Nisbet and tantric climate cuddling

There is a common phenomenon encountered in the climate debate. Those skeptical of the case made by the consensus, via various methods, arrive at certain conclusions fairly quickly. The same conclusions are eventually and much later reached by climate change professors and academicians, using the same methods.

But, the climate professors are hailed as visionaries.

The above has to be understood clearly. In any area of endeavor, one usually has a higher chance of being accurate if one is cynical. Nevertheless, an outsider status confers advantages of distance and disinterest which render such observations valuable. Self-critical vantage points tend to go missing in perspectivally-homogeneous, normatively shrill groups such as those in the climate change debate. Consequently, on the rare occasion when a break does occur from within however lacking in fresh insight this be, it is deemed noteworthy even as similar observations may be easily made, and much earlier, by outsiders.

A clear example has recently emerged with the Mathew Nisbet-authored ‘Climate Shift’ report, a $100,000 effort funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Climate Cuddling

In April last year, this blog touched briefly on an extreme example of the phenomenon of homogeneity affecting the climate debate. The post was titled: Climate money: the Hewlett and the Packard. The story recounted was that of a certain Hal Harvey and his climate activist efforts, which were at the time picked up by Nature magazine.

Harvey who was working with the Hewlett Foundation in 2008 became instrumental in authoring a report called ‘Design to Win’. As per official narrative, this report then became the basis for a massive climate activist funding exercise by the Hewlett, the Packard and other foundations in creating a body called Climateworks of which Harvey became the head. Climateworks in turn donated these funds to many other organizations which were founded by Harvey or others connected to these very same organizations.

[1] Quoting from the ‘Climate Money: the Hewlett and the Packard’ post:

ClimateWorks is a ‘global organization’ freshly set up, which wants to establish ‘low carbon prospserity’. How does it plan going about it? By “pursuing aggressive and highly targeted campaigns, focusing resources on policies”. Incidentally ClimateWorks was founded by Hal Harvey who managed the environment program for the Hewlett Foundation right until 2008. Apparently while at Hewlett,  Hal Harvey was ‘inspired’ to start ClimateWorks by this document – ‘Desire to Win’ – put together by a certain California Environmental Associates in 2007. California Environmental Associates were paid for their efforts by – you guessed it – the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Packard Foundation and a certain Energy Foundation.We must note in passing that it was Hal Harvey who founded the Energy Foundation. Curiously Hal Harvey was himself a member of the steering committee that was responsible for the ‘Desire to Win’ report. Eric Hietz, current president of the Energy Foundation was in the committee as well. It is also funny a certain Heather Thomson and Andreas Merkl- both members of the project team that produced the ‘Desire to Win’ document- are also part of ClimateWorks, the organization they helped create.

So, who did ClimateWorks give all this money, or plan to give all this money to – that is our next question. ClimateWorks’ funds have presently been going to – the Energy Foundation (that’s right!), the China Sustainable Energy Program, and the European Climate Foundation. Since we are talking about all this founding and foundations, I should add that the China Sustainable Energy Program was founded by the Packard Foundation, the Energy Foundation and is being ‘sustained’ by the Hewlett Foundation as well since 2006.

The European Climate Foundation is listed as a sister program to The China Sustainable Energy Program. The European Climate Foundation is funded by (among others), which was founded by Hal Harvey. The China Sustainable Energy Program has a San Francisco office, which curiously enough is the same as the address listed for

The conflicts-of-interest of one person significantly contributing to a report, which becomes the basis for funding a charity headed by the same person, which then donates significantly to different agencies started by the same person are perhaps obvious. But these issues notwithstanding, the constrictive and homogenizing effects of such exercises were noted as well (then termed as ‘tantric climate cuddling’):

Let me tell you what I think has happened here – in climate money – we’ve stumbled upon Immanuel Kant’s ‘the-thing-in-itself’.

The outcome of all this tantric climate cuddling is undoubtedly what is reflected in the logo of the Copenhagen conference – climate noodles! Everyone climbs into everyone else’s bed.

Matthew Nisbet who is a environmental professor recently released a widely praised report called ‘Climate Shift’ (for e.g., see here and here). Surprisingly, ‘Chapter 2’ of the report follows the exact same thread of investigation – it deals exclusively with the phenomenology of the ‘Design to Win’ and ‘Climateworks’.

[2] Nisbet notes in the beginning

In 2006, several of the country’s wealthiest foundations hired a consulting firm to comprehensively survey the available scientific literature and to consult more than 150 leading climate change and energy experts. The result of this intensive undertaking was the 2007 report Design to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming.


The foundations analyzed were the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (#1 in environmental funding for 2009), the Sea Change Foundation (#4), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (#5), the Kresge Foundation (#13), the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (#24), the McKnight Foundation (#39), the Oak Foundation (#41), the Energy Foundation and ClimateWorks.

Nisbet’s core line of analysis of consisted of examining the strategy the charities used:

Several lines of evidence suggest that these nine foundations relied heavily on the Design to Win report’s definition of the problem and its specific recommendations to guide their investments.  Duke, Hewlett, Energy, Packard and Oak funded the original Design to Win report and today are listed as “aligned funders” at the ClimateWorks website

Nisbet noted the intertwined nature of the funding agencies and beneficiaries:

There are similar close ties among foundation leaders and personnel. Harvey, the head of ClimateWorks, was formerly the environment program officer at Hewlett and served in that position as a member of the Design to Win report steering committee. Before joining Hewlett, he founded the Energy Foundation. Heather Thompson, vice president of programs at ClimateWorks, was formerly with the consulting firm California Environmental Associates, and led the Design to Win project. Jennifer Fox, director of strategic planning at ClimateWorks, was formerly with the environment program at Hewlett. In addition, the environment program officers at Packard, Duke, Energy and Oak were also members of the Design to Win report’s steering committee.

Compare [1] and [2] above: The similarities in the basic line of inquiry between the ‘The Hewlett and the Packard’ and the Climate Shift’ articles are remarkable. Starting there Nisbet then proceeds on a quantitative analysis of the grant monies involved, but the conclusions he reaches are those that can be had independent of the sums.

And even in these conclusions, he stumbles. In the final part, Nisbet observes that “the release of the 2007Design to Win report and the resulting coordination among major foundations” lead to their supporting cap-and-trade (emphasis mine). This is but seeing the whole thing in reverse! It is more parsimonious and simple to see that agencies which intended to push a cap-and-trade mechanism supported formulation of a report that contained such views. The agencies ‘benefitted’ from the Climateworks largesse, were the ones who authored the report recommending such disbursal.

The only substantive observations remaining are those pertain to the incestous nature of the climate activist funding mechanisms studied. Here, Nisbet does not even explicitly state at this conclusion, only merely hints at it. It is hard to otherwise understand why the report would contain such details as the names of the personnel involved in the writing of the ‘Design to Win’ document.

But it is this very poverty of ideas resulting from having just a handful of people ‘running the show’, that is central to the ‘failure’ of the climate change activist movement in the United States. Nisbet, even as he runs with second-hand ideas, cannot bring himself reach this conclusion.

P.S: After the release of the report on his website, I submitted two comments to Matthew Nisbet’s blog, pointing out the essentially similar lines of inquiry followed in in my blog post  and in his report. Nisbet deleted both comments.



  1. Russell C

    The Matthew Nesbit here is the same fellow I wrote about in my article, ” ‘Media Too Fair to Climate Skeptics’, say reporters who’ve been unfair to skeptics”

    Nesbit is one more in a seemingly endless string of people who’ve regurgitated a 15-year old unsupported talking point about the mainstream media giving ‘too much media balance’ to skeptic scientists. It is simply stunning how such a clever tactic is used to marginalize skeptic scientists…..