New database maps web of disinformation plaguing UK climate policy

| 11th December 2017
Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan at 2012 CPAC in Washington. Hannan is one of the people profiled on the DeSmog UK's Climate Disinformation Database. 

Flickr
A web of lobbyists, politicians, and political funders continue to spread disinformation about climate change in the UK. MAT HOPE, the editor of DeSmog UK, today launches its new Climate Disinformation Database. Here he explains how the resource aims to better inform public debate.

There is a host of new names – many of them emerging in the wake of the Brexit referendum, pushing for environmental deregulation in the name of ‘free market’ ideology.

Whether due to commercial pressures or a lack of will, the mainstream media has largely vacated the space for robust reporting on science and political lobbying. This is particularly the case on thorny issues such as climate change, where in-house specialist reporters are becoming an endangered species.

Fortunately, a new breed of journalistic outlets are picking up the slack. Through specialised, focused, investigative reporting and creative ways of communicating, the new media is filling a vacuum left by more established outlets – giving the full picture where traditional outlets only offer snapshots.

There are many great examples of this in the environmental arena. And today, DeSmog UK has launched a new offering with its Climate Disinformation Database. The database contains almost 70 profiles of people and organisations involved in spreading climate science denial and lobbying to maintain the fossil-fuelled status quo in the UK.

Spending money

Some of the names are familiar. There is former chancellor Nigel Lawson, founder of the climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Forum. There is hereditary peer, Times columnist, coal baron, and self-styled “rational optimist”, Matt Ridley. And there is old-school Daily Telegraph columnist and renewable energy hater Christopher Booker.

But there is also a host of new names – many of them emerging in the wake of the Brexit referendum, pushing for environmental deregulation in the name of ‘free market’ ideology. Take for example Daniel Hannan, the Brexit cheerleader and MEP for South East England, and his new Institute for Free Trade (IFT).

Hannan himself has said politicians shouldn’t bother spending money to try and prevent climate change. And the IFT supports the idea that the best way to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change is to make everyone rich – an idea rejected by many economists.

Lobbying networks

The IFT is part of a trans-atlantic lobbying network that has gained strength while Theresa May’s government has weakened as it struggles to come to terms with Brexit. The IFT was launched in September 2017 by Brexiteer-in-chief, foreign secretary Boris Johnson – who has at best a patchy understanding of climate science.

IFT president Hannan spoke at an event for the climate science denying US think tank, the Heritage Foundation, in December 2016. The same think tank hosted trade minister Liam Fox on his first trip to the US in his new role, and has also hosted former environment secretary and GWPF keynote speaker, Owen Paterson.

At the IFT’s recent Global Trade Summit, Mark J Perry, a fellow of the climate science denying US think tank the American Enterprise Institute, was on a panel with GWPF-advisor Matt Ridley. But the lobbying networks go deeper than this, as a new map launched alongside the database shows.

Disentangle disinformation

The GWPF shares an office with a network of pro-Brexit organisations including the TaxPayer’s Alliance, Civitas, and Vote Leave all based out of 55 Tufton Street. The GWPF has also received donations from major Conservative Party and Brexit donors, including Australian hedge-fund manager Michael Hintze and Bristol Port Company director Terence Mordaunt.

Beyond the GWPF, there is an established network of climate disinformation dissemination within parliament. Current and former Conservative MPs including David Davies and Peter Lilley have regularly been at climate science denial events held within the palace of Westminster, hosted by Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson.

Wilson now finds himself a crucial cog in the machine just about keeping Theresa May’s government on the road. 

All of this information is now available at everyone’s fingertips. So the next time you hear Lawson on the Today programme, read a questionable column by Matt Ridley in The Times, or see a quote from someone that sounds suspicious in the press,  grab your phone, plug their name into the database, and start to disentangle the disinformation.

This Author

Mat Hope is Editor of DeSmog UK, an investigative journalism project dedicated to cutting through the PR spin that clouds the climate change debate. (Declaration of interest: Brendan Montague, editor of The Ecologist online was the founding editor of DeSmog UK).