From time to time people attack the Cornwall Alliance’s credibility by claiming we’re “in the pocket of Big Oil” or of the fossil fuel industry in general—the old “follow the money” attack. What’s our answer?
We’ve never received a penny, so far as we can identify, from any large oil, gas, coal, or other corporation in any field of industry. We have received a few donations—none over $1K, so far as I can remember—from small companies, but cumulatively they have made up only a tiny percentage of our annual revenues, certainly not enough to sway our thinking. The vast majority of our donations come from private individuals, many of whom have known me personally for 20, 30, even 40 years, and a very few from non-profit foundations.
And suppose we had received large donations from fossil fuel corporations? Would that prove we’re dishonest? Would it prove that any of the premises in our arguments were false, or the inferences logically invalid? Would you reject the conclusion that 2 + 2 = 4 merely because someone who told it to you was paid to do so? (Then you’d better reject everything everyone employed to teach math says.)
We’ve had a consistent message since our founding in 2005, a message grounded on our understanding of Christian worldview, theology, and ethics, and on the science and engineering and economics of climate change and energy production/distribution and how societies rise and stay out of poverty, and that message goes back as early as 1990 (my book Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future).
If Jones likes Smith’s message and offers to provide Smith a megaphone to spread it, what’s immoral about Smith’s accepting the megaphone?
All arguments of this sort commit the logical fallacy of argumentum ad hominem circumstantial: assuming that if someone who offers an argument stands to gain financially by doing so the argument itself can just be ignored and need not be refuted.
Try that when your heart surgeon advises quadruple bypass surgery to prevent a fatal heart attack.
Yes, the possibility exists that people’s thinking is swayed in part by their perceived gain, so that’s one factor that can legitimately remind us to test their arguments. But it doesn’t SUBSTITUTE for actually TESTING their ARGUMENTS—testing whether their premises are true and their inferences logical.
Further, we should be consistent—play fair. If we’re going to be suspicious of Jones’s argument because she has a financial interest in her conclusion, we must be equally suspicious of Smith’s argument if he has a financial interest in the opposite conclusion. That is certainly the case with, on the one side, the fossil fuel companies, and, on the other side, the renewable energy companies (not to mention also the thousands of climate-change researchers whose continued government grants, mounting into the billions every year, depend on their reaching conclusions that justify the funding) in the climate-change/energy policy debates. Those who attack only one side on “conflict-of-interest” grounds but fail to do the same to the other show their own bias.