Politics

Exposing the climate science denial network behind Trump and May

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Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump give joint press conference

From Donald Trump to Theresa May, a powerful U.S.-UK network lobbies behind the scenes for climate science denial. 

DONALD TRUMP has finally come to the UK, 20 months after he won the election to make him the 45th President of the United States.

During that time, a trans-Atlantic network of business people, think tank analysts and lobbyists have grown in influence — pushing a free market ideology and spreading climate science denial on both sides of the Atlantic.

DeSmog UK first mapped the network when Trump was sworn into office in January 2016. Things have moved on a bit since then.

Network Map January 2016

On the eve of the President’s UK visit, over 100 scientists signed a letter urging Theresa May to challenge Donald Trump’s climate science denial. To mark the occasion, DeSmog UK has updated the network map, showing all the key connections between the actors in the shadows pushing to lighten environmental regulations, and dampen corporate accountability in the U.S. and UK (below).

Network Map Today

From Trump to the UK

Donald Trump is famously keen to appoint climate science deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists to head up the U.S.’ main environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

First, there was Scott Pruitt, a lawyer funded by the fossil fuel industry that was fond of trying to stop the EPA’s clean power plan in the courts. After Pruitt resigned in the wake of multiple allegations of inappropriate use of EPA funds, Trump appointed another coal lobbyist to replace him — Andrew Wheeler. He was a staffer of climate science denying U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe. Inhofe once held up a snowball in Congress to try and disprove global warming.

Inhofe has taken campaign contributions from the Koch brothers, who have spent more than $88 million (AU$118 million) backing groups spreading climate science denial, according to Greenpeace estimates. Trump’s 2016 presidential bid was belatedly backed by the Kochs, but Trump mainly drew funds from Rebekah and Robert Mercer. The Mercer Family Foundation spent at least $3,824,000 (AU$436,347) between 2003 and 2010 directly funding groups opposing climate change action.

The Mercers and the Kochs fund a number of organisations that tie Trump and his administration to climate science denial and Brexit lobbying in the UK, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland InstituteThe Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity.

Trans-Atlantic Conduits

These groups use a number of actors as conduits to spread their money, resources and ideas into the UK.

One organisation that rapidly grew in influence after the Brexit referendum was the Legatum InstituteOpenDemocracy revealed how Legatum got privileged access to UK government ministers, with all the links and meetings mapped by DeSmog UK.

Legatum hired two U.S. lobbyists with ties to climate science denial organisations: Alden Abbott and Shanker Singham. Abbott authored a report for the Heartland Institute and was a deputy director at The Heritage Foundation, while Singham was a policy expert for the U.S.-based Heartland Institute.

Singham is often credited with working inside government to push for a hard Brexit. Singham had begun advising PR and lobbying firm Grayling about Brexit, Open Democracy revealed. This was a problem, as Singham was a member of International Trade Secretary and arch-Leaver Liam Fox's trade advisory team. Singham said there is no conflict of interest, but stepped down from his trade advisory role anyway.

The controversy saw Singham shuffled out of Legatum. He now works for the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has strong ties to organisations based in a building that acts as an incubator for climate science denial and deregulatory ideas in the UK — 55 Tufton Street.

One resident, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, was set up by Matthew Elliott, now a Senior Advisor at Legatum. Elliot was Chief of the Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave. He recently visited the U.S. to work on the U.S.-UK trade deal, alongside Singham.

Elliott is married to Sarah Smith, chair of right-wing lobby group Republicans Overseas UK. Smith used to work as a Major Gifts Officer for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers lobby group.

There are other links, beyond Legatum.

Myron Ebell, a Director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a member of Trump’s transition team, is an ally of the UK’s premier climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

Ebell spoke at an event organised by the GWPF in January 2017. At the event, he said he considered the “climate industrial complex”, which included everyone from climate campaigners to publicly funded scientists, as one of the “most dangerous” threats to society.

When asked where he got his information on climate change, if not from experts or scientists, Ebell said he was:

“ ... very sceptical of expert opinion when it becomes group-think and experts gang up against the public.”

He pointed to Brexit as another example of the public rejecting expert opinion. When asked what special interests he was representing, he replied, “freedom”.

And then there are Arron Banks and Nigel Farage, famously photographed in a golden elevator with Donald Trump in November 2016.

Farage, former leader of UKIP and the Leave.EU campaign group has spoken at The Heritage Foundation. One of Brexit’s main funders, Banks has also been invited to Heritage Foundation events, as well as speaking at the CATO Institute — both of which promote climate science denial and rampant free-market capitalism.

Tory politicians and the UK Government

All of these conduits are significantly involved with pro-Brexit groups, which have the backing of numerous Tory politicians and cabinet members.

For instance, Leave Means Leave, a group campaigning for a hard Brexit, had new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab on its political advisory board.

Leave Means Leave was also supported by some of the UK’s most prominent climate science deniers such as former Tory MP and now Lord Peter Lilley, and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson. It was also supported by libertarian Tories calling for deregulations, which have previously pushed disinformation on climate change, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Christopher Chope and Ian Paisley Jr, to name a few.

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson is also a member of the group. Paterson and Lilley are both affiliated with the GWPF, and Paterson delivered a speech to the Competitive Enterprise Institute in October 2017.

Raab was also co-founder of Change Britain, which was set up by members of Vote Leave after the referendum. Change Britain’s patron is Lord Charles Guthrie, a former Field Marshal, who has been implicated in deals to buy Siberian gold alongside Arron Banks.

Raab is not the only cabinet member with strong links to the U.S. Just weeks after his appointment as International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox met with over a dozen Heritage Foundation members, including its president and former Tea Partier Jim DeMint, and several individuals who became part of the Trump Administration. Fox’s former special advisor when he was Defence Secretary, Luke Coffey, now works for the Heritage Foundation.

Fox was also the founder of Atlantic Bridge, a neoconservative thinktank aiming to promote a “special relationship” between the UK and the United States. In 2007, the group established a partnership with free-market lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), known for producing template pieces of legislation that reduce protections for the environment and other anti-regulation efforts. Atlantic Bridge operated until September 2011, when it was dissolved following a Charity Commission investigation.

A key funder of Atlantic Bridge was Michael Hintze, the billionaire hedge fund manager, Conservative party donor, philanthropist and supporter of the climate science denying GWPF. Hintze also donated money to former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for his campaign to be London Mayor.

While not a pro-Brexit cabinet member, new Home Secretary Matt Hancock has also accepted cash from a key donor to the climate science denying GWPF. He has received UK£18,000 (AU$32,086) in donations from businessman Neil Record over the past four years.

Johnson’s Brexit co-conspirator and now Environment Secretary Michael Gove was also involved with Atlantic Bridge and sits on the Advisory Committee of another 55 Tufton Street outfit, the New Culture Forum.

Gove, Fox and Johnson are all Brexit figureheads, and all recently held meetings with Singham and Legatum.

With so many connections between the Brexit and Trump camps, the President’s visit this week may feel more like a homecoming.

This article by Mat Hope was originally published on DeSmogBlog.com under the title 'From Donald Trump to Theresa May: How a US-UK Network Pushes Climate Science Denial and Lobbies for a Hard Brexit — Mapped '. 

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