US climate deniers pump millions into Tory-linked think tanks

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Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from Open Democracy under under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. This article was published 16 June 2022 while Boris Johnson was UK Prime Minister. Boris Johnson was followed by Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak as prime ministers.

Image: Boris Johnson confirms his thumbs up from Rupert Murdoch
Boris Johnson confirms his thumbs up from Rupert Murdoch

Our investigation reveals secretive funding sources for think tanks that boast of influencing the government

Influential right-wing UK think tanks with close access to ministers have received millions in ‘dark money’ donations from the US, openDemocracy can reveal.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Policy Exchange, the Adam Smith Institute and the Legatum Institute have raised $9m from American donors since 2012. Of this, at least $6m has been channelled to the UK, according to tax returns filed with US authorities – representing 11% of the think tanks’ total UK receipts, with the figure reaching 23% for the Adam Smith Institute.

In that time, all five have steadily increased their connections in the heart of government. Between them, they have secured more than 100 meetings with ministers and more than a dozen of their former staff have joined Boris Johnson’s government as special advisers.

Representatives from right-wing think tanks – many of whom are headquartered at 55 Tufton Street in central London – frequently appear in British media and have been credited with pushing the Tories further to the right on Brexit and the economy.

As openDemocracy revealed yesterday, ExxonMobil gave Policy Exchange $30,000 in 2017. The think tank went on to recommend the creation of a new anti-protest law targeting the likes of Extinction Rebellion, which became the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

None of these think tanks disclose their UK donors. With the exception of the Adam Smith Institute, none provide any information about the identity of donors to their US fundraising arms. 

But an investigation by openDemocracy has identified dozens of the groups’ US funders by analysing more than 100 publicly available tax filings.

The Scottish National Party MP Alyn Smith said that the findings showed that the UK’s lobbying laws were not tough enough.

“He who pays the piper calls the tune,” he told openDemocracy. “We urgently need to rewrite the laws governing this sort of sock puppet funding so that we can see who speaks for who.”

Last month, Smith asked an IEA representative who funded the think tank on BBC’s flagship question time show.

Among the US-organisations who have donated to UK think tanks are oil companies and several of the top funders of climate change denial in the US. 

The think tanks’ US arms received $5.4m from 18 donors who have also separately donated a combined $584m towards a vast network of organisations promoting climate denial in the US between 2003 to 2018, according to research from climate scientists.

  • The John Templeton Foundation, founded by the late billionaire American-British investor, has donated almost $2m to the US arms of the Adam Smith Institute and the IEA. Researchers claim that the John Templeton Foundation has a “history of funding what could be seen as anti-science activities and groups (particularly concerning climate-change and stem-cell research)”.
  • The National Philanthropic Trust, a multi-billion-dollar fund that does not disclose its own donors, has given almost $2m to the IEA, Policy Exchange, TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Legatum Institute’s US fundraisers. The trust has donated $22m to climate denial organisations, one of which described it as a “vehicle” for funnelling anonymous donations from the fossil fuel industry.   
  • The Sarah Scaife Foundation, founded by the billionaire heir to an oil and banking fortune, has given $350,000 to the Adam Smith Institute and the Legatum Institute. The foundation is one of the biggest funders of climate denial in the US, contributing more than $120m to 50 organisations promoting climate denial since 2012. Last month, openDemocracy revealed that the foundation, which has $30m in shares in fossil fuel companies, gave $210,525 to a UK climate sceptic group.

Policy Exchange, the influential conservative think tank, published a report in 2019 – two years after taking money from ExxonMobil – claiming that Extinction Rebellion were “extremists” and calling for the government to introduce new laws to crack down on the climate protest group.

New anti-protest laws passed under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last month appear to have been directly inspired by the report. The Home Office did not deny that it considered the recommendations when approached for comment. 

The American Friends of the IEA also received a $50,000 donation from ExxonMobil in 2004, while the main UK branch of the IEA has received donations from BP every year since 1967.

The Legatum Institute has received $154,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2018 and 2019. The foundation was set up by the American billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, one the biggest fossil fuel companies in the US. 

Andy Rowell, co-author of “A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain”, told openDemocracy: “For years, there have been calls for think tanks, who are so often joined at the hip with government, to be transparent and disclose who funds them.

“The fact that so much dark money is behind these groups, and much of it is linked to climate denial groups, is a political scandal that can’t be allowed to continue, especially given our climate emergency.”

In all, US donors account for more than a tenth of the overall income of the IEA, Policy Exchange, Adam Smith Institute and TaxPayers’ Alliance. 

Anti-green lobbying

While all the think tanks say they do not dispute the science on climate change, many are campaigning to increase the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels and deregulate energy markets in response to the cost of living crisis.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance, Adam Smith Institute and the IEA have all called for the UK’s ban on fracking to be overturned. In April, the government agreed to review the moratorium it had imposed in 2019, when scientists deemed fracking unsafe. The U-turn came after concerted pressure from anti-net zero Tory MPs and lobby groups.

The IEA has also called for the government to approve the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria, while the TaxPayers’ Alliance has called for the government to scrap green energy bill levies. Tory MP Ben Bradley has cited the TaxPayers’ Alliance in Parliament while claiming that levies will exacerbate the cost of living crisis.

Environmental groups say cutting the levies, which are used to invest in energy efficiency measures and renewable energy, would be self-defeating and merely delay the UK’s longer-term transition away from fossil fuels.

Johnson’s think tank cabinet

Right-wing think tanks like the IEA have come to play an increasingly influential role in shaping British politics, despite the lack of transparency around their funding.

The IEA has boasted that 14 members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet – including the home secretary Priti Patel, the foreign secretary Liz Truss and the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, are “alumni of IEA initiatives”.

Ministers have recorded 26 meetings with the think tank since 2012, but there may be additional, undeclared private meetings. In 2020, Truss, who was then the secretary of state for trade, failed to declare two meetings with the IEA, arguing that they were made in a personal capacity. 

Mark Littlewood, the director of the IEA, has boasted of securing access to ministers and MPs for his corporate clients, including BP, telling an undercover reporter in 2018 that he was in “the Brexit influencing game”.

Others like Policy Exchange, which was co-founded by the ‘levelling up’ secretary Michael Gove, can claim to have had some of their policy ideas taken up by the government. 

Gove’s recently announced plan to allow residents to vote on whether to allow developments on their street was first proposed by Policy Exchange last year. Campaigners said the plan will not help increase the supply of affordable housing.

Several of the think tanks were accused by a whistleblower of coordinating with one another to advocate for a hard break from the European Union following the referendum vote.

Shamir Sanni, a former pro-Brexit campaigner who worked for TaxPayers’ Alliance before going public with his claims, alleged that the organisation regularly met with the IEA, the Adam Smith Institute to agree on a common line on issues relating to Brexit. 

Sanni subsequently won an unfair dismissal case against the TaxPayers’ Alliance. The organisations he identified have all denied they act as lobbyists or coordinate.  

The IEA referred openDemocracy to a statement about its funding posted on its website when approached for comment.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance, Adam Smith Institute, Policy Exchange and the Legatum Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from Open Democracy under under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. This article was published 16 June 2022 while Boris Johnson was UK Prime Minister. Boris Johnson was followed by Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak as prime ministers.

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The Atlas Network and the Building of Argentina’s Donald Trump

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Original article by Lucas Araldi republished from DeSmog

Javier Milei, a climate change denier widely supported by Atlas Network, a web of free market think tanks, won the necessary votes to run in Argentina’s presidential election in October.

ANALYSIS By Lucas Araldi on Aug 22, 2023 @ 15:15 PDT

Argentine presidential candidate Javier Milei haș been influenced, and boosted, by the Atlas Network. Credit: Todo Noticias (CC BY 3.0)

Ask Argentine politician, economist, and presidential candidate Javier Milei what he thinks of climate change, and he might tell you that it’s “another lie of socialism” and “part of the agenda of Cultural Marxism.” 

The right-wing politician is part of coalition Libertad Avanza and this August won the most votes in Argentina’s primary election, enabling him to run for president on October 23. 

He gained prominence through his talk show appearances, making his debut on the political talk show Animales Sueltos (Stray Animals) in 2016. In addition, he hosted his own radio program called Demoliendo Mitos (Debunking Myths).

In 2021, Milei was elected as a national deputy for Buenos Aires. Prior to this, he had built an extensive career in both the public and private sectors as an economist, even holding the position of Chief Economist at HSBC.

Milei has been compared to right-wing populist leaders Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro due to his direct and aggressive way of speaking and his radical proposals. Milei would likely be flattered by the comparison — he is a huge fan of these right-wing populists that have emerged in recent years.

Milei won 30 percent of the vote in the August primary — nearly 10 percent more than the next-most-popular candidate — with a political platform that combines radical neoliberal policy proposals with a conservative populist moral agenda. His economic proposals include reducing the number of government ministries, cutting public spending, dollarizing the economy, and “exploding” the Central Bank, in Milei’s own words. 

Milei didn’t arrive at these proposals on his own; his views, particularly in regards to the economy, have been shaped by the Atlas Network, a U.S. nonprofit that works to spread free-market think tanks all over the world. 

Based in Washington, D.C., the Atlas Network supports more than 500 free-market organizations. Some of these groups, such as the Heartland Institute, are also involved in climate science denial and in campaigns against legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Around 100 think tanks in Latin America — 10 of which are in Argentina — are part of Atlas’s web. Between 2010 and 2021, Atlas gave approximately $12 million USD to think tanks in the region, mostly for “economic education,” according to U.S. tax filings analyzed by DeSmog. Across the world, including in Latin America, Atlas think tanks collaborate beyond national borders, sharing strategies and ideology. It is common, for example, for Atlas think tanks to share board members or even create their own networks, such as Red Liberal de America Latina (RELIAL).

Alberto Benegas Lynch, who serves as an adviser for Milei and also is a director at Mont Pelerin Society, is an example of transnational ties within the network. He is part of several Atlas Network groups in Latin America, such as Fundación Federalismo y Libertad and Instituto Libertad y Progreso, both in Argentina, Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala, and Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo in Uruguay.  

Lynch is also known for making denialist statements about climate change. In an opinion article published in 2018 in the Argentinian online newspaper Infobae, for example, he argued that climate change is a fraud based on distortion of statistics. He built his argument from alleged studies of John ColemanIvar Giaever, and Patrick Moore

The Argentine newspaper La Nación describes the relationship between Milei and Lynch as one of admiration, as Milei frequently cites Lynch. Beyond that, Lynch wrote several times on the Instituto Libertad y Progreso’s website about his relationship with Milei, as well as his proposals, and how Milei means a miracle for Argentine politics.

Milei benefits from the whole infrastructure of ideas boosted by the Atlas Network to project himself as presidential. While the other traditional candidates do not have a platform of think tanks that can help them, Milei manages to move between these institutes and use them as hubs for disseminating his ideas and as a safe arena for advancing the debate on his agenda.

For instance, Milei has connections to other Latin American think tanks in the Atlas Network. He has attended conferences and participated in events promoted by the Fundación Libertad y ProgresoFederalismo y Libertad, and Fundación Atlas, all based in Argentina. He also participated in Instituto de Estudos Empresariais’s Liberty Forum 2022 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Articles in Fundación Atlas’s blog praise him, with Axel Kaiser, executive director at Fundación para El Progreso in Chile, writing that Milei is helping restore Argentina’s Libertarian legacy by setting up a “cultural and political movement which became the third way.” In 2018, Fundación Atlas awarded Milei the Liberty Prize.

Milei sat on the advisory board of Fundación Libre (FL), an Argentine far-right think tank that was part of Atlas. FL promoted “individual freedom and republicanism” in the face of “hegemonic progressive ideology and the empire of politically correctness.” Although FL did not focus primarily on denying climate change, it did feature climate-related content, like a YouTube video criticizing Greta Thunberg, that has since been removed. 

Milei, however, is known for denying climate change, claiming that the planet’s temperature is currently at its lowest level in the past 15,000 years. His source for this belief is a graph from a 2008 study by the geologist Don J. Easterbrook — who is known for erroneously predicting “global cooling.” However, this graph is based on data only from Greenland and is not a reliable indicator of climate change, according to fact-checking groups in Argentina.

Although Milei uses climate denialism to ignite his followers, climate change was barely discussed in the Argentine primaries, even though the occurrence of extreme weather events has increased twofold since 1980 and could become even worse in the coming decades. Instead, candidates focused on the country’s current food crisis: Argentina faces one of the biggest food inflations in the world and more than 4 million people in the country are food insecure. This scenario also could become worse due to climate change’s impacts on Argentine agriculture. 

Milei’s significant result at the polls shows that the free-market, neoliberal ideals the Atlas Network is promoting have a huge organizational strength in Argentina that can be converted into votes. Even if Milei doesn’t win the October presidential election, his rise to this level of politics means a victory for the Atlas Network.

Original article by Lucas Araldi republished from DeSmog

Continue ReadingThe Atlas Network and the Building of Argentina’s Donald Trump

‘There’s Nothing Patriotic about Anti-Green Extremism’

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[A}nti-net zero think tanks, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Institute for Economic Affairs, both housed at the infamous 55 Tufton Street, are known to be highly influential in shaping government policy – yet their funding sources remain largely opaque.

Until last year that is, when an investigation by openDemocracy revealed the GWPF to have accepted money from US-based groups with interests in fossil fuels. As Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute told the Guardian following the revelations, “it is disturbing that the Global Warming Policy Foundation is acting as a channel through which American ideological groups are trying to interfere in British democracy”.

It is particularly disturbing when that influence leads to us being left behind in the transition to the post-fossil age.

As the world moves on to cheaper and better technologies, we must not allow fossil fuel-backed interests to dictate our energy and economic decisions – to do so would be to act like a newspaper board that decided not to invest in desktop computers because it was in thrall to the typewriter lobby.  

I haven’t even mentioned climate change, because I haven’t needed to. In a world of rapidly evolving technology, it makes sound economic sense to move beyond the fossil fuel era and onto better, cleaner ways of powering our activity. We must not listen to the anti-green extremists trying to hold us back.

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Shadowy think tanks are a risk to the UK’s democratic integrity

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Tom Brake is the Director of Unlock Democracy which campaigns for real democracy in the UK, protected by a written constitution.

The connection between Truss and the IEA goes back a long way: according to Tim Montgomerie, the founder of Conservative Home, the IEA had “incubated” Truss – and her key ally, former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – when they were junior MPs. With their assumption of high office, Britain was to become a “laboratory” for the IEA’s ideas, he said.

Although Truss’ relationship with the IEA is remarkable for its extreme proximity, politicians being close to particular institutions is nothing new. Politicians often find themselves drawn to particular interests and ideas, and so will gravitate toward institutions that reinforce or augment their thinking.

There is no requirement, either, for think tanks to be transparent about the sources of their funding. In fact, for some, it is impossible to find out who their big donors are. A comparative assessment of the transparency ratings of various think tanks can be viewed here: Unlock Democracy has the highest rating of openness; the IEA, meanwhile, has the lowest rating.

Without being able to follow the money, we cannot hope to understand the interests (commercial or national) that may underpin donations to think tanks, or determine whether those giving money are based in the UK. While it is expected that any foreign funds are most likely to come from rich donors or corporations rather than foreign governments, these donors may still have very close links with a foreign government and seek to shape UK policy in line with the interests of those Governments. Without the data, we just don’t know.

If a think tank advocates for a more relaxed attitude to climate change, the public, the media and Ministers are likely to scrutinise their proposals more carefully if they can see that an oil company is one of its major donors. The same can be said for a think tank that opposes measures to cut smoking when a tobacco manufacturer contributes a significant sum to its budget. Without full transparency of funding – something which the Government has already committed to ensure for the tobacco industry but has not yet delivered – this scrutiny cannot be guaranteed.

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‘Fantastic’: What Truss’s allies said about budget that crashed UK economy

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[Kwasi Kwarteng’s ‘mini-budget’] announcements were cheered on by a group of secretive think tanks closely connected to Liz Truss and her advisers. After years of lobbying, a Conservative government had finally adopted their proposals to scrap the top rate of income tax, remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses, shelve a planned rise in corporation tax, and pledge a fresh crackdown on unions.

The Adam Smith Institute, where Truss’s political secretary Sophie Jarvis was head of government affairs, said the plans were “a welcome first step to getting the British economy back on track”.

The mood was particularly buoyant at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), whose director general Mark Littlewood greeted the announcement by claiming: “This isn’t a trickle-down budget – it’s a boost-up budget.”

None of the think tanks discloses its funders, but the IEA has received donations from BP and ExxonMobil and, along with the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies, the tobacco industry. The IEA and the Adam Smith Institute have also received millions of dollars from US funders of climate denial.

Continue Reading‘Fantastic’: What Truss’s allies said about budget that crashed UK economy