There are probably those with hidden agendas of their own, not just to save the environment, but to change our economic system
One evening John Blundell arrived at the Hickory Farm neighbourhood watch meeting in Virginia, and to his surprise discovered he was living close to Dr S Fred Singer, who he had met on the free market think tank circuit.
Singer was with his new wife Candice Crandall, who Blundell had met separately as a press officer at the Koch funded George Mason University (GMU).
Singer is the most persistent and persuasive, and some believe pernicious, sceptical scientist in the world. He was aware of the science from as early as 1968 but it was at the same time that he met Blundell among the community of Koch funders and funded think tanks around GMU that he became the most important activist in the field.
Singer was a rocket scientist with outstanding credentials. While serving in the US Navy during the Second World War he designed computer technology to help ships avoid mines. He then designed instruments for satellites and produced the first calculation of methane increases due to human activity.
Exxon, Shell, Sun Oil and ARCO all hired Singer as a consultant during the late 1970s. And he was among the first to challenge the science of acid rain and by 1989 had become interested in the emerging science of climate change, leading to his attack on the scientists as well as the campaigners.
Around this time he also became a good friend to Blundell: “One evening, when I was a volunteer on neighbourhood watch, I suddenly realised Fred was a close neighbour” Blundell told me before he passed away.
“By bizarre coincidence Fred lived in the same sub-division. For ages I had no idea. His wife was better known to me as a public relations person at GMU. She kept her maiden name so I had no idea they were even a couple.”
He added: “I really spent more time with Fred when I was at the IEA and he was in London and at a loose end on a weekend. I took him to lunch at the Morpeth Arms I recall.”
As well as being close neighbours, Blundell and Singer were ideological allies.
Singer was the founder and inspiration for the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), and would dedicate his retirement years attacking science and environmental policy through the offices of the project.
Linda Whetstone, Fisher's eldest daughter and a trustee of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, confirmed in one document that “SEPP was founded in 1992, receiving early support from Atlas [Economic Research Foundation] at a crucial stage.”
Yet, SEPP claimed never to have lobbied and set out that it would only “respond when requested by Congress or administration officials”.
Self proclaimed messiah
Singer shared Fisher's almost paranoid concern about communism. He wrote: “There are probably those with hidden agendas of their own, not just to save the environment, but to change our economic system.”
He warned: “Some of these coercive utopians are socialists, some are technology hating luddites; most have a great desire to legislate on as large a scale as possible.”
Blundell and Singer found common ideological ground. Shortly after meeting Blundell, Singer was made a distinguished research professor at the Institute of Humane Studies.
He could also boast of being “distinguished research professor” at GMU. Such proximity to the Koch nexus suggests he may have also received oil funding.
Crandall would confirm some years later: “SEPP has never received funding from ARCO, Sun Oil or Shell. Exxon is the only oil company that gives a regular grant - $5,000, no strings.”
Singer then recruited Professor Frederick Seitz, the founder of the George C Marshall Institute to his new think tank.
But by the time Seitz was appointed by Singer, at the age of 86, he was in failing health. A manager at a tobacco company paying the scientist to attack cancer studies around this time said: “Dr Seitz is quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice.”
SEPP was also affiliated to the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, which in turn was funded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a self proclaimed messiah, manufacturer and radical conservative.
Dr John Mashey, an independent researcher who publishes with the environmentalist DeSmogBlog in the US, has analysed Singer's tax returns. He noted: “SEPP's finances were curious. SEPP paid no salaries, even for Singer's 60-hour work weeks. Money flowed oddly. Asset trades often exceeded normal income and they accumulated to $1.5 million, tax free.”
Singer would become the most influential climate denier of his generation. But his methods would prove hugely controversial and, for many, well beyond academic ethics.
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 Desmog.uk.