Climate conspiracy theorists in transport – and in government?
A third of Britain’s carbon emissions come from transport. Decarbonisation of transport is now the biggest environmental challenge we face – and progress has been glacially slow, so far. While a debate rages about the best ways to decarbonise, you might be surprised to hear that the most influential publication in transport, LTT (called TransportXtra online), is publicising conspiracy theories casting doubt on climate change. This article began with an investigation into those stories but it soon led me towards something bigger and more curious, involving people at the heart of government.
LTT has been running climate ‘sceptic’ stories for many years. They were irregular, and most readers probably didn’t even notice them. A common factor was the Global Warming Policy Foundation, often quoting its director, Benny Peiser. The GWPF is a climate ‘sceptic’ think tank, set up by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson in 2009. It refuses to disclose the source of its funding; but investigators have identified a few wealthy Conservative individuals.
Between 2007 and 2018 I occasionally wrote for LTT and spoke at events organised by its publisher, Landor. Around 2018 I noticed that they were becoming more frequent and aggressive, possibly because the climate deniers realised they were being marginalised. You will need a subscription to view the full text of LTT but this article from March 2018 is one example. It summarises a GWPF report co-authored by Christopher Booker (a long-standing conspiracy theorist), accusing “academics, politicians, the media, teachers, business executives” and the public of “an extraordinary flight from reality” in their “belief that man-made global warming was real and dangerous.”
Then in May 2020, for the first time, an LTT editorial explicitly attacked the scientific basis of climate science and the legitimacy of the UK’s net zero legislation. This provoked several complaints from readers, contributors and advertisers, who were alerted to these articles by members of Extinction Rebellion. It also prompted supportive letters from groups such as the Alliance of British Drivers, who believe that climate science is part of a conspiracy to increase government control and reduce the population to “serfs”. These views, sometimes accompanied by abuse of opponents, have not prevented parliamentary committees from inviting the ABD to give evidence on issues such as road safety and young drivers.
In July 2020 the Editorial Director of Landor stated that they had decided to “bring the climate change science debate in the letters pages to a halt.” For a while, the aggressive attacks on climate science and its advocates were toned down. Articles about the GWPF continued, but were more carefully focused on transport issues. Then in early January, the truce was broken with a ranting article, based on the annual GWPF lecture delivered by Frank Furedi. Furedi is a sociologist who believes that “the climate change narrative [has] mutated into an ideology of evil” whose advocates are trying to impose a “lockdown utopia” on everyone else.
Furedi has a fascinating history and connections that led me towards a bigger story, with connections to the government. Furedi was a co-founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in the 1970s. Under his leadership, the party began to move away from Marxism and embrace a range of “contrarian” beliefs. Its magazine, Living Marxism, later LM, published deliberately provocative stories, for example, defending the free speech of Holocaust-deniers. In 2000, LM was forced to cease publication after it published false claims that ITN journalists had faked pictures of Serbian war crimes during the Bosnian war. The following year, many of the same people launched Spiked-online, with a libertarian, populist and violently anti-environmental stance. Its recent targets have included: COVID lockdowns, attempts to tackle climate change and policies that aim to reduce traffic or transport emissions. Spiked is also coy about its funding, but has admitted substantial support from the Koch brothers, billionaire climate change deniers with fossil fuel interests.
In the late 1990s, the RCP mutated into an informal ‘Spiked network’, which began to infiltrate different areas of the establishment. Some of them went into the media, producing some notorious TV programmes, falsifying climate science and misrepresenting the views of scientists they interviewed. Some of them went into organisations communicating science to the public. Others went back into politics in new guises. Claire Fox, a director of LM who helped set up Spiked, was given a peerage by Boris Johnson last year, despite her membership of the Brexit party. That decision highlighted Fox’s past support for the IRA; much less attention was paid to her attacks on climate scientists.
Why did Johnson offer a peerage to a political opponent? The Times believes that another ex-RCP member was involved. Since 2019, Munira Mirza, has been the head of the No. 10 Policy Unit. As I discovered when researching my latest book Roads Runways and Resistance, advisers to the Prime Minister wield considerable power, often giving instructions to other ministers. Dominic Cummings’ departure has left Mirza as the most powerful government adviser. She is reportedly behind the recent attacks on “woke” attitudes by ministers. Her articles for Spiked have mainly concerned issues around race and diversity (‘Stop Pandering to Muslims’, ‘Diversity is Divisive’ etc.). One of her articles from 2008 begins by defending science against conspiracy theories but then appears to make an exception when it comes to “Green campaigners” and claims of a “scientific consensus.” Is she still part of the Spiked network, as some sources allege? Would she include environmentalists and climate scientists in her “war on the woke”? I tried to contact her over a week ago, by email and letter, but she has not responded.
Furedi’s lecture to the GWPF might be coincidental, or it might be very significant. I could find no earlier evidence of collaboration between the populists funded by fossil fuels and the Conservative businessmen behind the GWPF. If they are joining forces, they would bring together an impressive network of connections to power, one which the progressive media must scrutinise and expose.
Steve Melia is a Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning at the University of the West of England. He now writes for Transport Times and the Ecologist. See: www.stevemelia.co.uk
Roads Runways and Resistance – from the Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion is published by Pluto Press.
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