Russian bots get a lot of flak for promoting propaganda that looks like news. U.S. climate activists have now taken up the same strategy.
1Earth Fund is one such group. The organization doles out money to newspapers in exchange for news stories about climate change. The stories funded by these “grants” advance the agenda of 1Earth and its wealthy founder, whose company is tied to solar energy.
Making a Mockery of Journalistic Ethics
Imagine the outcry if an oil company paid for news articles that downplayed climate change. The reporters would be accused of pay-to-play and conflict of interest. Yet that kind of unethical arrangement is the bread and butter of 1Earth’s activism. Several newspapers have accepted “grants” from 1Earth Fund in exchange for writing articles that focus on climate advocacy.
In 2022, the 1Earth Fund exploded on to the scene in Georgia and North Carolina by paying newspapers to write over 140 articles promoting climate change propaganda.
The 1Earth Fund granted the Atlanta Journal-Constitution $50,000 and in return nineteen different articles were published that focused on climate change.
“[T]he change to online advertising and readership is challenging the financial success of newspapers and reducing reporting resources,” explained the AJC about accepting the grant. In other words, their product isn’t selling, so they’re selling themselves to advocacy groups.
With money from a pro-solar advocacy group, consider how the AJC covers solar in favorable terms.
“Big business wants solar energy. Can Georgia utilities keep up?” reads a 1Earth-funded headline.
“Georgia Power still opposed to expanding popular rooftop solar program,” claims another AJC headline.
And in Nov. 2022, AJC cast a wood pellet facility–a competitor to solar–in a negative light, alleging climate scientists say it is harmful for the environment.
Yet the AJC isn’t such a reliable source of information for negative news about solar. The Georgia Public Service Commission was reportedly lit up by callers complaining about being conned into buying solar panels, yet we cannot find AJC coverage of this story. One Georgia woman was even tricked into buying solar panels for her home, but instead of being free like she thought, the panels ended up costing over $50,000.
Bias can exist in not just what’s reported—but what isn’t reported. How is anyone supposed to believe that this arrangement is producing credible journalism?
Several other newspapers in the Southeast have also accepted 1Earth grants. The Winston-Salem Journal accepted 1Earth’s money and churned out 40 articles on issues like advocating for solar power and adding expensive hybrid vehicles to the city fleet. Yet we can’t find any coverage of a North Carolina story about complaints levied against a solar energy company in the state. Several customers complained that they were told they would save money, but now were spending more on energy bills. (We did find one article noting some local opposition to solar.)
The Raleigh-based News and Observer also accepted a grant from 1Earth Fund. The News and Observer then printed fantastical stories about wind farms lining the North Carolina coast and how lab-grown chicken “tastes very much like the actual chicken.” The paper didn’t mention anything about the problems with wind power’s inconsistency or that lab-grown chicken would be less affordable than eating filet mignon for every meal.
Who is Behind 1Earth Fund?
1Earth Fund was formed in 2018. Its founder is Roy Richards Jr., the former CEO and current chair of Southwire, a Georgia company that manufactures wire and cable for electrical distribution. Southwire is also invested in renewable energy—which hints at 1Earth’s motivation in funding newspapers to cover climate issues.
Richards Jr. is a climate activist and prominent political donor who has cut over $600,000 in checks to political candidates and committees. According to public records, Richards resides in an 8,000 square foot mansion in North Carolina that is worth just under $6 million. For a time, Richards also owned a second home of nearly 7,000 square feet in downtown Charleston, SC (now valued at just under $8 million). No doubt the climate impact of Richards’ mansions has been relatively substantial.
Diogo Freire is 1Earth Fund’s managing director. Freire has racked up over 2,000 climate change-related tweets since 2011. He advocates for banning plastic straws and gas stoves.
The relationship between Freire and Richards Jr. stems back at least to 2018, when Richards paid Freire a six-figure salary for “climate consulting” work from Richards’ foundation.
1Earth Founder’s Ties to Solar and EV Industry
In recent years, Southwire has invested in renewable energy products like solar panels and components for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.
So it’s no surprise that 1Earth Fund, founded by Southwire’s board chair and former CEO, promotes solar prominently on its website. “[W]e already have the technology to solve this [rising temperatures] problem. Solutions like solar power and batteries are being deployed across America and the World in a herculean effort to clean up the atmosphere,” 1Earth claims.
Nor does it seem a coincidence that a substantial portion of the articles funded by 1Earth Fund cheer on solar.
Yet we can’t find a single instance of 1Earth-funded “reporting” covering the many downsides of solar. A 2021 Harvard Business Review article notes used solar panels commonly head right to the landfill. Meanwhile, the “mass production of materials for renewables requires increased mining, industrial manufacturing, habitat destruction, greenhouse gas emissions, and the creation of toxic waste,” according to a recent documentary.
Other coverage has pushed climate scaremongering. “In metro Atlanta, days over 100 degrees to double by 2053, report says,” another headline funded by 1Earth reads. It’s hard to assign much credibility to a prediction 30 years from now when previous climate alarmist predictions, spanning several decades, have failed to come true.
Taken as a whole, this paid-for journalism appears to promote the ideological and business interests of 1Earth’s activist founder.
1Earth Fund is aided by the Kendeda Fund, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and the Journalism Funding Partners.
The Kendeda Fund has given money to the Southface Foundation, a Georgia-based activist group that promotes “green” construction and is run by a former solar industry executive. Kendeda has also funded radical environmentalists.
The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation supports the promotion of “social and economic justice” and funds a variety of left-leaning groups.
1Earth Fund is also connected to the Journalism Funding Partners, which helps coordinate the funding of local news. Commenting on 1Earth’s funding of the AJC, Journalism Funding Partners stated, “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a valuable role to play in helping Georgians understand the threat of climate change and what should be done to mitigate the risks.”
“What should be done” indicates this arrangement is really about advocacy, not journalism.