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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Old school anti-science.

As a political phenomenon, the environmental movement is old enough to have a long and varied history. So it was inevitable that a curated trove of documents from its antagonists in the anti-environmental movement would come along.

The Anti-Environmental Archives is equal parts research library and musty old bookstore. Its 27,000 searchable pages help unlock the history of efforts from a generation ago to undermine environmental regulation and cast doubt on environmental science.

The simple takeaway is that the ascendant hostility toward the EPA and environmental groups and the retreat of many types of environmental enforcement have long roots.

The project is spearheaded by Kert Davies, longtime research director for Greenpeace USA who now runs the Climate Investigations Center. Davies recently released Freedom of Information Act documents linking scientist Willie Soon to over a million dollars in funding from corporate and ideological foes of climate action.

A not uncommon bumper sticker from the 1990's.
Rummaging through some of those 27,000 pages is enough to make one nostalgic for the Wise Use movement, the angry backlash to Western environmental regulation in the 1990’s. Think of it as the Tea Party with saddle sores. 

Wise Users made a high-profile generational rebound last year with the emergence of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who’s militantly refused to pay a million bucks in Federal grazing fees over twenty years. Mr. Bundy briefly became a Fox News darling until he also came out in favor of slavery.

The Archives also tracks back to groups with Orwellian names. The Abundant Wildlife Society, as its name does not imply, was single-mindedly devoted to exterminating inconvenient megafauna like wolves and grizzlies.

Legitimate trade associations for contentious industries are also a focus. For example, the Archives have seven documents on the American Crop Protection Association. ACPA, the pesticide manufacturers trade group, went through three image makeovers before finding an appropriately benign name. 

They started life as the Agricultural Insecticide and Fungicide Association, then in 1949, they toned it down to the National Agricultural Chemicals Association. In 1994, they switched to the more upbeat American Crop Protection Association, then eight years later, they appropriated the downright dreamy name of CropLife America.

As far as climate denial goes, the primitive, 20th Century version is not substantially different than the current brand. 

The World Climate Report, a periodical authored by veteran climate skeptic Pat Michaels, was bankrolled by coal producers in the Western U.S. So was its companion organization, which had a name that might make George Orwell kvell: The Greening Earth Society acknowledged the rapid rise in CO2 levels, but predicted that its major consequence would be a windfall for plants.

A 1998 cache from the Capitol Research Center presages a more recent effort that nearly led to calamity. CRC, still in business and now over three decades old, specializes in conspiracy-tinged opposition research that casts environmental and public health advocates as oddballs or dangerous radicals.

When CRC turned their attention to the Tides Foundation, the large philanthropy dedicated to supporting sustainability, human rights, and other humanitarian causes, it kicked off a long-term binge of Tides-bashing from others. Glenn Beck went after Tides with a fury on his daily Fox News show in 2009, deploying the same conspiratorial threads spun by CRC twelve years earlier.

Beck relentlessly demonized the charity to his huge TV and radio audience, praising himself because “no one knew who Tides was” before his campaign. One who learned was Byron Williams, an unemployed California carpenter who became obsessed with Tides. A routine traffic stop on an Oakland freeway led to a shootout, wounding Williams and two California Highway Patrolmen.

Williams was wearing body armor, and had a semiautomatic handgun, a shotgun, and a .308 rifle in his truck. He told police he was on his way to open fire in the San Francisco offices of the Tides Foundation. The roots of his nearly lethal anger can be found in the Anti-Environmental Archives.

Anyone who wants a deep understanding of contemporary American environmental politics should test-drive the Archives. 

Two disclosures: The writer of this piece worked for Greenpeace, mostly in the 1980’s, when many of the documents in the Archives were produced. And the Anti-Environmental Archives collection builds upon the trove of documents from a 1990’s group called CLEAR. The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy Research was funded by a grant administered by EHN founder Pete Myers, who led the W. Alton Jones Foundation at the time.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at