The men behind Britain's climate denying charity



Photo: The Guardian via Creative Commons
The secret history of the formation of Britain's most influential climate denial outfit.

Fred Singer is not involved with the GWPF

Lord Lawson in 2008 was congratulated in private for his pamphlet attacking climate science and policy by a handful of peers and MPs - mostly from the Tory party. Some even suggest he set up a new foundation to take the fight against climate mitigation to the government of the day.

There was then an intimate groups who were furious that the Climate Change Act had become law. My investigation has shown that almost all had some relationship to Exxon and Koch funded think tanks in the United States, and were accepting funding from British oil and tobacco companies.

David Henderson, a member of free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA) academic advisory council, regularly attended meetings about climate change, and was often found lobbying Richard Ritchie, the political apparatchik for British Petroleum (BP).

Climate Denier Meetings

Henderson resurrected his climate denier meetings for economists and policy wonks at Westminster Business School. Among the regular attendees was Julian Morris, the director of the fatally damaged International Policy Network, and alumni of the IEA environment unit.

Henderson recruited Sir Ian Byatt, who he knew at Oxford as a bright undergraduate, to the climate denial cause over a series of lunches at a private members' club in London.

“I see him as the impresario, the intellectual Diaghilev who brought together the stars – in Diaghilev's case Stravinsky, Nijinsky and Picasso, in David's case Lawson, Lindzen and McKitrick,” Byatt told me.

Dr Benny Peiser, an obscure academic with a keen interest in asteroids and the human fascination with catastrophe, was also among this circle. His newsletter, CCNET, had transmuted to a conference bulletin about asteroid destruction, to a bulletin of the latest news articles casting doubt on climate change science.

Peiser declared “the death of global manmade warming theory” to the newsletter subscribers in November 2007, reporting that rising temperatures could be attributed to a strange bacteria on the seabed.

The scientific paper he was promoting, and the journal that published it, were part of a transparent hoax. And CCNET issued a rather embarrassing retraction.

The following year, Peiser spoke at the Heartland Institute climate change conference in the United States, not for the first time enjoying complimentary flights, hotel room and a generous £1,000 fee for a 30-minute presentation.

Heartland at the time was funded by ExxonMobil and foundations supported by the oil billionaire and free market cash cow Charles Koch.

Tarring Scientists

The IEA, still receiving funding from BP and British American Tobacco, was also tarring climate scientists with the now predictable claims that they were rent seekers falsifying their results and exaggerating the threats to secure government funding.

Fred Singer is not involved with the GWPF

The think tank produced Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists. The pamphlet was penned by Morris, Henderson, Alan Peacock and Byatt, all free market advocates who were fearful that climate science might prove the need for ‘socialist’ regulation and state planning.

“One of their principal concerns is that large-scale centralised action to combat the supposed 'threat' of global climate change is likely to be misdirected and could itself become a threat to freedom and to prosperity,” the IEA reported.

Morris was among the first to promote the argument that climate change action would impact on the poor. He claimed “government attempts to reduce emissions drastically are likely to slow rates of economic growth, thus inflicting harm and reducing the capacity to adapt, particularly in low-income countries”.

Political Mavericks

Lawson, Peiser, Henderson and Chris Horner of the American ExxonMobil-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) were all invited speakers during April 2007 at the European Parliament for the event Climate Change: Evaluating Appropriate Responses charged by the then Tory MEP Roger Helmer. Helmer has since defected to UKIP, where he survived being shamed by The Sun for visiting a massage parlour.

There were only loose connections between these mavericks and the cabal of Tories in Parliament who had become increasingly upset at the Climate Change Act being passed into law.

Lord Lawson met with Peter Lilley and also had lunch with Tory MP Andrew Tyrie who discovered, for the first time, that the former chancellor was now a key anti-science ally.

Tyrie told our researcher: “I worked with Nigel at that time. Nigel discussed with me on numerous occasions how best to create such a body and, indeed, developed from a suggestion I originally made to Nigel that he should not try and carry on on his own but needed some support.

“My original suggestion was that he try and find enough resources to employ a young economist or two to assist him and that developed, I suppose, in his mind to the idea of a think tank. I had considerable interest both in its design, its shape and funding and overhang and was very closely involved in its creation, very closely involved.”

Relying on Deniers

There was some difficulty finding academics willing to go against the almost universal understanding of the climate science. Lawson made contact with economists, but when it came to climate scientists, he had to rely on the reliable American deniers, almost all of whom had some association with oil companies – almost always Koch and ExxonMobil.

Lord Christopher Monckton, already known for being eccentric to the point of incomprehensible, also claims to have been among those Lawson (to whom he is related by marriage) approached for advice about climate science. Monckton has been supported by CFACT, which has been funded by ExxonMobil.

I asked Monckton why he was not a member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. He said: “I work very closely… I don’t belong to them but I go to their meetings, I receive their material, Benny Peiser in fact has been sending me his wonderful summary of events for years long before he even went to the GWPF – partly at my suggestion.

“I know Nigel [Lawson] quite well and he told me he was setting it up, and he said, ‘who should we get to direct it’ and I said, ‘oh, Benny Peiser’. So of course I am not on their academic board – I am not an academic. I am dealing mainly with climate science, and they are dealing mainly with climate economics.

“And besides, they know that if they want to try and argue this in the UK, having someone like me there makes it look as though this is just another organisation that is doing some kind of political campaigning, but it isn’t. Neither am I – but the Left has spent a lot of time and money adjusting my image, mainly on the internet.”

He added: “I communicate with Nigel Lawson from time to time, with Benny Peiser quite regularly on various matters…”

Lawson and Singer

Lawson was, during this period, in almost weekly contact with S Fred Singer, the grandfather of US climate denial, according to the latter. Singer spoke alongside Lawson at the Centre for Policy Studies in June 2008 after Lawson had persuaded Thatcher’s old think tank to attack climate science.

Lawson himself had some housekeeping to deal with. He had recently stepped down after the maximum nine-year term as president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, a charity funded by BP and Shell to form links between the oil industry, politicians, civil servants and academics.

The former chancellor, known for simplifying the British tax system, also sold his shares in a company called Central Europe Trust (CET) to an offshore shell company registered to an office of a tax avoidance specialist with its directors and owners hidden from public scrutiny.

CET was established just before the fall of the Berlin Wall as a consultancy to Western corporations keen to buy and strip the assets of companies in the former Soviet Union. By the time Lawson sold out, CET had worked for many of the major oil companies, including the Polish state-owned coal monopoly, and had aggressively sought work among tobacco companies.

The challenge was bringing these fiercely individualistic and iconoclastic individuals together, and presenting climate deniers as considered and well-informed contenders rather than a bunch of eccentrics with no experience of climate research. This was the challenge Lawson chose to accept.

Horner’s Idea

In 2005, Horner, the CEI attorney, set out plans for a new European think tank attacking climate change. He proposed the group be called the Sound Climate Policy Coalition. But his secret plan, set out in an apparent funding proposal to energy companies, was exposed.

So the name would never be used. Lord Lawson, some three years later, came up with an entirely different name for his entirely unrelated initiative: the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

However, Dr Peiser, now director of the GWPF, has a very different and sometimes contradictory understanding of the history of his own charity. He has denied the IEA played a role in its formation.

And he denied S Fred Singer was influential at the beginning. “Fred Singer is not involved with the GWPF. He is not one of our advisors. We’re not taking any advice, so I don’t know what you’re trying to establish but there is no link. Absolutely zero link,” he told me.

“You see, he is more into the science. We are more into the policy. That was not… and we have different views on a lot of issues anyhow. So he was not involved and we didn’t ask him, we didn’t look for his advice and, to my knowledge, this claim that he was somehow communicating with Lord Lawson is nonsense.”

Singer later spoke alongside Lawson at the IEA event where he announced the founding of the GWPF.

Peiser also argues that Lord Monckton was not involved in the GWPF. “Yes, but you know from what we do that we don’t deal with Christopher Monckton, and we never have, and so you should know there is no relationship.” He added: “Lord Monckton has had no, absolutely no, contact with me or Lord Lawson. Zero.”

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press)He tweets at @EcoMontague. This article first appeared at

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