Giving Away the Rope
The Stanbacks are credited as donors in Rocky Mountain Institute newsletters going back at least to Spring 1997. A small item in that newsletter, titled “Questioning Capitalism,” cheerily applauded leftist billionaire George Soros for “warning that unfettered capitalism has now replaced communism as the chief enemy of the open society.”
The aforementioned Thomas Friedman doesn’t appear to share this ideology. His 2005 book, The World Is Flat, both described and largely endorsed capitalist globalization. In a 2008 book he promoted a “crash program” to build more nuclear power stations and extend the life of the existing ones.
Nonetheless, Friedman has been one of many recent benefactors of the anti-nuclear, anti-growth RMI (albeit at nothing near the stratospheric levels of the donors profiled so far). As recently as 2021, the Ann B. and Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation gave $20,000 to RMI.
He is a good example of how perversely acceptable the peculiar Rocky Mountain Institute has become.
Total RMI revenue in 1996 was just over $2.7 million, or about $5.2 million in today’s dollars. A 2022 tax return reported total revenue had grown to nearly $117 million. The RMI of 1996 was a logical home for Fred Stanback’s ideology. It remains a home for it today, but its influence—measured strictly in monetary terms—has grown 22 times stronger.
In addition to the gusher of financial support from the billionaires and foundations previously noted, the RMI has grown rich and powerful from the largesse of corporate America.
Google, CBRE, Wells Fargo, Salesforce, IKEA, and Microsoft made the list of corporate donors forking over $1 million or more to RMI since 2021. The lists of those giving $100,000 or more include AT&T, Bank of America, Royal Bank of Canada, General Motors, Amazon, Citi, Boston Consulting, JP Morgan Chase, ING, Deloitte, TD Bank, and Goldman Sachs.
And these are the merely ironic corporate supporters.
There is a truly absurd list that includes voracious consumers of jet fuel. FedEx has been a $500,000-plus annual donor to RMI. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have each made the $100,000-plus list. JetBlue and Boeing have given at least $50,000 each.
Predictably, RMI counts wind and solar energy firms such as Enel on its list of contributors. But there are even two oil companies on the $500,000-plus list: Shell and BP.
What’s going on there?
In Apocalypse Never, his 2020 book, environmental journalist Michael Shellenberger reported that big oil and gas firms have never been the natural enemy of radical climate groups such as RMI. He showed that the Sierra Club, NRDC and other big names on the climate advocacy Left have a rich history of raking in tens of millions of dollars from the fossil-fuel interests they supposedly oppose.
The hypocritical hostility to zero-carbon nuclear energy is the secret cement that binds them together.
“Killing nuclear plants turns out to be a lucrative business for competitor fossil fuel and renewable energy companies,” wrote Shellenberger. “That’s because nuclear plants generate large amounts of electricity.”
Solar panels . . . do not. BP’s bottom line won’t ever be challenged by the build out of weather-dependent energy. But Thomas Friedman’s “crash program” to build nuclear plants might do it.
Delving into the history of the environmental movement, Shellenberger wrote that even the Sierra Club was once pro-nuclear.
“Nuclear energy is the only practical alternative that we have to destroying the environment with oil and coal,” said Ansel Adams, the nature photographer and former Sierra Club director.
What changed their mind was the agenda Fred Stanback had come to love.
Shellenberger quoted a historian who wrote that Sierra Club member “Martin Litton hated people” and “favored a drastic reduction in population to halt encroachment on park land.”
According to Shellenberger, the heavy lifting to move the movement away from nuclear energy was done by none other than Amory Lovins.
“Lovins’ basic framework of transitioning from nuclear to renewables was promoted by David Brower and Friends of the Earth and eventually embraced by Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the German government, Al Gore, and a whole generation of environmentalists,” wrote Shellenberger.
From shutting off nuclear reactors to shutting off your gas stoves and furnaces, Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute has grown to take its place among the heavyweights of the anti-energy, anti-growth Left.
Vladimir Lenin supposedly predicted capitalists would sell the rope on which they would be hanged. Today, the RMI’s donor profile shows that the rope can also be given away.