How two young students took the climate denial bate

| 7th September 2018
FAKENOMICS: The Institute of Economic Affairs was the first think tank in the UK to promote climate denial. This is the story of how John Blunder, its then director general, recruited British students with a flair for free market economics to the US for internships at Koch-funded think tanks. BRENDAN MONTAGUE reports

I am not dogmatic in my approach, I care deeply about the environment

By the early 1990s John Blundell was a well established founder and supporter of several American free-market think tanks. So to help grow the neoliberal network, he organised eight-week paid internships in the United States each year for 30 British students who had demonstrated flair and a keen interest in free market economists.

Blundell asked the think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), supported by the Kochs, to take on some of the young hopefuls. “Fred Smith at CEI agreed but only if he could have Roger Bate,” Blundell confirmed.

Roger Bate was sharp, energetic and almost fanatical. He had met Smith in 1992 at the week-long “Université d’été des Nouveaux Économistes” in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Now a free-market economist, Bate was around this time completing an MSc in environment and resource economics at University College London (UCL).

Bate was influenced by Jimmy Sheehan, a CEI “staffer” who was working on a book about the global environmental movement and a monograph for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London.

Cross Pollination

Bate would, in turn, recruit his friend Julian Morris to the climate cause. The two men would have a profound influence on the germination and cross pollination of climate denial in London and around the world.

Morris was the handsome, charming and well spoken son of a chemical engineer from Epping. He first became interested in free market economics when he was a 22-year-old student completing an MA at the highly regarded Edinburgh University in 1991.

He read a startling and challenging article in the Financial Times which was based on a monograph by professor Sir Douglas Hague, published by the IEA, which called for the privatisation of universities.

Morris also read free-marketeer Friedrich von Hayek's The Use of Knowledge in Society and attended events at the IEA, where he met Blundell and Linda Whetstone, the daughter of IEA founder, Antony Fisher.

Naive Environmentalist

“I was myself a naive young environmentalist,” Morris wrote some years later. “I had just written a paper on how to establish a global system for restricting emissions of carbon dioxide and was about to embark on a masters course in environment and resource economics run by Professor David Pearce at University College London.”

At the time, there was much buzz about a conference due to take place in Rio de Janeiro that was being hailed as the 'Earth Summit' and global warming was a hot item on the agenda.

It was during his masters at UCL that Morris became close friends with Bate and became increasingly immersed in free market ideas and the think tank world.

“I am not dogmatic in my approach”, Morris told me. “I care deeply about the environment.”  

Blundell would later arrange for Morris to fly out to the United States through the Charles G Koch Foundation, taking up a short internship at the Atlas Foundation - both of which Blundell worked for.

“Charles and David Koch are two of the finest, most upstanding businessmen and philanthropists in the world,” Morris told me during an email interview.

While in the US, Morris completed his research for his IEA monograph The Political Economy of Land Degradation in 1995. On his return, he set up shop as a consultant economist and worked for the European Environment Agency, Save the Rhino International and the World Wildlife Fund.

But over the coming years Morris would make considerably more money running think tanks that challenged the science of climate change and attacked policies that would reduce carbon emissions.

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 Desmog.uk.

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