03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Climate Denial Industry Costs Us $500 Billion a Year

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has announced in its latest World Energy Outlook that every year of delayed action to address climate change will add $500 Billion to the price tag of saving the planet. The climate denial industry should foot the bill, since they are responsible for causing the delay.

In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit, a growing number of government leaders from around the world -- and even high level United Nations representatives -- have suggested that an ambitious, legally binding agreement is all but impossible to achieve in Denmark this December.  Some have indicated that it may take six months to a year beyond Copenhagen to cement a global agreement.  Nearly all point the finger at the United States for causing this delay.

But it is not President Obama’s fault, a fact that is difficult for many outside the U.S. to comprehend. Shouldn’t the U.S. president, often considered the “most powerful man in the world,” be able to commit the nation to specific emissions reduction targets and financial contributions to help developing countries deal with climate change?

It is not that simple, though.  The real blame lies at the feet of the climate denial industry, which has spent the past 20 years working to confuse the U.S. public and lawmakers about climate change. More than any other single factor, the climate denial industry can claim responsibility for the present stalemate in both domestic U.S. and international climate policy debates.

Groups like the Heartland Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, American Enterprise Institute and a host of oil and coal industry front groups, including the now-infamous American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), have collectively thrown a wrench in the cogs of U.S. climate policy, grinding the nation’s response to climate change to a halt.

Disinformation and denial campaigns waged by these fossil fuel defenders – several of which I profiled briefly in a recent post Who Is Killing Copenhagen –  have also had an impact on efforts to forge a global action plan to address climate change.  These front groups were actively involved in blocking U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol back in the mid-1990s, and now they are directly responsible, once again, for U.S. obstruction in the Copenhagen negotiations.

Now we know definitively that the climate denial industry – which spends hundreds of millions every year on disinformation and denial efforts – is costing the world an extra $500 billion for each year that we fail to implement a coordinated global response to climate change.

World leaders meeting in Copenhagen next month should consider adding to the agenda a plan to charge these oil and coal industry front groups for every penny of that $500 billion annual delay cost, including back payments for the past 20 years of delay created by the climate denial machine.

They owe at least that much to those facing climate change impacts already, let alone future generations who will suffer far more due to their efforts.