Maybe They're So Quiet About Chinese Solar And Russian Gas Because They’re So Heavily Invested In Them
Greens Accept Millions From Natural Gas & Renewable Energy Interests
Environmentalists, progressives, and Greens in the United States and Europe have long spoken out forcefully for human rights, energy security, and reducing air pollution. They demand stronger protections of indigenous people in places like Brazil. They advocate energy produced locally and domestically rather than imported. And they say we should take significantly stronger measures to reduce carbon emissions.
And yet none of the world’s largest environmental groups or most prominent environmental leaders have condemned China’s use of enslaved labor to make solar panels with coal, the replacement of Europe’s nuclear plants with natural gas, or the increasingly dangerous dependence of the U.S. and Europe on Chinese solar and Russian natural gas, respectively.
It’s true that some environmentalists and progressives recognize the problem and are calling for change. President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry last week announced possible sanctions on Chinese solar panels. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has since 2009 championed manufacturing solar in the U.S. Climate activist McKibben noted the abuses in Xinjiang. And both Greens in Germany and Democrats in the United States, including President Biden, say they oppose the expansion of Nordstream II pipeline to bring Russian natural gas to Europe.
But in Europe and the U.S. Democrats and Greens are actively seeking to replace nuclear plants with Russian natural gas and Chinese solar panels while doing nothing of significance to return solar panel manufacturing to the United States. The solar firms that Secretary Granholm championed in 2009 couldn’t compete with Chinese firms and went bankrupt in 2012 and 2017. McKibben didn’t mention that forced labor is used to make solar panels. And President Biden lifted sanctions on the Russian firm overseeing the building of Nordstream II, thereby allowing Russia to significantly increase control over Western Europe.
Why is that?
Environmentalists for Climate Change
In mid-January 2020, climate activists held up signs reading, “Pete Takes Money from Fossil Fuel Billionaires,” at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. “We are really concerned about candidates who have taken money from fossil-fuel executives,” said the protest organizer. “As a young person who’s really concerned about climate change and knows that our lives are threatened by the climate crisis, we cannot have a president who is taking money from fossil-fuel executives.”
Buttigieg responded defensively, saying, “I took the fossil fuel pledge,” but the activist pointed out that the candidate “hosted a fundraiser in a wine cellar or wine cave with Craig Hall, who runs a firm that funds fossil fuel infrastructure projects.”
The young climate activists identified himself to reporters as a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Youth Movement, but he was also a paid staff member of 350.org, a group started by climate activist Bill McKibben. And 350.org, it turns out, is funded by “Fossil Fuel Billionaire” Tom Steyer, who also happened to be running for president.
Much and perhaps most of Steyer’s wealth derives from investments in all three main fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas. Steyer’s firm, Farallon Capital Management, reported The New York Times in 2014, was “like an anchor in the Indonesian coal industry,” an industry colleague of Steyer’s said. “By drawing money to an overlooked sector, they helped expand the coal industry there.”
Substituting coal for wood in poor and developing nations like Indonesia can be positive for human and environmental progress. What is inappropriate is accepting fossil fuel funding while attacking others for doing the same. Even less appropriate is lying about it.
When Steyer announced he was running for president in July 2019, 350.org founder Bill McKibben and Sierra Club head Mike Brune were effusive in their praise. Steyer was a “climate champ,” tweeted McKibben, who added that “his just-released climate policy is damned good!” Brune tweeted, “@TomSteyer has been a climate leader for yrs & I’m glad to see yet another climate champ join the primary.”
Forms filed to the Internal Revenue Service by Steyer’s philanthropic organization show that it gave $250,000 to 350.org, annually, in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Steyer may have given money to 350.org in 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, as well. The reason to think so is that 350.org thanked either Steyer’s philanthropy, TomKat Foundation, or his organization, NextGen America, in each of its annual reports since 2013.1 In 2018, 350.org reported revenues of nearly $20 million.
Steyer spent $250 million running for president and at least $240 million to influence elections at the federal level since 2013. Steyer has also contributed to Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for American Progress (CAP), and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) since 2012.
McKibben told The Washington Post in 2014 that “he was not bothered” that Steyer had made much of his fortune in fossil fuels because Steyer had promised to divest himself from those investments.
The Washington Post article did not mention that Steyer funded McKibben’s organization. “The environmentalist said that Steyer deserves praise for his willingness to give up a lucrative career,” reported the Post, “and that even many of the most ardent anti-fossil-fuels activists have benefited from the industry at some point.”
In July 2014, Steyer told The Washington Post that he would divest from fossil fuels by the end of that month, but in August 2014 his spokesperson admitted to The New York Times that he had not done so. “Farallon is still invested in carbon-generating industries and [Steyer’s] aides declined to say whether Mr. Steyer had asked it to sell those holdings, a request that would presumably hold significant sway given his role as a founder.”
But in the same article, Steyer’s aides added, “He remains a passive investor, though they declined to describe the size of his investment.”
Steyer misrepresented his investments for five more years. In July 2019, Steyer told ABC News, “Look, in our business we invested in every part of the economy, including fossil fuels. When I realized what a threat this was to our environment and to the people of the United States and people around the world, I changed. I divested from all that stuff.”
But just a few weeks later, when pressed on the issue at a campaign rally, Steyer said, “There’s probably some dregs left” of fossil fuel investments. In fact, Bloomberg News discovered that Steyer had retained millions in investments in coal mining, oil pipelines, and fracking for petroleum and natural gas.
Sierra Club Promotes Natural Gas To Kill Nuclear
In February 2012, Mike Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, was forced to admit that the organization had accepted more than $25 million from natural gas interests. Brune denounced the acceptance of McClendon’s funding, which was arranged by previous executive director Carl Pope, and decided Sierra Club would no longer accept money from natural gas interests.
But the Sierra Club under Brune never stopped taking money from natural gas interests. In fact, he radically increased how much it accepted from them. Under Brune, the Sierra Club took an additional $110 million from Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, owner of Bloomberg Media Group, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, co-author of a book on climate change with Pope, and major investor in natural gas.
The Sierra Club Foundation has taken money directly from solar energy companies. Barclays’s renewable energy investment banking chief, a director and assistant general counsel for SolarCity, the founder and CEO of Sun Run, the CEO of Solaria, and others have all served on Sierra Club Foundation’s board of directors.
EDF’s board of trustees and advisory trustees have also included investors and executives from oil, gas, and renewable energy companies, including Halliburton, Sunrun, Northwest Energy, and many others.
NRDC helped create and put $66 million in a Black Rock “Ex-Fossil Fuels Index Fund” stock fund that—in fact—invests heavily in natural gas companies. And in a 2014 financial report, NRDC disclosed that it had nearly $8 million invested in four separate renewable energy private equity funds.
“If an environmentalist were to take a gander at [NRDC’s] holdings,” a reporter for an environmental website wrote in 2015, “she might raise a quizzical eyebrow: 1,200 shares of Halliburton, 500 of Transocean, 700 of Valero. Marathon, Phillips 66, Diamond Offshore Drilling—they’re in there, too.”
Sierra Club, NRDC, and EDF have worked to shut down nuclear plants and replace them with fossil fuels and a smattering of renewables, since the 1970s. They have created detailed reports for policymakers, journalists, and the public purporting to show that neither nuclear plants nor fossil fuels are needed to meet electricity demand, thanks to energy efficiency and renewables.
And yet, as we have seen, almost everywhere nuclear plants are closed, or not built, fossil fuels are burned instead. Sierra Club, NRDC, and EDF advocated the closing of Indian Point in New York last month, and almost all of the electricity it produced was replaced by natural gas, increasing emissions.
Killing nuclear plants is a lucrative business for the donors to Sierra Club, NRDC, and EDF. That’s because nuclear plants generate large amounts of electricity. During a ten-year period, Indian Point’s owner would have brought in $8 billion in revenue. During forty years, revenues could have easily been $32 billion. Now that the plant has closed, those billions will flow to natural gas and renewables companies.
Belgium Energy Minister Business Partner Works for Natural Gas Interests
Belgium’s Energy Minister, Tinne Van der Straeten, a prominent Green party member says on her website, "Fossil fuels are a thing of the past," and, "Oil, coal, and gas must remain underground as much as possible." And yet her focus out of office and in office has been on closing Belgium’s nuclear power plants and replacing them with natural gas and renewables. Why is that?
It might have something to do with the fact that Van der Straeten founded a law firm called “Blixt” with a man named Tim Vermeir who, according to his blog, worked for “a number of important players in the natural gas market,” including Wingas, a subsidiary of Russian gas giant Gazprom, and Distrigas, owned by Eni.
Van der Straeten worked as a lawyer to shut down one of Belgium’s plants, Tihange 2, in court and says Belgium must burn more natural gas because solar and wind energies “fluctuate considerably” and gas plants “can be switched on quickly if sun and wind are not enough” and they “can be shut down just as quickly as soon as there are enough sun and wind.”
Meanwhile, her law firm partner Vermeir wrote op-eds for leading newspapers, claiming that “we will have to invest in new or improved gas plants", and advocating natural gas as a “logical” choice for government investment because "gas plants are clean, efficient and flexible”.
When Van der Straeten became energy minister at the end of last year, she immediately approached European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to request financial support for new gas-fired power plants.
Nuclear plants provide about half of Belgium’s electricity, and if they close, its share of electricity produced from fossil fuels will rise from 38 percent in 2018 to 59 percent by the end of this decade.
Van der Straeten is not the first high-ranking European politician to work for natural gas interests.
Immediately after leaving office in 2005, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder went to work for the Russian energy industry as Chairman of the Shareholders Committee for Nord Stream, the Russian natural gas pipeline firm. He has been effective in his job, helping to make Nord Stream II, to bring natural gas from Russia to Europe, closer to reality, with Biden’s lifting of sanctions.
Benjamin L. Schmitt, a Havard researcher, called Schröder "one of Putin's most effective Trojan horses in Europe, speaking out against Transatlantic sanctions and policies aimed at countering Putin's hybrid threats toward the West, while the current CEO of the pipeline is none other than Putin-confidant and ex-Stasi officer, Matthias Warnig."
"Projects like the Kremlin-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline are used within the Russian Federation as a means of enriching contractors with close ties to Putin and is not limited to domestic allies of Putin," said the Harvard analyst.
In 2014, a BP-led consortium to export natural gas to Europe from Azerbaijan hired former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. His worked paid off. Last year, Azerbaijani gas flowed for the first time from the Shah Deniz deposit in the Caspian Sea along Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor.
Anna Mikulska from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy called Blair’s work the "sort of the 'revolving door syndrome' just cross-national rather than within the same country.”
Climate Infrastructure for Campaign Contributors
The highest priority of the Biden Administration is climate infrastructure legislation that would directly benefit major Democratic Party donors, just as President Obama’s 2009 green stimulus did. The president’s top economic advisor, Brian Deese, was a senior executive at shadow bank and renewable energy investor Blackrock before joining the administration. Secretary Granholm is heavily invested in an electric car company. And the head of the Department of Energy’s loan program, Jigar Shah, is a longtime solar investor.
The Biden Administration appears to be trying to do more of what occurred under the Obama administration, when investors and firms connected to the White House made significant sums of money from their connections.
Between 2009 and 2015, the U.S. government spent about $150 billion on green energy, $90 billion of it in stimulus money. At least ten members of Obama’s finance committee and more than twelve of his fundraising bundlers, who raised a minimum of $100,000 for Obama, benefited from $16.4 billion of the $20.5 billion in stimulus loans.
The people who directed the loan program had been fundraisers for Obama. In March 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office wrote a report, calling the loan program’s process “arbitrary” and noted that not a single one of the program’s first eighteen loans had been documented.
The loans for electric car companies like Tesla and Fisker, each of which received nearly a half-billion dollars, had no performance measures. The Government Accountability Office found that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) “treated applicants inconsistently in the application review process, favoring some applicants and disadvantaging others.”
But the loans were just one program among many others that funneled money to well-connected Obama donors without creating many jobs. The most famous of the green investments was when DOE gave $573 million to a solar company called Solyndra, 35 percent of which was owned by a billionaire donor and fundraising bundler for Obama, George Kaiser.
Nobody wanted to invest in Solyndra because its panels were too expensive, which independently minded DOE staffers pointed out. They were overruled, however, and the loan was approved.
The people who benefited the most from the green stimulus were billionaires, including Musk, Doerr, Kaiser, Khosla, Ted Turner, Pat Stryker, and Paul Tudor Jones. Vinod Khosla led Obama’s “India Policy Team” during the 2008 election and was a major financial contributor to Democrats. His companies received more than $300 million.
As we saw with Steyer, sometimes seemingly altruistic environmental philanthropies have a financial interest in their advocacy. Consider the case of Sea Change. It gave more $173 million in grants to groups advocating cap and trade, including the Center for American Progress, Sierra Club, NRDC, EDF, World Wildlife Fund, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, from 2007 through 2012.
The man behind Sea Change was venture capitalist Nathaniel Simons, who had investments in seven companies that had received federal loans, grants, or contracts since 2009. Simons “invested substantially in pursuing a cap-and-trade policy,” according to a Rockefeller Family Fund report. He and his wife hired a lobbyist to push for the bill.
The Conquistadores Believed in God But They Also Wanted the Gold
After I published some of these revelations last summer in Apocalypse Never, several readers emailed to ask how high the financial conspiracy by climate activists went. But the question misses the point. Ideological belief in renewables and financial self-interest are not mutually exclusive, they go hand-in-hand. Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century fervently believed in God. But they also wanted the gold.
The same is true today. Steyer, Brune, and Van der Straeten all no doubt believe that the world can, should, and will one day be powered by renewables, without the need for natural gas, coal, or nuclear. They make apocalyptic claims about climate change and say renewables are the answer. But they have also benefited directly from, and have advocated policies that directly benefit, natural gas and renewable energy companies alike.
For such leaders, renewables offer the prospect of harmonizing human societies with a higher power, the natural world. Where Spanish conquistadores sought to get right by God by converting heathens and pagans to Christianity, green conquistadors seek to get right by Nature by making economies and societies subservient to the weather.
As such, green ideology is the perfect synthesis of virtue signaling and self-interest. Demanding stronger protections for indigenous people in Brazil allows environmentalists to be silent about the Uyghur people in China. Loudly demanding “self-sufficiency” through renewables distracts from growing dependence on imported Chinese solar panels and Russian natural gas. And decrying carbon emissions allows greens everywhere to replace nuclear plants with natural gas and solar panels made from coal.