Today’s New York Times has a great article on the funding of Washington think tanks by foreign governments. It seems that some of the “objective expertise” provided by these outfits is simply special interest pleading in pseudo-academic clothing. The treatment of Middle Eastern policy is especially interesting.
But the article opens with a surprising example, the payment of $5 million by the government of Norway to the Center for Global Development, whose mission, according to its website, is to “to reduce global poverty and inequality”. Sounds good, but the fine print is what counts here. The specific purpose of Norway’s contribution was to enlist the Center in a lobbying campaign for a doubling of US funds in support of global reforestation as a means to combat climate change.
This caught my attention because a few months ago I posted a critique of the notion that planting or not cutting trees could offset fossil fuel burning as a way to forestall the buildup of greenhouse gases. The scientific basis for forestation as climate change mitigation is full of holes, but there is more action on that front than any other aspect of carbon policy. How to explain this?
Money. Norway doesn’t want its oil to become a stranded asset. Their idea of carbon policy is to drill and burn and then plant a bunch of trees. They are willing to pay pliable “experts” to convince the rest of us that this makes sense. And with billions of dollars in the balance, other fossil fuel interests, forest investors and countries eager to sell offsets to them all have a stake in this game. Weak arguments backed by lots of money win out against strong ones with few sponsors. This is a problem in virtually every area of economics.
And, in case you were wondering, which I’m sure you weren’t: no one paid me to write this.