Big Fear’s Big Business Model
The Money and Power Behind the Lucrative Fear Industry
Imagine an industry with abundant, undeclared funds, controls the media, plants their people in regulatory bodies and shapes the policy narrative with armies of lobbyists able to lie and cheat with impunity. Imagine they control international organizations, throwing money around in poor countries to corrupt their leaders and set their development back a generation. And if they don’t get their way, they have an army of lawyers to intervene, making sure the system then breaks down.
Sounds familiar right?
What might surprise you is that these manipulating lobbyists are campaigners from environmental NGOs who have grown their activism into an industry – a network of interest groups, businesses and stakeholders that can be called “Big Fear”.
Protecting the Citizen?
Civil society was, at one time, meant to be represented by non-profit organizations or NGOs to give a voice to citizens affected by the decisions of the major stakeholders: government, industry, the academe and the media. In the last 25 years, with shifts in communications, funding and policy tools, NGOs no longer need to dialogue with those they claim they represent, forming instead umbrella networks of streamlined organizations that have been able to control the narrative, set policy and enforce their ideologies, stifle dialogue and quietly move large amounts of money around to expand their influence.
This sounds like a conspiracy theory and while NGOs have been very good at portraying themselves as a small band of Davids battling an army of Goliaths, they have become huge businesses themselves, committing all of the sins they had been fighting against. The citizen, regrettably, is no longer being represented by these NGOs. Rather, as more and more consumer products are being removed or made unaffordable, as economies are declining, jobs decreasing and lifestyle activities restricted by a small group of self-appointed, unaccountable zealots, citizens are suffering the consequences of this affluent cult of activists.
Even more twisted is how NGOs continue to campaign that it is industry that is controlling our governments and that the only way we can take back power is through citizen assemblies, citizen science and participatory policy panels. What they mean though is their activist citizens using their scientists to gain even more control over the non-involved, easily frightened “docilian” population as a whole. If Big Fear can scare those people enough, destroy their trust in governments and industry, then they will surrender their freedoms and social goods.
How did these activist groups turn into everything their advocates had despised?
NGOs used to be accountable to their members whose dues and donations kept the campaigns going. They were small operations with local organizations meeting regularly to consult and respond to their memberships. Today, most NGOs making impacts are large international operations, with budgets in the hundreds of millions funded by government grants or foundations with endowments passively deposited by billionaires but managed by like-minded activists. NGOs are no longer bothered by memberships, no longer in need of funds from those they claim to represent and are no longer accountable to, well, anyone. They now spend their management time building networks, sharing funds and growing their campaigns across a community of interest groups in a battle to impose their ideologies on Western societies.
In the last decade, foundations have become the key drivers, using NGOs as inexpensive tools to advance their own societal ambitions. While groups like Bloomberg Philanthropies and Rockefeller Brothers are funding a large number of environmental health NGOs to advance the foundations’ own objectives, many more dot.com, Web 2.0 and crypto billionaires have entered the philanthropy market to expand their influence. The Firebreak recently looked at how the Effective Altruism Silicon Valley networks resembled a cult organization. Money is flowing faster than rationality and campaigners can’t seem to spend the money fast enough.
A large amount of NGO funding has been via non-transparent or “dark” donor-advised funds (where a donor gives money to a third party foundation, earmarked to be donated, anonymously, to the intended NGOs). This allows special interest groups, competing industries or tort law firms to use NGOs to create fear and outrage about a product or substance that would help their own interests. Groups like US Right to Know, whose ambition is to shine light on secret industry lobbying, is now almost entirely “dark” funded. Donor-advised funds, with the non-transparent abuse of special interests, should be illegal. Instead, in the US, it is tax deductible.
Big Fear has deep financial sources.
The NGO-Tort-Science Industry
I have written extensively on how tort law firms have teamed up with NGOs and a certain group of activist scientists to manufacture evidence and create public fear and outrage over health effects from chemicals, pesticides and targeted consumer products. The main objective is to fund scientific studies that would identify substances that could be linked to a cancer to then sue targeted companies via mass tort litigations. If scientists can find a correlation, and NGOs are funded to run campaigns to vilify the company, then angry juries will demand higher settlements.
The glyphosate saga is a good example of this NGO-tort-science scam. In 2015, a group of scientists tied to the Collegium Ramazzini got the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to include the herbicide in a monograph on insecticides. The hazard assessment concluded that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic (although not one government regulatory agency has accepted their conclusion). In the weeks following the IARC meeting, four of the American scientists on the panel signed lucrative litigation consultant contracts with US tort law firms suing the main glyphosate producer, Monsanto. NGOs amplify their marches and campaigns against Monsanto, working with regulators to expel Monsanto employees from the regulatory processes and portraying this mid-sized chemical company as Public Enemy #1. With over 100,000 plaintiffs claiming damages from glyphosate, Bayer (which took over Monsanto in 2018) was pressured to settle out of court for almost $11 billion.
With billions in the bank, a couple hundred million is more than enough for tort lawyers to fund (buy) certain scientists and NGOs to increase the fear and outrage levels. Within a couple years, the media were flooded with papers associating this relatively benign, mildly toxic herbicide with almost every disease and environmental concern. As cancers do not feed the beast enough, the tort lawyers created their own NGO, the Heartland Health Research Alliance, to try to show a correlation between birth defects and herbicide exposures. They even installed a lead glyphosate tort lawyer as vice-chair of the NGO as they prepare for the next wave of lucrative lawsuits.
I was astonished to learn that the money flows both ways. Activists now are using their influence to get the foundations they work with, like the Rockefeller Brothers, to fund tort law firms to pursue public nuisance lawsuits against industry (not to win, but just to tie them in knots and keep industry’s reputation at rock bottom).
Big Fear has a powerful network.
This money is also flowing into certain mainstream news organizations via NGOs, freelance consultants posing as journalists and foundations (both political or dark, donor-advised). The Firebreak showed how The Guardian is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from foundations earmarked for articles and reports. We also reported on how Bloomberg Philanthropies created a large news organization called The Examination to conduct “investigative research” that Michael Bloomberg finds important. As the media groups are now beholden to the special interest groups, is it any surprise that the activist issues get prime coverage and their campaigns amplified as news.
Take, for example, Carey Gillam as an example of this abuse. She cut her teeth writing on the glyphosate lawsuits for the small NGO, US Right to Know (funded by dark, donor-advised foundations). Working closely with tort lawyers suing Monsanto, she wrote a couple books and worked her way into a larger NGO, the Environmental Working Group. There she set up an activist information channel: the New Lede. Carey still considers herself a journalist, so when she is working on a project to support the lawsuits filed against Syngenta on paraquat, she then pitched the same story to the Guardian who have a box full of money from the Soros Open Society Foundations for such articles. The editor doesn’t know what to do with this box of money, so Carey’s same article is easily funded (three times: by the tort lawyers, by her NGO employer and by the Guardian’s earmarked anti-chemicals campaign cash).
The mainstream media is no longer merely reporting the news. They are captured by activist lobbyists trying to make the news for their own special interest groups. And the media definitely won’t bother to investigate this abuse since this money is a necessary lifeline.
Big Fear has influence.
With money, influence and networks, Big Fear has been busy undermining the policy process. Two decades ago, a former Friends of the Earth director, David Gee, used his influence in the European Environment Agency to develop precaution into a principle. Gee articulated it in two documents that changed European regulatory science. Now, unless you could prove with certainty that a substance or process is safe, it would be taken off of the market. The activists then got some of their scientists to show how all of the substances on their hit-list cannot be proven to be safe (nothing is 100% safe). The precautionary principle dominates EU environmental-health policy and has seriously handcuffed innovative sciences.
In the US, the activists have bypassed the government regulatory process with a concept called “adversarial regulation”. The Firebreak covered how retired American regulatory scientists like Bernie Goldstein and Chris Portier have chosen to go around the democratic regulatory process and work with tort law firms and NGOs to sue companies until they either go bankrupt or change the way they operate. This is known as the tobacconization of industry, well-articulated as the La Jolla Playbook.
Big Fear has power.
A Bright Future for Big Fear
I’m aware how this article will strike people as counter-intuitive and, to many, infuriating. Big Fear has managed to enforce the narrative that they are protecting the people from the real threats (industry, government, scientists and large foreign organizations). As activists continue to succeed, they extend their ambition to even more extremes, now looking at means to push forward a degrowth economy in place of capitalism, small-scale agroecology in place of conventional farming, decarbonized cottage industries and a new breed of socialism in the post-industrial world. With power, influence, money and control of the media, the future looks bright for Big Fear.
Until people recognize how Big Fear has become a threat and until they can limit their strength, innovation, development and consumer safety and well-being will continue to decline in Western countries (with a worse fate affecting those in developing countries). The limitations should include:
stopping the anonymity of donor-advised fund and removing their tax-deduction benefits;
forcing tort law firms to become transparent on whom they are funding;
penalizing or looking into restrictions on how special interest groups can fund news organizations;
stopping government funding of NGOs (originally intended so they could afford to participate in policy processes).
Big Fear has of course laid pre-emptive traps along the way. If anyone criticizes them, they lay down and play the wounded Bambi, shot by evil, capitalist shills while partner NGOs go on the victimization rampage. There are a series of organizations and interest groups that would suffer from any attempt to restrict NGO operations so anyone who dares to take them on would need to be courageous.
Western societies seem to lack such leaders at the moment.