This is a guest post by MA Rodger
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is a UK-based climate-sceptic think-tank founded in November 2009 by Lord Lawson. Within two years of its launch, a survey of scepticism in the global media by Oxford University's RISJ had added a final chapter showing the GWPF had gained success in 'inserting itself into the (UK) national discourse' and that its founder and its director had become 'the two most quoted sceptics by far' within the UK national press.
The GWPF believes it has made a difference, saying of itself 'The key to the success of the GWPF is the trust and credibility that we have earned in the eyes of a growing number of policy makers, journalists and the interested public.' Yet the GWPF has also been criticised for being secretive, misinformed, wrong and perverse.
Here a series of posts will examine the GWPF and some of its publications to discover what GWPF really stands for. Are they a company of virtuous paragons? Are they a pack of unprincipled scoundrels? In this first post, we’ll explore the background of this climate denial “think” tank.
WHAT IS THE GWPF?
The GWPF is a UK-registered charity and as such its work is defined as 'an all party and non-party think tank and educational charity. Its main purpose is to advance the public understanding of global warming and of its possible consequences, and also of the measures taken in response to such warming.'
Nigel_Lawson (Baron Lawson of Blaby) was encouraged to found the GWPF through the 'surprising' success of his book in which he espoused global warming scepticism. Lawson takes the role of Chairman of the Board of Trustees, a body comprising six members of the British peerage, a knight of the realm, an anti-gay bishop and a French economist. The GWPF's Director, Dr Benny_Peiser, was a lecturer (Sport and Exercise Sciences) with interests in Near-Earth Objects and the founder of CCNet, (which the GWPF calls the 'worlds leading climate policy network') concerned with NEOs and the doomsday scaremongering about climate change.
To assist the GWPF in its work, it has recruited a 26-strong Academic Advisory Council. Chaired by Prof David Henderson, a 'prominent global warming sceptic,' this Council included Professors Robert Carter, Richard Linzden & Ross McKitrick and many other lesser known sceptics.
With a roll-call such as this, anybody would be forgiven for dismissing the GWPF as an organisation unabashed in its mission to spread sceptical disinformation. But anybody would be wrong!
NOT UNABASHED SCEPTICS
The GWPF describes itself as 'unique'. It is funded solely by individuals and charitable trusts. To emphasise its 'complete independence', it refuses money from those with significant interests in energy companies. It also has a set of principles that GWPF says 'set us apart from most other stakeholders in the climate debates.'
[Ed. Note: See DeSmogBlog’s coverage of the appeal by UK journalist Brendan Montague to compel the release of information about the GWPF’s seed funder.]
These principles tell us that the GWPF does not have an official view on the science of global warming (except that 'this issue is not settled yet'). Its members and supporters 'cover a broad range of different views, from the IPCC position through agnosticism to outright scepticism' and that the GWPF's 'main focus is to analyse global warming policies and their economic and other implications.'
Their fourth principle is a rather strange piece of philosophy for a body that holds no official view on the science - 'We regard observational evidence and understanding the present as more important and more reliable than computer modelling or predicting the distant future.'
In a final addition, they emphasise their role as informing the media, politicians and public 'on the subject in general and on the misinformation to which they are all too frequently being subjected at the present time.'
This then is what the GWPF purports to be about. And don't worry if you think this appears all a bit too complicated. It is.
SECRET DONORS, FEW MEMBERS
The GWPF accounts to July 2010 show donations of £494,625 and membership fees of £8,186. GWPF has been asked to name its 'secret' donors. No information has been forthcoming despite Lawson suggesting to a parliamentary inquiry that some donors may be willing to forego their anonymity and would be asked to do so.
This absence was perhaps explained by Lawson in the Chairman's 2010 statement, saying that in the GWPF's area of operation ‘anyone who puts their head above the parapet has to be prepared to endure a degree of public vilification.'
Public vilification? This seems an extremely odd statement to make if GWPF does truly encompass that broad range of views on climate, as their very principles dictate they should, or indeed an organisation that considers it has earned 'trust and credibility.'
The accounts presented at that meeting also demonstrate that GWPF has little direct public support. With a minimum fee of £100, £8,186 in membership fees must represent less than 82 members. For a high-profile organisation with Directors, Treasurer, Trustees, Advisers and employees numbering 41, many of whom may be themselves members, such a minuscule membership makes clear that GWPF is but a clique comprising many prominent sceptics and octogenarians. But surely, they will conduct themselves in a true and noble fashion, won't they?
TRUE & NOBLE CONDUCT?
Given its guiding principles, we would expect the GWPF to be:-
(1) Mainly focused on 'global warming policies and their economic and other implications.'
(2) Nurturing support from a broad range of viewpoints.
(3) Nailing all that horrid misinformation which we are 'all too frequently' subjected to.
(4) Also we may see pronouncements on the differing climate outcomes that are forecast within the science as such outcomes would drive policy decision-making.
All this, of course, would also involve communicating 'to advance the public understanding of global warming.' Prominent among the means of achieving this is the GWPF website that they say 'is subjecting climate policies and claims by governments and campaigners to dispassionate analysis based on hard evidence and economic rigour.' Sounds good. But let us dig a little deeper than the GWPF statement of its History & Mission.
With all these assertions the GWPF makes about itself, one area of concern must be how it handles that broad range of views on climate change, so as to conform to its guiding principles. What of those supporters who hold the IPCC's views on global warming? Is there evidence for such supporters?
It is plain IPCC supporters need thick skins at the GWPF website. The site does feature an IPCC Corner but this is not for them. It is for items on what's wrong with the IPCC and IPCC blunders.
Searching the GWPF website for the term 'IPCC' (& ignoring the content of IPCC Corner) returns 49 items. They are an interesting collection. 39 items involve criticism of the IPCC, 25 of them strongly enough to constitute an attack. The remaining 10 items make simple reference to or mention of the IPCC without criticism or praise.
These 49 items also overwhelmingly present an outright sceptical viewpoint with no item overtly accepting the need to tackle human emissions of greenhouse gases as the IPCC demonstrate is necessary. There is no evidence here that the GWPF pays the slightest heed to the merits of the IPCC or those who agree with it.
There is also very little climate change policy discussed in these items. They are more concerned with that climate science which the GWPF holds no view on (24 items) or with the criticism of scientists and the scientific process (23 items). The coverage is too general in nature to be considered as work identifying that horrid misinformation. Indeed, it is all very difficult to square the GWPF website content with even just a single one of those guiding principles that the GWPF has set itself.
What is perhaps most difficult to accept is that the vast majority of these 49 items (42 items) are re-posted from elsewhere. They thus represent not the output of GWPF researchers but a simple trawl of the internet. Why then is the outcome of such a trawl so skewed towards a sceptical viewpoint when the GWPF supporters allegedly hold a broad set of viewpoints, including that of the IPCC? The fine principles with which the GWPF tries to dress itself appear here to count for naught.
BLIND CLIMATE SCIENCE
The prominence of the GWPF has resulted in Lawson often featuring in the UK media. One instance of this was a head-to-head BBC Radio debate between Lawson and Prof Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester. The BBC's Radio 2 (originally called the Light Programme) is a reasonably low-brow forum for debate. (Listeners to the 23-minute recording linked above will note there was originally a musical interlude – appropriately Mad World by Tears For Fears.)
Even so, Lawson makes pronouncements on climate science and not once is it mentioned that these are his personal views and not the views of the GWPF. For all intent and purpose Lawson, twice described as the Chairman of the GWPF, is blindly presenting the GWPF view on climate science, something that the GWPF says does not exist!
What Lawson says in this interview is also riven with inaccuracy. Even by the standards of a low-brow forum like Radio 2, Lawson was given a very easy time by Anderson who is probably not that used to confronting such foolishness.
It is not just with his contributions on BBC Radio that Lawson has been criticised for misinformation. Even a UK government minister has berated GWPF and Lawson's inaccurate messages, calling them misinformed, wrong and the GWPF's policy advice 'perverse.'
Such is the level of misinformation emanating from the GWPF that it has been suggested they are in breach of the Charity Commission guidance on campaigning and political activity. Charities may peddle controversial and 'emotive material' but crucially 'Such material must be factually accurate and have a well-founded evidence base.' This requirement appears to be something the GWPF seem to ignore while they continue to enjoy the tax exemptions afforded to true charities.
When concluding their statement of History & Mission, the GWPF say 'For us, public trust is our most important asset.'
In such terms, the cost of their website and media behaviour must be excessive and could soon render the GWPF bankrupt of public trust. Yet this may be a premature conclusion as our examination of the GWPF has yet to run its course. In the next post we will turn to a different outlet for GWPF messages and examine one of their Briefing Papers.