The world’s leading climate scientists have thrown public support behind a freedom of information request filed against the London-based conservative thinktank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, the Guardian reports. The thinktank, chaired by former British chancellor and conservative politician, Lord Lawson (pictured above), is being asked to disclose the identities of its financial supporters. Brendan Montague, who filed the request with his organization, the Request Initiative, described Lawson’s thinktank as being “bankrolled by shadowy funders, [and] lobbying government for a change in climate policy that would affect the lives of millions of people.”
Montague is arguing in his request that release of this information will serve the public good. He was quoted as saying “The privacy of wealth has so far been valued above public accountability, even by our own civic institutions. The democratic principle of transparency is breached when a former chancellor can sit in the House of Lords influencing government policy on matters as important as climate change while accepting funding for his thinktank from secret supporters.”
Conservative thinktanks, even those specifically devoted to attacking the validity of climate science, are not new. They exist in the United States and elsewhere, usually being bankrolled by wealthy conservatives interested in arguing that climate change is not happening. Bjorn Lomberg, the former Danish environment minister who wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist, has been running a government-funded thinktank called the Copenhagen Consensus Centre for years, until it recently lost its funding.
Just Another Shot in the War on Climate Science
In late 2009, hackers broke into the computers of climatologists at the University of East Anglia in the UK, anonymously releasing the contents (which included private emails between scientists) online. Denialists quickly pointed to the emails as evidence of a widespread global warming hoax based on a few misunderstood scientific phrases.
One email referred to a “trick” of plotting data on a logarithmic scale instead of linearly in order to see a certain trend in the data more clearly. Deniers latched onto this, claiming scientists were trying to trick the world by misrepresenting data. Conservative pundits started referring to the hacked emails as “Climategate,” although there was nothing intellectually incriminating.
Michael Mann, an American climatologist figuring in some of the emails, was investigated by the National Science Foundation under conservative pressure, but was cleared of any wrongdoing. Though the whole event received an amazing amount of press on the Right for almost two years, no official body ever identified even the smallest example of fraud or inappropriate behavior as a result of the hacked emails, save the actions of the unknown hackers themselves.
Holding Deep-Pocketed Enemies of Science Accountable
I’m sure I’m not alone in suspecting the hackers had a right-wing or corporate agenda, perhaps even being commissioned by one of the many conservative thinktanks in the world battling against climate research. Much like religious groups lobbying against the teaching of the science of evolution, conservative thinktanks are a combination of PR firm, propaganda mill and political lobbyist. They have a specific agenda in mind from the start and truth is irrelevant. Since their claims are actually counter to science, they have to rely on smear campaigns, legal challenges and outright lies in lieu of evidence.
It’s nice to see someone holding one of these conservative thinktanks accountable, using the same legal machinery they themselves employ so masterfully in manufacturing controversy or discrediting honest scientists. It’s true that these organizations appeal to their base and are largely ignored by balanced news organizations, but we should be tackling them head-on more frequently. It’s a bit ridiculous that a group of conservatives can sit around and make stuff up, and yet politically challenge the hard-won facts of legitimate science. Let’s unmask these shadowy backers and ask them to explain themselves.
Photo credit: Lord Lawson Tucker321