This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
“Freak yachting accidents do happen…”
That was how British businessman, Trump ally, and Brexit bankroller Arron Banks responded to the news that Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who inspired the school climate strikes movement, was sailing to America to attend the UN Climate Action Summit. His scorn was not unique.
Many people have already spilled thousands of words of commentary explaining how personal attacks on Greta — often lobbed by old white men, sometimes mocking her Aspergers — are unacceptable. But understanding where those attackers come from, ideologically and professionally, casts an important light on some of their dark statements.
That’s because a large subsection of the commentariat driving the abuse of Greta is part of an established network of radical free-marketeer lobby groups — a network that has firm ties to the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science denial.
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Greta first shot to prominence in Europe, and that’s where the earliest mudslinging emerged.
Banks’ tweet was one of the most high-profile. He is among the most prominent funders of Brexit, with long-standing ties to the UK Independence Party and its former leader Nigel Farage. UKIP’s politician, Neil Hamilton, was one of the first to be called out for posting what was perceived by many as a bullying tweet directed at Greta, who is 16 years old.
Freak yachting accidents do happen in August … https://t.co/6CPePHYLtu— Arron Banks (@Arron_banks) August 14, 2019
Farage has now set up a new outfit, the Brexit Party, also bankrolled by Banks.The party has 29 members in the European Parliament, many of them climate science deniers, thanks to winning 30 percent of the vote in May’s elections.
While resisting calls to form an official alliance, the Brexit Party MEPs join other far-right populist parties in Brussels, including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (formerly the Front National) and Alternative for Germany (AfD). All are united in their hatred for Greta. Two National Rally MPs recently boycotted her visit to France, and AfD representatives have made coordinated attacks on social media.
It’s perhaps unsurprising to find that many of the U.S. commentators verbally assaulting Greta also have ties to the Heartland Institute, given the organisation’s Big Oil funding and long-history of promoting climate science denial.
The institute’s website published a long blog post by one of its ‘policy experts’, Gregory Wrightstone, who attempted to refute many of Thunberg’s arguments for climate action. “It is time for her to go back to school to learn what she doesn’t know and to unlearn so much of what she has been taught,” he concluded.
Many other critics of Greta in the U.S. are tied to another of Heartland’s funders, the Koch family, owners of the U.S.’s largest private energy company.
Marc Morano, communications director of campaign group Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), and a regular speaker at Heartland Institute events, has a long history of spreading misinformation about climate change.
He was also one of the loudest critics of Greta’s visit to the U.S., appearing on Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media to describe the young activist as “bait” to entrap critics of climate policy. Levant was an intern at the Charles Koch Foundation and later worked for the Koch-funded Fraser Institute.
Morano’s arguments were echoed on CFACT’s website by Joe Bastardi, a meteorologist who worked for AccuWeather, a private forecasting company that in the 1990s was involved with the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) — a now-defunct fossil fuel industry front group that strongly opposed global greenhouse gas reduction policies.
CFACT has received significant donations from oil companies including Exxon and Chevron, as well as oil billionaire Richard Scaife.
One of Greta’s most prominent critics has been Steve Milloy, a self-styled “pioneer” fighting against “faulty scientific data used to advance special, and often hidden, agendas.” Milloy is, among other things, an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
When you've resorted to a teenage puppet for your public policy argument… you've lost.— Steve Milloy (@JunkScience) August 10, 2019
Climate bedwetters… the world laughs at this Greta charade. https://t.co/wqdw39KZJp
The CEI’s director of energy and environment, Myron Ebell, was part of of President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, and is infamous for making regular media appearances spreading oft-debunked misinformation on climate change.
Back to Brexit
The Koch network’s influence isn’t confined to the U.S. media. One of the most vicious attacks on the teenage climate activist has come from Brendan O’Neill, editor of the Koch-funded website Spiked. He wrote of Greta:
“This poor young woman increasingly looks and sounds like a cult member. The monotone voice. The look of apocalyptic dread in her eyes. The explicit talk of the coming great ‘fire’ that will punish us for our eco-sins. There is something chilling and positively pre-modern about Ms Thunberg.”
O’Neill’s comments were “proof” that O’Neill and many others who write on Spiked’s platform had “run out of ideas”, according to Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty.
One such regular contributor is James Delingpole, who now predominantly writes for the alt-right website Breitbart. One of his latest articles describes Greta as the “Patron Saint of the Age of Stupid”.
Delingpole’s articles frequently cite the UK’s premier climate misinformation outlet, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Like Breitbart, the Conservative Woman website, edited by GWPF-director Kathy Gyngell, also hosts multiple articles assailing Greta. Breitbart was formerly run by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist.
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Which brings us back to Arron Banks.
Bannon played a key role in the early days of the Brexit campaign spearheaded by Banks and Farage. Bannon was also a director of Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy embroiled in a scandal over the use of big data during the Brexit referendum and which was involved with Banks and Farage’s Leave.EU group.
The Brexit Party is at the forefront of efforts to lobby for the UK to leave the European Union with no deal on October 31. That eventuality would possibly open the door for mass deregulation of the UK’s markets, a shredding of the UK’s environmental protections, and a fire sale of national assets for favoured U.S. companies — causes close to the hearts of all the groups behind the individuals attacking Greta.