Who Contest Climate Change Should Tell Us Who Is Paying Them
By George Monbiot
26 September, 2006
On the letters page of the Guardian
last week, a Dr Alan Kendall attacked the Royal Society for "smearing"
its opponents. The society had sent an official letter to Exxon, complaining
about the oil company's "inaccurate and misleading" portrayal
of the science of climate change and about its funding of lobby groups
that deny global warming is taking place. The letter, Kendall argued,
was an attempt to "stifle legitimate discussion".
Perhaps he is unaware of
what has been happening. The campaign of dissuasion funded by Exxon
and the tobacco company Philip Morris has been devastatingly effective.
By insisting that man-made global warming is either a "myth"
or not worth tackling, it has given the media and politicians the excuses
for inaction they wanted. Partly as a result, in the US at least, these
companies have helped to delay attempts to tackle the world's most important
problem by a decade or more.
Should we not confront this?
If, as Kendall seems to suggest, we should refrain from exposing and
criticising these groups, would that not be to "stifle legitimate
There is still much more
to discover. It is unclear how much covert corporate lobbying has been
taking place in the UK. But the little I have been able to find so far
suggests that here, as in the US, there seems to be some overlap between
Exxon and the groups it has funded and the operations of the tobacco
The story begins with a body
called the International Policy Network (IPN). Like many other organisations
that have received money from Exxon, it describes itself as a thinktank
or an independent educational charity, but a more accurate description,
it seems to me, would be "lobby group". While the BBC would
seldom allow someone from Bell Pottinger or Burson-Marsteller on air
to discuss an issue of concern to their sponsors without revealing the
sponsors' identity, the BBC has frequently allowed IPN's executive director,
Julian Morris, to present IPN's case without declaring its backers.
IPN has so far received $295,000 from Exxon's corporate headquarters
in the US. Morris told me that he runs his US office "solely for
IPN argues that attempts
to prevent (or mitigate) man-made climate change are a waste of money.
It would be better to let it happen and adapt to its effects. The Network
published a book this year arguing that "humanity has until at
least 2035 to determine whether or not mitigation will also be a necessary
part of our strategy to address climate change ... attempting to control
it through global regulation of emissions would be counterproductive".
Morris has described the government's chief scientist, Sir David King
- who has campaigned for action on global warming - as "an embarrassment
to himself and an embarrassment to his country".
Like many of the groups that
have been funded by ExxonMobil, IPN has also received money from the
cigarette industry. Morris admits it has been given £10,000 by
a US tobacco company. There is also a question mark about his involvement
in a funding application to another tobacco company, RJ Reynolds.
In the archives that the
cigarette companies were forced to open as part of the settlement of
a class action in the US, there is a document entitled Environmental
Risk. It is an application to RJ Reynolds to pay for a book about "the
myth of scientific risk assessment". "The principal objective
of this book is to highlight the uncertainties inherent in 'scientific'
estimates of risk to humans and the environment." Among the myths
it would be contesting were the adverse health effects of passive smoking.
The application requested £50,000 to publish the book; the editors
would be "Roger Bate and Julian Morris".
Morris insists that his name
was added to the document without his consent. He says he had "nothing"
to do with the book. It was published in 1997 under the title What Risk?,
with a foreword by the MP David Davis. It claims that passive smoking
is no more dangerous than "eating 50g of mushrooms a week",
and attacks "politically correct" beliefs such as "passive
smoking causes lung cancer" and "mankind's emissions of carbon
dioxide will result in runaway global warming". Morris is not named
as its coeditor, but he is the first person thanked in the acknowledgments,
for his "editorial suggestions".
The book's editor, Roger
Bate, is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute - which
has received $1.6m from ExxonMobil - and the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, which has received $2m. Until 2003, he was Morris's predecessor
as head of IPN. When the book was written, he ran the European Science
and Environment Forum (Esef), which published What Risk?. The registered
owner of Esef's website is Morris. He claims he had nothing to do with
Esef, and registered the name "as a favour to a friend".
The investigative group PRWatch
alleges that Esef was originally called Scientists for Sound Public
Policy (SSPP), and was founded by a public relations agency working
for the tobacco company Philip Morris. Documents in the tobacco archives
show that SSPP was the subject of a fierce turf war between the PR firms
Apco and Burson Marsteller, which were vying for Philip Morris's account.
Burson Marsteller's proposal
argued that "industrial resistance" to regulation is "perceived
as protection of commercial self-interests". A different "countervailing
voice" was required, consisting of "international opinion
formers supported financially by the industry". Their role would
be "educating opinion leaders, politicians and the media".
The group would also seek funding from other industries. Some of those
Esef recruited as "academic members" were people working for
US lobby groups later funded by Exxon, who have made false claims about
Like Morris, Bate has often
appeared on radio and television programmes. Interviewed by the Today
programme about climate change, he argued that cutting carbon emissions
has been "folly all along". Instead, we should concentrate
on adapting to climate change. In 2000, he presented a film on BBC2
called Organic Food: the Modern Myth, on which Morris also appeared.
Bate has not yet answered the Guardian's requests for a response.
There is no law against taking
money from corporations, or against advancing arguments in the media
that are in tune with theirs. Nor should there be. The problem is what
appears to be a failure to declare an interest. When someone speaks
on an issue of public importance, we should be allowed to see who has
been paying them. This should apply to all advocates, pressure groups
and thinktanks, from Greenpeace to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The BBC's producer guidelines
are clear on this point. "We need to ensure that we do not get
involved with campaigning programming which is politically contentious.
Programmes should not embrace the agenda of a particular campaign or
campaigning group ..." Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s,
some of us warned that campaigning groups did not always describe themselves
as such. We were ignored. The BBC now seems to have woken up to the
problem. But we have lost 10 years in which climate change could have
· George Monbiot's
book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning is published this week monbiot.com