Climate Science Deniers Planning European Misinformation Campaign, Leaked Documents Reveal

September 16, 2019

A coalition of climate science denial groups is gearing up for a European media blitz later this month, in an apparent bid to derail efforts to set an EU-wide “net zero” emissions target, documents obtained by DeSmog show.

Plans for a self-styled “European Declaration” include press conferences in Brussels, Rome and Oslo and a letter to be sent to leaders of EU and UN institutions, scheduled for mid-September.

The letter claims to have “400 independent Climate Scientists and Professionals” signed up so far.

Some notable signatories are part of a trans-Atlantic network of thinktanks pushing for environmental deregulation post-Brexit, and have a history of climate science denial. A number of former employees of the network’s member organisations are now staffers in Boris Johnson’s cabinet.

Titled ‘There is no climate emergency’, the group’s letter claims that current changes in the climate are “to be expected from the cyclic behaviour of the climate system” and that there is “no proof” that carbon dioxide is a major cause of global warming.

Another of the group’s “urgent messages” is to “strongly oppose” an EU carbon neutrality goal, a policy that was blocked by Poland and three other member states in June and is set to be discussed again at a European Council meeting in October.

Robert Brulle, Professor of Sociology at Drexel University and an expert on climate science denial, told DeSmog the campaign looked like a panicked response to recent high-profile efforts to highlight the climate crisis:

The rise of the Extinction Rebellion movement, and the immense popularity and influence of Greta Thunberg, are having a significant impact on media coverage of climate change and concern about this issue. I would suspect that the aim of the campaign is to blunt the impact of these climate advocacy efforts.”

The talking points are stale and patently scientific nonsense. That isn’t critical. The point would be to keep the ‘contested’ nature of climate change alive.”

Geoffrey Supran, a Research Associate at Harvard University who gave evidence to the European Parliament in March on oil giant ExxonMobil’s historic promotion of climate science denial, said he thought the move was an attempt to distract from the various upcoming efforts to increase action on climate change globally, such as the UN Climate Action Summit at the end of the month:

These people are the rhetorical equivalent to the kid in the classroom screaming ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ They’re desperate for attention.”

As always, they presumably hope to muddy the waters of public and political discourse on the climate crisis. To feed the echo chamber of sympathetic right-wing media and blogs, and to prey on naive and unsuspecting journalists who may be tempted to exercise false balance in their climate coverage.”

Coordinated effort

The campaign is being spearheaded by a new Netherlands-based climate science denial group called the Climate Intelligence Foundation (CLINTEL), launched in April with funding from Niek Sandmann, a multimillionaire real estate developer.

The group’s co-founder Guus Berkhout, an engineering professor who began his career at Shell and set up the Delphi Consortium in the 1980s to develop new exploration methods for the oil and gas industry, told DeSmog that interest in the campaign had been “overwhelming”.

Berkhout said there were plans to hold press conferences in European capitals and that the effort was being “expanded to a World Climate Declaration”. He declined to offer further details or comment.

In addition to CLINTEL, the international organising group includes some well-known figures from the climate misinformation world, including:

In an email seen by DeSmog, Berkhout explains that “signatures are being collected from persons who give a valuable contribution to the climate debate and are recognised as such”. He goes on to boast that there are “already a lot of great names on the list”.

Of the 400 signatories, only a handful have a background in climate science, with the majority being writers, engineers and geologists with no direct expertise in the field.

In addition to the Cato Institute‘s Richard Lindzen, the list features numerous figures from US-based libertarian groups, including Patrick Michaels of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Charles Battig and Willie Soon from the Heartland Institute, which provides a total of 12 signatures alone. All three organisations are members of the Atlas Network, a Koch-funded international umbrella body of free-market groups.

UK affiliates of the network include the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) and the Taxpayers’ Alliance. A number of former employees of these groups are now working in Boris Johnson’s government.

Taxpayers’ Alliance founder Matthew Elliott is reportedly advising new Chancellor Sajid Javid, whose Conservative leadership campaign he ran, while former employee Chloe Westley has joined Boris Johnson’s Number 10 team. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has appointed two special advisors from the IEA and ASI.

UK support

The UK’s principal climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), founded by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson in the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, is also well-represented in the campaign.

At least four members of its Academic Advisory Council feature in the letter’s signatories, and other contributors to the GWPF have also backed the “declaration”.

One is Northumbria University Professor Valentina Zharkova, who gave a lecture to the group last year claiming that climate change is caused by natural solar cycles. A paper Zharkova co-authored in June on the same subject was criticised for containing “basic errors” and an investigation into how it came to be published was launched by the scientific journal that printed it.

CLINTEL also has close ties to the GWPF. Berkhout wrote an essay for the UK group last year insisting that climate change was purely a natural phenomenon. And in February, the GWPF published an article by its Dutch counterpart that said: “Yes, the Earth is warming up. But that is business as usual. Earth’s history tells us that climate change has always happened.”

The following month GWPF director Benny Peiser spoke at a gathering in Amsterdam where CLINTEL announced its upcoming launch.

At that event, Berkhout admitted: “in this whole audience, apart from the organisation and a few brave ones, I don’t see young people. So the first thing we are going to do is talk with the young people.” CLINTEL currently has a youth wing called “Young Clintel”.

The GWPF did not respond to a request for comment.

Other UK signatories include directors and former directors of lesser-known oil and gas companies, as well as five Fellows of the Geological Society, a professional body representing Earth scientists.

In addition to the EU “net zero” emissions target under consideration, planned “climate strike” protests and the upcoming UN Climate Action Summit, the media offensive may also, given its European focus, be timed to coincide with a crunch government meeting in Germany on how the country will meet its 2030 emissions target, set to take place on 20 September.

German signatories to the letter include a spokesperson for the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE), which a Der Spiegel investigation earlier this year found had been working closely with the insurgent, far-right Alternative for Germany party to campaign against action on climate change.

Image credit: European Parliament/Flickr/CC BYNCND 2.0

Richard Collett-White

Rich Collett-White is Deputy Editor of DeSmog. He joined the organisation in December 2018 as a UK researcher and reporter, having previously worked in communications for the climate charity Operation Noah.

Tags: climate denial, climate policy