious left. In a recent interview, Robert Sirico said that the religious left is a danger to individual liberty because it focuses on “state solutions” to issues such as poverty. Similarly, he accused it of elevating concern over the environment beyond stewardship to “extremes” in which people worship the creation rather than the creator. The Acton Institute has generally criticized the left for promoting regulation and has instead argued for an unregulated free-market economic system. It is likely that Richards’ lecture on Thursday will advocate more of the same–no regulation of the pollution that is causing global warming and no efforts to stop it.

Grand Rapids Press Reprints Far-Right Acton Institute Letter

The Grand Rapids Press ran an excerpt of a letter that Acton Institute founder Rev. Robert Sirico wrote recently in honor of the now deceased William F. Buckley Jr. The letter recounts a meeting that Sirico had with the Conservative pundit in Cuba in some 20 years ago. One comment that was instructive from that letter was:

“Bill Buckley was as generous as he was intelligent and as humorous as he was cultured. I suppose that one of the secrets I learned from Bill Buckley in building a movement for human freedom was to be encouraging of other efforts pulling in the same general direction.”

Unfortunately, there is no reference to what kind of “movement for human freedom” that Sirico claimed that Buckley was helping to build. However, we do know what kind of “freedom” Sirico–who is the head the local rightwing “think-tank”–promotes. The Institute supports a so-called “Free Market” system and believes that such an economic system is consistent with the basic principles of Christianity. In practice, this has meant that the Acton Institute supported the Clinton Administration’s “welfare reform” the mid-1990s. Similarly, the Institute has take positions that coincide with the interests of corporations, such downplaying human causes for global warming and government action on the issue. This position has brought them funding from Exxon-Mobil. Additionally, the Acton Institute has received funding and support from the DeVos, Van Andel, and Prince families, who are well-known advocates for the free-market in West Michigan and beneficiaries of that system.

In the letter, it is interesting that Sirico cites his visit with Buckley in Cuba, since he has been an outspoken critic of the Cuban government under Fidel Castro. Sirico continues to share his thoughts on Cuba despite having no real credentials to do so. On February 19, Sirico was invited to speak on FOX News about the US embargo on Cuba and what the US should do now that Fidel Castro has stepped down. His comments on trade with Cuba are standard responses from corporate world about the need to open the Cuban market and that this will lead to more freedom for Cuba’s people. Sirico makes these claims without providing any evidence to support his position.

Grand Rapids Think-Tank Receives Additional $50,000 from Exxon-Mobil

exxon is funding lies graphic

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty has received another $50,000 from Exxon-Mobil according to a review of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documents conducted by Greenpeace. The $50,000 contribution from the Exxon Foundation brings the Acton Institute’s total received from Exxon-Mobil to $215,000 since 1998.

Exxon-Mobil has come under intense criticism in recent years for funding research that promotes confusion over global warming. It has spent more than $28 million since 1998 funding organizations who question the science behind global warming or who directly attack environmentalists. While receiving less money and attention than some of the larger organizations funded by Exxon, the Acton Institute advances views and policies friendly to Exxon. This year, the Acton Institute brought global warming skeptic Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to Grand Rapids and also began running a regular blog feature dedicated to challenging the idea that there is scientific consensus on global warming. These recent activities fit within a history of advocating industry-friendly “free-market” policies and attacking environmental regulations.

Local Think-Tank Wins Award for “Free Market Solutions to Poverty”

The Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids-based think-tank advocating a union of religion and free-market ideology, recently won an award for its work on “free market solutions to poverty” from another free market think-tank, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

The Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a think-tank that promotes the union of religion and free-market economic ideology, recently announced that it won an award for its use of the “power of the popular media to challenge common beliefs about how to alleviate poverty.” The award–honoring the Acton Institute’s so-called “Free Market Solutions to Poverty”–praised the Acton Institute’s “Connecting Good Intentions to Sound Economics Advertising Campaign” which used documentaries, short films, public service announcements, print ads, and other media to promote the idea that “good intentions alone will not help the world’s poor.”

The advertising campaign highlights the Acton Institute’s core belief that markets, not government assistance, promote liberty and social justice. The advertisements, complete with the tagline “Don’t Just Care. Think.,” were produced as a response to the “One Campaign” that Acton claims is an advocate of “a large government role in solving extreme poverty and AIDS (source).” The Acton Institute asserts that the solution to these problems should be addressed by individuals and not the government. Acton argues that individuals have the responsibility to address these problems, particularly those in the local area because governments are too distant and removed. It claims that many anti-poverty campaigns harm the poor, including programs aimed at debt forgiveness. To this end, Acton absolves governments of responsibility and ignores the systemic nature of issues such as poverty and hunger, instead advocating the idea that markets and individual concern will address social problems. Included in Acton’s efforts is the idea that charities–not governments–are better equipped to deal with social problems, with Acton recommending charities with whom concerned individuals can get involved. This is consistent with the laissez-faire approach advocated by the Acton Institute, which has included opposition to raises in the minimum wage, support for global warming deniers, and other efforts advocating free market solutions.

The award was given to the Acton Institute by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, another rightwing think-tank designed to promote “free market” ideas by providing support to free-market think-tanks. This work has included distributing more than $20 million in grants to think-tanks around the world since its founding in 1981. Part of this work has been Atlas’ annual Templeton Freedom Awards, which give monetary awards to think-tanks promoting free market ideas. Aside from the Acton Institute, the only United States-based recipient of a Templeton Freedom Award this year was the Property and Environment Research Center, which promotes the idea that the free market protect the environment better than governments.

Like the Acton Institute, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s “free market” advocacy work has garnered corporate supporters, with Atlas receiving $680,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998, as well as receiving $475,000 in 1995 from Phillip Morris. The Acton Institute itself has received $160,000 from ExxonMobil. The Acton Institute and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation share board members, with Atlas staffer Dr. Alejandro A. Chafuen sitting on the Acton Institute’s Board of Directors and staffer Dr. Leonard P. Liggio sitting on Acton’s Board of Advisors. The Acton Institute previously won awards from the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 2005 and 2004 for their “Toward a Free and Virtuous Society” conferences and their “extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market.”

Acton Speaker: Corporations should not do anything other than Generate Wealth

Fred L. Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who was brought to town by the rightwing Acton Institute, spoke Thursday against the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility, arguing that the only responsibility and role corporations have is to generate wealth for their shareholders.

On Thursday, Fred L. Smith, founder and director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, spoke in Grand Rapids at a talk hosted by the Acton Institute. The Acton Institute, which essentially exists to provide a religious justification for capitalism, brought Smith to Grand Rapids to talk about the “Irresponsibility of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Smith, who has a history of making statements dismissing the concept of global warming, opened his talk saying that earlier in the day he was joking with some of the people at the talk “about global warming” but that “sometimes it is hard to joke about these issues,” as their seriousness takes care of themselves, citing the recent cancellation of a hearing in Congress on global warming because of ice storms.

Smith’s Competitive Enterprise Institute, who like the Acton Institute has received money from Exxon-Mobil to question the idea of global warming, touched on the topic several times during his speech. Early on, Smith talked about how he recently spoke in Congress with a group of CEOs called the “Climate Action Partnership” who are working with the government to “create a carbon cartel to restrict the rights of all citizens in the United States to use energy.” He went back to this theme of regulating carbon emissions as a means of infringing on individual rights later in his talk, explaining that Enron was a primary backer of policies that would manage global warming because they stood to make considerable profit when energy became “rationed.” Smith claimed that Enron was aware that when every American had to have a “credit card” rationing energy when they filled up their gas tank, visited grandma, or decided that they would turn their lights on at night, they (Enron) would make money as the “managers of a carbon constrained future.” With this analysis, Smith stated that Enron supported Kyoto, a policy that would raise gas prices significantly higher than the $3 per gallon that had people “up in arms” in the United States. Smith also said that 13% of Americans have never heard of global warming despite what he called the “daily discussions of death, doom, and destruction.” This, according to Smith, shows that most Americans have more important things to do then “worry about the end of the world.” None of his statements on global warming were substantiated.

While Smith’s comments discrediting the idea of global warming are interesting and relevant in light of the support that his organization has received from Exxon-Mobil, the core of his talk was a defense of capitalism and an opposition to the idea that corporations have a responsibility to do anything other than generate wealth for their shareholders. Smith said that modern corporations, who have been responsible for creating the wealth that has funded several centuries of economic growth, are being pressured by the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement to address issues such as the environment or human rights that are unrelated to a corporation’s purpose. Smith argued that Corporate Social Responsibility is a misguided response to “a real threat to business in the world today” from special interest groups. The CSR response has failed to consider whether they can even meet the demands of the “so-called stakeholder groups” that pressure corporations and whether they should. Smith cited an unnamed acquaintance who once said that “a stakeholder is someone who holds a stake and wants to drive it through the heart of capitalism,” telling the audience that stakeholders want to run corporations despite having no direct interest–unlike employees, suppliers, or shareholders–in the corporation and whether it continues to function as a viable wealth creating entity.

Organizations such as the Rainforest Action Network, Wake Up Wal-Mart, and the Sierra Club have had some success in pressuring companies according to Smith, becoming what he views as heirs to the muckraking movements of the early twentieth century. Smith argued that corporations have been wrong to meet with these movements and to negotiate, because there is no way of “satiating the antagonisms of the enemies of freedom” whom Smith accused of being relentless in their attacks on corporations. CEOs have tried to push issues raised by campaigners under the table by cutting deals, admitting a certain degree of misconduct (often justified by saying they are not as bad others), or agreeing to regulations just to have some guide as to what standard they will be held to. Smith argued that these responses have been a failure, because corporations are not able to and should not address social issues. Instead, Smith argues that these issues should all be addressed at the individual level, because corporations’ only responsibility is to create wealth and knowledge which is then dispersed to individuals in society who can take that wealth and put it towards protecting the environment. If the Corporate Social Responsibility movement had its way, Smith argued that these choices would be “taken away” and given to the “rulers of society” who would then determine how money was spent.

This analysis of the importance of individual action fit within an argument that Smith made claiming that capitalism has been one of the greatest guarantors of freedom in the modern world. Smith claimed that capitalism gives ownership to many people, with competition fostering a “secure and orderly” system within the context of an “egalitarian society” that enhances freedom. Smith praised the “genius of capitalism” as being the way that it has “democratized the privileges of the elites.” Smith did not confine his exclusively to capitalism, but extended it to the whole concept of “civilization,” with Smith arguing that civilization has made the world freer, wealthier, and fairer, with the challenge of civilization being, in Smith’s words, to “bring institutions of liberty to the darker spots of the world.” Smith argued that corporations are “morally positive entities” because they help to disperse power and ensure that power is not concentrated within society. Smith’s praise of capitalism ignored the negative aspect of capitalism, making no mention of the concentration of wealth in United States society or the millions living in poverty or on the streets of cities across the United States. Undoubtedly, their view of the “genius of capitalism” and the spreading of “privileges” would be considerably different than the take of Smith, who has a comfortable job at an organization supported by a variety of wealthy rightwing foundations and corporations. Similarly, Smith’s praise of “civilization” made no effort to define civilization or to engage the various substantive critiques of civilization that question the sustainability of civilization, among other aspects.

However, Smith was not brought to Grand Rapids to have an honest discussion of capitalism, civilization, or corporations. Instead, Smith was brought to defend capitalism and to discredit the various movements and organizations working to fight the abuses of corporations. As such, Smith’s talk fit well within the scope of the work that the Acton Institute has historically done in seeking to provide a religious justification for discrediting activism. The Acton Institute has taken a variety of positions minimizing the threat of global warming, supporting genetically modified agriculture, attacking activists campaigning against PVC products used by the healthcare industry, among others. Smith’s talk was just one part of what has been an ongoing effort by the Acton Institute, and the Institute will likely bring many more such speakers to town in the future.

Grand Rapids Think-Tank Brings ExxonMobil Funded Global Warming Skeptic to Town

The Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids-based rightwing think-tank, is bringing ExxonMobil-funded founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to Grand Rapids to talk about the burden that Corporate Social Responsibility creates for businesses.

On February 15, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a think-tank located here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will bring global warming skeptic Fred Smith to Grand Rapids for a lecture as part of the Institute’s 2007 lecture series. Fred Smith is the founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a rightwing think-tank that promotes free-market ideals over human concerns and opposes government regulations on everything from fuel economy to pesticides. However, both Smith and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are most known for their role in attacking the idea of global warming. In its opposition to government regulation and opposition to global warming, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has much in common with the Acton Institute. While the Competitive Enterprise Institute has received attention for being given more than $2 million by ExxonMobil to fund its operations, the Acton Institute has received $160,000 from ExxonMobil. The Acton Institute’s Reverend Gerald Zandstra has even gone so far as to praise ExxonMobil as a company with an “excellent” record on “human rights” and the “environment.” However, more troubling than its praise of ExxonMobil, is the Acton Institute’s work in promoting policies that minimize environmental concerns.

The Acton Institute’s booking of Fred Smith to deliver one of their Acton Series lectures fits into their overall pro-market and anti-environment ideology. Smith will deliver a lecture challenging the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility, likely expanding on assertions he has made previously that Corporate Social Responsibility is a “misguided” response to an allegedly pervasive attack on business by the media and the left. Throughout its history, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has taken a number of strong positions opposing environmental regulations, opposing increased fuel efficiency, attacking environmental education in the schools, claiming that dioxin is healthy, and publishing a study claiming that naturally-produced chemicals from plants are as dangerous as those produced by industry (source). However, it is the organization’s work in attempting to debunk the concept of global warming that has received the most attention. Fred Smith himself, who founded Competitive Enterprise Institute in 1984, once described global warming as looking “pretty good” and signaling a shift towards “Warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding, sounds to me like we’re moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture” as part of a world that is “a lot closer to heaven than hell.” While Smith’s quote is from 1992, the politics of the Competitive Enterprise Institute with regard to global warming, despite increasing amounts of research demonstrating the negative impacts of global warming, have remained incredibly consistent since 1992. Smith himself has continued to minimize the impacts of global warming, saying that “periods of warmer weather have actually coincided with periods of human flowering” and attacking what he calls the “eco-socialism” of environmental activists, while the Institute has opposed the Kyoto Protocol and has lobbied against regulating emissions. In a 2006 campaign designed to coincide with the release of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the Institute released television advertisements praising carbon dioxide as essential to life and even stating that “carbon dioxide is our friend.” The Institute’s positions fit into the larger rightwing lobbying effort to mask the realities of global warming, an effort that has recently included offers of cash payouts to scientists willing to speak out against the and pressure by the Bush administration on government scientists to deny global warming.

The Acton Institute has a history of promoting politics friendly to ExxonMobil and others seeking financial gain through the denial of global warming. The Institute also has relied on Smith in the past for analysis, with a lecture by Smith being featured on the Acton Institute’s website as a resource on “Economics & Environmentalism.” Two organizations represented on its board, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, have received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil. The Acton also offers a list of ExxonMobil funded entities as resources on “Environmental Stewardship” including organizations like the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Pacific Research Institute. Ties to the oil industry also extend beyond ExxonMobil, with its present Board of Advisors featuring former executive with BP-Amoco, James L. Johnston and its Board of Directors featuring Sidney J. Jansmaa, Jr., of Wolverine Gas and Oil Corporation.

In 2000, the Acton Institute convened a conference and published a document titled “Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment” that seeks to steer the religious debate over the environment towards one that promotes industry-friendly policies. As part of this effort, the Acton Institute and the conference participants issued the Cornwall Declaration, a document that sought to provide a theoretical and religious justification for free-market environment policies under the guise of biblical support. The document described how “certain misconceptions about nature and science, coupled with erroneous theological and anthropological positions” “impede the advancement of a sound environmental ethic” and undermine “reason” in environmental matters. The Declaration defines “reason” as including “sound theology and sound-science” before justifying human and capitalist domination of the earth. The Declaration takes three major positions–that economic progress is essential and that humans should be viewed as “producers and stewards” rather than “consumers and polluters,” that “human stewardship unlocks the potential in creation for all the earth’s inhabitants” and that humans should manage the environment, and lastly that there are “well-founded” environmental concerns such as the improper disposal of nuclear or other hazardous wastes in countries lacking regulatory safeguards, inadequate sanitation, primitive practices in agriculture, industry, and commerce, and the use of primitive biomass fuels such as wood and dung, but that there are “unfounded or undue concerns” including global warming, overpopulation, and species loss. Of these “founded” and “unfounded” issues, the Declaration characterizes the “unfounded” ones as speculative, the concern only of environmentalists in wealthy nations, of low and hypothetical risk, and with solutions that are costly and of dubious benefit. Far from advancing discussion on how to deal with the destruction of the earth, the Declaration–especially in its “Our Aspirations” section–lays the groundwork for a laissez-faire approach to environmental problems. The Declaration ends with its “Aspirations” calling for the elimination of any government role in managing the environment, economic freedom, an elimination of collective ownership of property and resources under the guise of fostering “stewardship,” and technological advancements in industry and technology to lessen pollution and to “improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

The Cornwall Declaration is just one of several methods that the Acton Institute has used to shape the religious debate on the environment and to combat efforts by the religious community to challenge the destruction of the environment. The Acton Institute regularly publishes commentaries opposing environmental activism on its website and has attacked evangelical environmentalism, promoted genetically modified crops and strong laws protecting seed manufacturers, opposed the Kyoto protocol, opposed cuts in CO-2 emissions, and attacked animal rights activists. Its journal, Religion & Liberty, has published similar articles while Acton’s website sells a host of materials promoting a these views. The Acton Institute also issues occasional press releases challenging religious-based environmental activism and frequently appears on rightwing radio shows attempting to debunk global warming.