Cologne, Germany, summer of 2010. The subway infomercial system reports: “German study: Development of renewable energies will make electricity bills more expensive”.
An inconvenient truth, which will leave a bitter taste with consumers considering the necessity of the switch to climate-friendly energy production. Newspapers also reported on the story. But how reliable were the results of the study? What motivated it? The daily buffet of information appetizers proved insufficient to clarify this.
Weeks later the main author of the study, Manuel Frondel of RWI (Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung) grudgingly conceded in an interview with ARD Monitor that a “non-partisan institute in the United States” had sponsored the report. Enter the “Institute for Energy Research“.
The Houston (Texas) based neoliberal IER was founded in 1989 and ever since advocated on topics like deregulation of utilities and fossil energies. They received money from Exxon Mobil (307,000$ during 2003-2007) and Koch Industries (175,000$). IER CEO Robert L. Bradley, formerly PR director for Enron, warned back in 2000 that “greenhouse gas control practices that are uneconomic penalize either consumers or stockholders while politicizing the issue of corporate responsibility”.
Digging deeper into the topic one finds that the RWI study was neither the first nor the last of its kind. The IER sponsored a March 2009 study authored by the neoliberal, climate “skeptical” economist Gabriel Calzada of the Spanish Instituto Juan de Mariana. It aimed to show the devastating outcome of the Spanish energy reform programme: for every “green” job there were 2.2 other jobs that were lost. The grave errors in methodology were repeatedly shown, which did not keep other neoliberal groups from replicating it. The 2010 work by the Italian Istituto Bruno Leoni, “Are Green Jobs Real Jobs?“, was based on Calzada’s work.
In September 2009, the Danish neoliberal Center for Politiske Studier (CEPOS) published the critical work “Wind Energy: The Case of Denmark“; this, too, was financed by IER, without mentioning its name within the report.
But why would a US-based group fund studies in Europe? Surely these will influence the general public of the respective countries. The big picture though becomes clearer when combing US publications for citations of these studies. They are extensively refered to by adversaries of the Barack Obama’s weak attempts at energy reform, to show the allegedly catastrophic impacts on the US economy. Michele Bachmann, presidential hopeful of the Tea Party movement, for example, warned in 2009 that the government needed to “think twice about enacting an energy policy that will clearly hurt our already struggling economy and financially impact every single American”. Obama highlighted Spain’s role as a pioneer in energy reform in 2009; Denmark and Germany too were mentioned as model countries in the public discussion. From a US neoliberal standpoint these developments therefore needed to be painted as abject failures.
The 2011 meta study “Green Jobs: The European Experience“, by climate “skeptic” Kenneth P. Green for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, now presents all these studies as a panorama of supposed fiascos, trying to influence mainly the Canadian debate. It also mentions the 2011 study “Worth the Candle? The economic impact of renewable energy policy in Scotland and the UK“, co-authored by Tom Miers of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which can be seen as the nucleus of the globe-spanning neoliberal Atlas Foundation, founded by Hayek missionary Antony Fisher. The Scottish government called the report “misleading“.
This short case study shows how in a globalized world seemingly local events can have their origin in motivations from distant parts of the world. Not only laypersons have great difficulties to see through the often obscure web of connections; making these more transparent can help in reconstructing the big picture, leading to the possibility of reality-based decisions.