“Climate deniers are always highly intelligent, scrupulously honest and ideologically sound,” some wit once observed. “But never all three at the same time.” The quip raises one of the most fascinating questions of our times: what motivates those who attack climate change science and policy?
The simple answer is money. Sometimes in the immediate, obvious sense. For example, most of the think tanks that have challenged the scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all of their works have been funded by the US oil behemoth ExxonMobil or the brilliantly devilish Koch Industries and other blatantly vested interests.
The more complex answer is also money. Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian economics professor who brought free market neoliberalism to Britain, argued that the money signal was the perfect way to organise society. People buy what they want, and people produce what others want to buy. Easy. So almost all regulation and state interference in the markets must be swept away.
This was the ideology of the Thatcher revolution. It is Kool-Aid for the climate denying think tanks. Climate change policies are just a guise for increased government totalitarianism, and just with all environmental regulations, would undermine our national economy, our international competitiveness and our prosperity. This is what they say.
But the most intriguing aspect of the rather complex and fascinating world of climate denial is trying to work out whether people really could be so venal as to take oil company money and lie about the science of climate change. And could they really let an ideological and simplistic belief in these mystical markets blind them to the copious amount of peer reviewed science.
The investigative journalist Brendan Montague has spent the last three years deep in the wonderland of climate denial. He has interviewed the fundraisers who landed the Exxon cash for one UK think tank which has worked hard to prevent the government adopting climate change policies.
He has spoken to industry insiders including former CEOs from BP and British American Tobacco about why they give such funding. He has spoken to climate denial conference delegates drunk on the heady cocktail of climate denial and neoliberal absolutism. He even started to like some of these people. Some less charitable observers have wondered whether he has ‘gone native’.
Brendan has now been hired as editor of DeSmog UK, the latest venture from Brendan DeMelle and the experts at DeSmogBlog in the US and hot on the heels of the runaway success of DeSmog Canada. The Americans have spent almost a decade exposing the close links between oil firms, PR outfits, think tanks and pay-per-view academics. But it seems Brendan has gone to new extremes.
DeSmog UK will inform readers of the latest ruses used by some climate deniers. He will follow closely the successes of Lord Lawson and his Global Warming Policy Foundation. The coming months are absolutely vital in the climate debate.
The website today names Neil Record and Lord Vinson as funders of the GWPF, and reminds us that Michael Hintze has previously been outed by Graham Readfearn in The Guardian. All three men are wealthy beneficiaries of Lawson’s great liberalisation in the 1980s. And they are all trustees of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). From this, Brendan concludes there is nothing new about Lawson’s climate denial.
World leaders are meeting in New York this month to discuss climate and health. The party conference season is upon us and the firing pistol in the race the next general election has been sounded. The victors will form the next government will set the agenda at the Paris conference in December 2015 which is the last of the last chances to set global climate regulations.
But Brendan will be looking to the past as well as the future. He is publishing the first comprehensive, unauthorised history of climate denial. He takes the history of this movement not just back to its earliest days in the 1980s but even further to its roots in neoliberal ideology and its birth after the Second World War.
This story begins with old fashioned high japes but soon unravels into a dark tragedy. It begins with Antony Fisher, the founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and how our road to hell is paved with his good intentions. And it ends with the story of how the IEA helped elevate Lord Lawson to chief denier so that he could continue their battle.
And deep in this history we learn something about the cause of climate denial that offers a startling and unavoidable truth about our future. The climate deniers – many intelligent and honest – have understood something about environmentalism that very few environmentalists have fully appreciated or understood. It is the secret of our age. And within this paradox is revealed the only real hope for a prosperous, safe future.
You can join the story at DeSmog.UK and through Twitter, Facebook, and by signing up for a newsletter. Brendan can also be found on Twitter if you want to learn more about his journey of discovery and his investigatory methods.