Richard Berman Goes after Bill McKibben and Global Divestment Day

Dr. Evil is back. Richard Berman and his phony front group Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA, get it?) released a bizarre video "Breaking Up with Fossil Fuels is Hard to Do" criticizing climate activist and author Bill McKibben and a global day of action on fossil fuels planned for Valentine's Day.

350.org’s campaign to encourage universities and other public institutions to divest from fossil fuels is the fastest growing divestment campaign in history, reports the Guardian. On February 13-14, the group is planning a variety of vigils, sit-ins, calling on individuals and institutions "to close their accounts with banks and super funds investing in climate chaos.”

Nothing is sure to generate more buzz about the planned actions than Berman’s clunky attack ad, which features a young man, nuzzling an oil barrel dressed in high heels, urging kids to “fall in love with fossil fuels.” Although it is not known who specifically bankrolled the video, it was being promoted online by Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Institute for Energy Research, the American Energy Alliance, and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, ad groups and trade associations representing fossil fuel interests.

350.org quickly responded to the ad with a parody video of their own, which was apparently knocked off YouTube with a copyright claim.

Richard Berman, dubbed "Dr. Evil" by 60 Minutes, is the president of the DC-based public relations firm, Berman & Company. From his Washington office he operates a network of front groups, attack-dog web sites, and alleged "think tanks" that attack progressive policies, activists and policy makers.

Berman groups have worked to keep wages low for restaurant workers, block minimum wage hikes, and block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, drunk driving and more. He also reportedly works on behalf of agricultural interests to fight against humane farming practices with front groups Humanewatch.com, Petakillsanimals.com and more.

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In recent years, Berman has branched into the environmental arena with new front groups and websites including the BigGreenRadicals.com, EnvironmentalPolicyAlliance.org, EPAfacts.com, Greendecoys.com, Leedsexposed.com and more. In October 2014, the New York Times reported that Berman met with energy company executives at the posh Broadmoor Hotel in an attempt to raise $3 million to attack groups pushing for climate action, including Greenpeace and Sierra Club.

CMD published tapes on its website from the meeting where Berman told the executives to think of the fight against activists as "an endless war" and you have to "budget for it." He assured them that he would keep their identity a secret and detailed his tactics saying "you can either win ugly or lose pretty."

Berman's dirty tactics are attractive to fossil fuel firms because they know that climate change is accelerating and they have neither the American people nor science on their side.

The New York Times reported recently on polling which showed that "83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future" and that over 80 percent of Americans including the majority of Republicans think climate change is real and created by humans.

350.org demands for climate divestment are rooted in science, including the recent reports from UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and British scientists which found that two-thirds of the world's fossil fuels reserves must remain in the ground if governments were to meet the internationally agreed upon targets for reducing carbon pollution and preventing climate disaster.

Learn more about 350.org planned actions here. Learn more about Berman, his clients and his front groups at CMD's sister site Sourcewatch.org.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Deputy Director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation in 2011 and is a recipient of the Hillman Prize for investigative journalism.