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The Public Relations Apparatus Supporting the Climate Litigation Campaign

Today, the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project released the third chapter of Beyond the Courtroom: A Closer Look at Climate Litigation in the United States (read chapters one and two here). Chapter Three, “The Public Relations Apparatus Supporting the Climate Litigation Campaign,” examines the “highly coordinated” organizations, public relations firms and “media outlets” that “iterate the same talking points” to amplify the climate litigation campaign. Specifically, Chapter Three highlights the following close-knit network of advocacy groups:

The Nonprofit Organizations Coordinating the Climate Liability Narrative

  • The Climate Accountability Institute was founded in 2011 “to shift the dialogue to blame the companies that manufactured and sold the energy that the world was demanding “for global climate change.” The organization partnered with the Union of Concerned Scientists to convene the La Jolla conference, at which the major players in climate change litigation met to coordinate and plan the efforts to expand “the circle of thought leadership around this idea.”
  • UCS “has been a consistent orchestrator of the publicity supporting climate liability.” It “helped organize the La Jolla conference, hosted numerous events promoting the litigation and met with public officials behind closed doors to encourage them to sue. It has been a primary actor facilitating climate litigation.”
  • was co-founded by Bill McKibben and Jamie Henn, both of whom attended the 2016 Rockefeller strategy session in New York City with many of the players in the climate change litigation campaign to coordinate their efforts to “‘delegitimize’ energy manufacturers.” Just two months later, “ launched the #ExxonKnew website and Twitter handle, turning the climate liability movement Twitter hashtag into a full-blown public relations campaign.” Both McKibben and Henn also “frequently write seemingly independent op-eds and tweets supporting the investigations into, and lawsuits against, energy manufacturers.”
  • The Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development’s Center for Climate Integrity has “created a sophisticated public relations campaign, complete with academic research, a podcast, promotional events and a prominent social media presence” to support the litigation campaign. “IGSD launched this public relations campaign in August 2017 through the Center for Climate Integrity,” which provides “‘campaign infrastructure, resources and strategic direction’ for activists promoting the concept of forcing manufacturers to pay for climate change.”

Hiring Public Relations Professionals and Covering Climate Litigation

The report features three platforms in particular—Drilled, InsideClimate News and Climate Liability News—which share “many of the same editors, writers and funders.”

  • CLN has “no pretense of impartiality—the organization is led by Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) Director Richard Wiles; Climate Investigations Center Director Kert Davies; and Alyssa Johl, who simultaneously serves as legal counsel for CCI and a consultant for Greenpeace, and formerly served as the senior attorney for climate and energy at the Center for International Environmental Law.”
  • “In 2018, IGSD provided a grant to launch the Wiles-produced podcast Drilled.” The podcast features many of the key climate liability activists outlined in previous chapters.
  • InsideClimate News was created “by a seed grant from Michael Northrup—the director of the Sustainable Development grantmaking program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF)” and is led by David Sassoon, a former consultant to the RBF.
  • Resource Media is “the main public relations firm Sher Edling amplify its lawsuits. The firm is listed as the press contact, not just for Sher Edling, but also on press releases issued by cities announcing their climate lawsuits. . . . Vic Sher explained he uses public relations firms to generate validators for his litigation that are seemingly independent of each other when, in fact, they are coordinated through the public relations firm.”
  • M+R, a public relations firmed founded by the former head of the Rockefeller Family Fund, “acts as a lynchpin between the various offshoots of the climate litigation campaign.” They “spearhead communications for CCI’s Pay Up Climate Polluters Campaign” and facilitate message coordinate among clients UCS, Greenpeace, and EarthRights International, among others.

The chapter concludes: “Although efforts to pursue litigation against energy manufacturers span different law firms, states and legal arguments, each is being supported by a highly coordinated group of organizations. These organizations share the same major funders and rely on the same coordinated and tight-knit group of individuals. The appearance of any grassroots support and/or outside validators for climate litigation is not ‘just by happenstance,’ to quote Vic Sher; rather, it is highly orchestrated.”