It has taken 3.5 billion years of life for this planet to evolve into its present beauty and complexity. Yet it has only taken my lifetime for half the carbon emissions now present to appear in the atmosphere. Today everything alive on our miraculous Earth is under threat.
Yet there is a plan, which involves stabilising the climate by reaching carbon net zero while working on how to make the biosystems flourish again. Extinction Rebellion believes the government’s 2050 target for this is too little, too late. Why wait another thirty years, another whole generation, to make this happen? But our course, set up by the Paris Agreement, examined by the Climate Change Committee and enshrined in British law by Theresa May, is clear even if the timelines are being argued over.
Yet there are people in this city of London taking top dollar to prevent this happening. The people involved don’t want us to see them. It’s tempting to say they hang out in shadows, but that is not true. They hang out in well-lit rooms with stuccoed ceilings. They hang out in Westminster and in the areas of privilege around that seat of power such as the Georgian townhouses of Tufton Street. They hang out with our representatives and yet we are not privy to what goes on in those conversations.
This group of think tanks and their allies were involved in Brexit and the diagram of exactly who is in which one gets messy. Check out Desmog’s valiant attempt on their website. Several people in two or more groups. A trustee of one, is the funder of another. So perhaps it’s easier to think of them as one extended network.
Most of these organisations do not disclose the source of their funding. As George Monbiot said at the Writers Rebel event in Tufton Street last year: “They represent money in human form.” One group of particular interest here, the Global Warming Policy Foundation has sometimes claimed that it has not taken a penny of oil money. And that may be true on a technicality. The oil money may be at one or two removes. But if you use the principle of cui bono?, who benefits?, from their work, it is clear they serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry. And this group is moving heaven and earth to stop the carbon net zero plans.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation was started by Nigel Lawson in 2009, at a time when his glory years as a chancellor of the exchequer were a long behind him, and he was most known either as the father of the provocative TV cook Nigella or as the author of a diet book after himself losing 5 stone.
There followed a time when he was always on the BBC putting the other side of the climate argument. The other side of the science. The other side of the truth. There was a fight but eventually green groups were able to have the principle balance removed from this area. After all, science is science.
For a while it looked like the GWPF was a spent force and climate denial was on the way out. Though the first commission of Trump’s official climate denier, Indur Goklany, after the president finally left the White House, was to write a paper for the GWPF.
But the GWPF was chrysalis form. The grub of science rebuttal has reformed as a panoply of delayist and obscurist strategies, like an enormous black oily butterfly with multi-patterned wings. These days they focus on writing false narratives of solutions and obscuring the truth of the peril we are in. They sow confusion about the facts. Another favourite tactic is whataboutism. As in What about China? But their favourite, most successful approach is to push the argument that ordinary citizens cannot afford to transition to carbon net zero. Suddenly big oil is on the side of poorer voters.
It is clear they are terrified of the net zero plans. Even with the ineffective 2050 target. This is not just because the UK is the sixth biggest economy in the world, but also because we are heading up COP and a potential example to the world and also because in Britain lies the City of London where big oil gets a fat slice of its funding.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation has recently recruited Steve Baker, the self-styled ‘hard man of Brexit’ who blocked Theresa May’s Brexit plans. Since joining, Steve Baker has threatened Boris Johnson with nothing less than ‘a political explosion’ if he follows the net zero path. The people of Britain, he says, will not tolerate spending 50k a household to transition. A political explosion! I don’t know about you but that sounds like Trump to me
And they are gaining traction. In a two-week period in August, there were twelve anti-carbon net zero articles in the Telegraph: the paper that Boris Johnson calls ‘the boss’. There have also been pieces in The Sun, The Express, The Times and The Mail and their Sunday sister papers.
In the week before the parliamentary recess, the British cabinet had a meeting with boilers on the agenda. I can’t prove that there are people in cabinet working with the GWPF, but as soon as that meeting was over there was an article on the GWPF website crowing about the fact the meeting had not ended in agreement.
Even from a distance, it is clear these tactics represent nothing less than a fierce and organised pushback to the carbon net zero plans. This is a conspiracy in public life between these secretive think tanks and the British press to thwart our government following their own law to save the people of this country. To adapt a chant from the streets: this is not what democracy looks like. These people are an existential threat.
They have another new recruit too: on their Twitter account. Harry Wilkinson is, surprise-surprise, no great fan of Extinction Rebellion. Fair enough: we are opposite sides of the argument. But he’s nasty. He posted the film of our female rebels screaming as police pulled their glued hands off the structure in Cambridge Circus saying: “These screams are incredibly satisfying… try watching this without smirking.”
Condoning violence against your opponents is a new low move from the GWPF. And as such it would be easy to vilify them. But let’s not.
There’s a Mitchel and Webb sketch from before they did Peep show in which the comedians are both wearing gestapo uniforms with caps, leather boots and jodhpurs. David Mitchell eyes up Robert Webb’s uniform and says: ‘You don’t think… we’re the bad guys, do you?’
I wonder if any of the lobbyists, MPs, pseudoscientists and journalists who take money from big oil and aligned interests to do their dirty denialist and delay-ist work ever have a moment like that as they look in the mirror?
To those who do, we want to say please stop what you’re doing and come and join us. Unlike our opponents, XR knows that everyone is a climate hypocrite: in our toxic society, it’s impossible not to be. But we are not in the blaming and shaming game. There isn’t time. We believe we are on the right side of history. Please join us and be part of the solution as well…
Jessica Townsend is a full-time activist with Extinction Rebellion and writes news stories for their website. She also co-founded the XR podcast and Writers Rebel. Jessica has been a reporter, a playwright and a screenwriter.
HOW TO HELP
- Get the word out: We will be mobilising many of the well-loved names who appeared at our Tufton Street event. And more have already offered to pitch in. But we need more writers, readers and rebels, and more social media support. So please use your own channel to support us, however small your following. You can share Jessica’s video, recorded outside court.
- Subscribe to the Writers Rebel newsletter to keep updated about this and other campaigns.
- Save the date: We are organising an event-filled day on the 28th October near the City Magistrates Court, with finalised details to be released nearer the time. So please, save the date, and come and support us, or catch up with us online here at WritersRebel.com