Charity what charity? Letter of complaint about the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s charity status

Monday May 23rd 2022

Dear Charity Commissioners, 

Main complaint

I am writing on behalf of the undersigned to call for a re-examination of the case for divesting the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) of its charitable status in light of the Open Democracy, Guardian and Independent revelations that, contrary to the assurances of the GWPF over many years, both charitable and political wings of the GWPF have been receiving funding from fossil fuel interests. Most notable is GWPF’s receipt of $210,525 dollars from the Sarah Scaife Foundation which has $30m worth of shares in 22 energy companies including $9m in Exxon and $5.7m in Chevron, according to its financial filings. 

We contend that the GWPF is not a charity but a fossil fuel lobby group. Not only does the Foundation continue to ignore the parameters set by The Charities Act 2011, but it also compounds previous infractions with more recent actions which flout the Charity Commission’s requirement that charities must run “for the public benefit”:

·       “a purpose must be beneficial – this must be in a way that is identifiable and capable of being proved by evidence where necessary and which is not based on personal views.”

·       “any detriment or harm that results from the purpose (to people, property or the environment) must not outweigh the benefit – this is also based on evidence and not on personal views.”

In promoting views that are not precautionary, and work against the public need to prepare, mitigate and adapt to the unfolding climate emergency, the GWPF neither serves nor benefits society. Recent revelations of their secret funding sources make them nothing more than a fossil fuel lobby hiding behind charitable status. 

We believe the revelations of its financial support from oil and gas interests render its charity status as void.

If this situation is allowed to continue, it will inevitably bring the reputation of other charities, and the Charity Commission itself, into disrepute. 

We believe the Open Democracy exposé shows a political mission across both the charity and activist branches. It indicates that the GWPF may have taken more funds than permitted when the American funds are added to those it has declared from individual members. Furthermore, the disclosures reveal that the GWPF has not been “transparent or open” about its relationship with a third party, “the American Friends of the GWPF”. This relationship contradicts the claim that they do “not work with professional fundraisers or commercial participators.” [sic]

In light of these serious reports, and the many financial questions they raise, if the Charity Commission does not remove the GWPF’s charitable status, it must urgently, and at the very least, carry out due diligence and thorough review of its finances on behalf of the public it claims to serve.

Further complaints

Our further complaints are that the GWPF attempts to influence the young with false claims about the science of global warming; promotes animosity towards those supporting the climate cause; promotes the views of marginal and outlier ‘academics’ whose views are easily refutable by mainstream science, and that this approach is not compatible with a charity’s duty to act in the public interest. 

Complaints in more detail

‘Educational’ mission attempt to influence young people with false scientific claims

Education does not appear to be the focus of the organisation. But the work that it does in this area would be dangerous if it were more successful.

Ian Plimer, who is both a member of the advisory council for the Foundation and a director for a number of mining companies, has written books claiming climate change is natural, one of which, “How To Get Expelled From School” is aimed at children and teachers. In it, Plimer claims that the “climate industry adjusts the temperature record and withholds raw data, computer codes and information from scrutiny”. This claim has been debunked but remains defamatory and so runs counter to the requirement that “a charity complies with the law”. Plimer has called for readers to “maintain the rage” and to treat climate scientists “with the disdain they deserve”. Such incitement has led to numerous incidents in which academics researching climate change have been abused and threatened. Again, this is not compatible with the Foundation’s charitable status and breaches the Commission’s own tenets to ensure “protecting people from harm is central to [a charity’s] culture”, and to be alert to “bullying and harassment” and “cyber abuse”.

The GWPF’s response will undoubtedly rest on the defence of “free speech” and the dangers of a “cancel culture”, and claim that climate sceptics are being victimised. But we contend that, just as the right to free speech is rightly curtailed when it comes to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre (a paraphrasing of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s ruling in 1919, which held that the right to free speech is denied in the case of malicious incitement), it must conversely be true that, if there is a fire in the theatre, it is more dangerous to claim that there isn’t.

And there is a fire. The Committee on Climate Change warns the planet will reach an uninhabitable 4 degrees of global heating if the policies promoted by the GWPF were to be accepted. Indeed, global heating constitutes a “clear and present danger”: a concept adopted by US law to determine under what circumstances limits can be placed on freedoms of speech, or publication. Although enshrined in US law, this doctrine is firmly rooted in English Common Law.

The GWPF would seek to persuade us that they conform to Commission requirements by making the ‘political’ the reserve of the Forum rather than the Foundation. 

However, Benny Peiser and Andrew Montford are directors of both, and when publishing articles promoting denial, they simply choose the most convenient “flag”. In short, as whistle-blower Shahmir Sanni has testified, there is no true separation of bodies.

It is our view that far from having an educational mission in any accepted sense, the GWPF is a caucus of climate contrarians who individually and collectively, under the guise of free speech, oppose the scientific consensus on global warming. We argue that the Foundation’s efforts to undermine action to avert an existential threat is in itself a “clear and present danger”. And that this danger is only compounded by the GWPF’s unearned validation as a charitable institution. 

Furthermore, the claim that there is a separation of the ‘political’ from the ‘educational’ does not stand up to scrutiny when, for example, Harry Wilkinson, Head of Policy at both the Forum and the Foundation, replies to schools wearing his “Foundation” hat referring them to papers from GWPF’s political wing when they request educational materials

Fosters suspicion towards those supporting the climate cause

In 2012 GWPF member, Dr Robert Carter, was involved in an infamous billboard campaign associating people who accepted the science of anthropogenic climate change with the values of the “Unabomber”, Ted Kaczynski. Their statement, publicly endorsed by Dr Carter, that “the most prominent advocates of global warming […] are murderers, tyrants, and madmen” resulted in threats and intimidation towards activists. 

Other examples of incitement by GWPF associates in the US actually led to attacks and death threats, for example Dr Ben Santer and Professor Michael Mann

Closer to home, the recent BBC drama “The Trick” showed that the campaign which launched the GWPF in 2009, which later became known as “climategate”, and involved the hacking of emails of the scientists from UEA’s Tyndall Centre, led to the contemplation of suicide of its lead scientist Phil Jones. More recently after a minor complaint against BBC environment editor Justin Rowlatt, a complaint by their own blogger Paul Homewood, was turned into a personal attack on both Rowlatt and his family in The Daily Mail.

Even on GWPF’s website, and in their newsletters, the tone of discourse is calculated to demean climate scientists: the Foundation’s “climate hypocrite of the year” award is one example.

Deborah Lipstadt, the American historian, sued for libel by the Holocaust denier David Irving, has said: “There are not two sides to every issue. You can argue why the Holocaust happened, but not that it happened.” The same applies to the issue of global heating. The GWPF’s open denial of the existential threat posed by accelerating global heating contravenes the Charity Commission’s requirement that positions are “based on evidence and not on personal views”.

Promotion of the false views by marginal and outlier ‘academics’ 

In August 2021, the Charity Commission received a letter signed by 74 expert scientists concerning the GWPF’s publications. The letter stated that “publications of the Global Warming Policy Foundation are not objective and do not amount to education”, as well as stating that this work was “detrimental to the general public from both an educational and health perspective”.

One such “academic” feted by The GWPF and referenced by the Foundation with its educational hat on is Indur Goklany, the electrical engineer employed by Donald Trump to doctor official climate studies. It should be noted that Goklany is not a climate scientist, and has published no peer-reviewed research in the past decade on the topics on which he claims expertise. Samuel Myers, a principal climate research scientist at Harvard University, observed that Goklany “takes very specific and isolated pieces of science, and tries to expand it in an extraordinarily misleading fashion”.  

In his 2021 paper, “Impacts of Climate Change: Perception and Reality,” commissioned by the GWPF, Goklany makes claims that are demonstrably false, deliberately disingenuous and unabashed in their ideological rather than educational intent. They are also contradicted by the IPCC reports and all credible scientific studies which have demonstrated incontrovertibly that global heating has exponentially increased the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events and sets us on course towards irreversible climate tipping points.

Daniel Swain, UCLA Researcher and Research Fellow at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research slates the article as, “a poorly-sourced, non-peer reviewed report […] making numerous misleading and in multiple instances demonstrably false claims regarding climate change and its global implications.”

It is disingenuous for the GWPF to attempt to validate Goklany’s misinformation by referring to the article as a “paper”, which implies scientific status. Contrary to the GWPF’s claim, it was neither blind peer-reviewed nor published by a reputable scientific organisation, merely rubber stamped by close associates of the author. Once again, this disregard for educational protocols would suggest the Foundation’s status as an educational charity is questionable. 

Again, such articles fail to satisfy the Commission’s requirement of a purpose that is beneficial “in a way that is identifiable and capable of being proved by evidence where necessary and which is not based on personal views.”

Conclusion 

To conclude, we look to the Charity Commission’s own guidance that a charity must make sure “protecting people from harm is central to its culture”. We contend that the ongoing global harm caused by climate change is exacerbated by the vested interests that use the GWPF’s undeserved charitable status as a front for their interests.

Scientists are telling us that climate devastation due to fossil fuels is already changing our world unalterably for the worse. We believe that when we look back at these times, it will appear unspeakable that we allowed organisations like the GWPF – secretly funded by vested interest groups – to block our progress in addressing this the most urgent issue of our time. This is the very definition of work against public interest. Now that these findings are in the public domain, we urge the Charity Commission to fulfil its remit and remove the charitable status of the GWPF. 

Kind regards,

The undersigned

Individuals:

Alison Goldfrapp, musician
Paul Hilder, co-founder, Open Democracy
Andrew Simms, author, political economist and campaigner
Baroness Rosie Boycott, Member of House of Lords and journalist
Baroness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle
Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion
Charlie Burrell, conservationist
Clare Farrell, fashion designer, lecturer, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion
Cornelia Parker, artist
Dan Harvey, artist, Ackroyd & Harvey
Dame Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer and activist
Dr Roman Krznaric, philosopher
Farhana Yamin, environmental lawyer
Gavin Turk, artist
Gemma Rogers, founder Steve Baker Watch
George Monbiot, journalist
Heather Ackroyd, artist
Jason Hickel, anthropologist
Joe Corré, activist and businessman
Jonathan Fuller, activist
Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist, writer
Julia Steinberger, professor in social ecology and ecological economics
Juliet Stevenson, actor
Kate Raworth, economist
Michael Pawlyn, architect
Nadia Whittome, Labour MP
Peter Culley, architect
Roc Sandford, Ocean Rebellion
Rupert Read, author, academic
Sam Lee, singer
Sean Chamberlain, actor
Simon Schama, historian
Tom Hardy, activist

Writers:

Alex Lockwood, creative writer, academic
Alfie Hoar, writer and student at Oxford University reading Physics and Philosophy
Ali Smith, CBE, FRSL, winner Orwell Prize
AL Kennedy, writer, winner Costa Book of the year
Anjali Joseph, novelist, winner Betty Trask Prize, Desmond Elliott Prize, DSC Prize
Anouchka Grose, writer, psychoanalyst
Charlotte Du Cann, writer, editor, director
Chloe Aridjis, winner, PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction
Chris Power, writer, literary critic
Courttia Newland, screenwriter, author
David Mitchell, novelist, television writer and screenwriter
Deborah Moggach OBE FRSL, novelist and screenwriter
Eloise Millar, novelist, journalist
Emily Pedder, editor, writer, winner Commonwealth award, Ruth Rendell award
Gabriel Gbadamosi, poet, editor, winner, EBRD Literature Prize
Gregory Norminton, lecturer, novelist
Hayden Gabriel, lecturer, novelist
Irvine Welsh, novelist, playwright
Isabella Tree, writer, winner Richard Jefferies prize
James Miller, novelist, academic
Jay Griffiths, writer, winner Orion Book Award
Jessica Townsend, film writer, activist
Joanna Pocock, writer, winner Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize
Joe Dunthorne, novelist, poet, journalist
Jonathan Coe FRSL, novelist, winner Samuel Johnson Prize
Josh Appignanesi, film director, producer, and screenwriter
Kamila Shamsie, novelist, winner Women’s Prize for Fiction
Katy Evans Bush, poet
Keston Sutherland, poet, academic
Laline Paull, novelist 
Lee Rourke, writer, literary critic
Liz Jensen, novelist
Louisa Young, novelist
Louise Doughty, novelist, journalist
Maggie Gee OBE, FRSL, novelist, academic
Manda Scott, novelist and podcaster
Michelle Lovric, novelist, editor, winner London Arts Writer’s Award
Mimi Khalvati, poet, founder, The Poetry School
MJ Harrison, author, literary critic, winner Goldsmiths Prize
Monique Roffey, writer, winner Costa Book of the Year
Nick Laird, poet
Nick Rosen, author, journalist
Owen Sheers, poet, writer
Paul Ewen, novelist, television writer
Peter Hobbs, novelist
Robert Macfarlane, writer and academic
Rosie Goldsmith, broadcaster, writer, journalist
Rupert Thomson, novelist, winner Writer’s Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year
Russ Litten, novelist
Sam Jordison, journalist, author, publisher
Sarah Hall, novelist, winner Commonwealth Writer’s Prize
Sarah Winman, author and actor
Sean Lusk, novelist, winner Manchester Fiction Prize
Sophie Woolley, writer, performer
Tessa McWatt, writer, academic
Toby Litt, writer, academic
Tom Bullough, writer
Tom McCarthy, writer, winner Windham-Campbell Literature Prize
Zadie Smith, writer, winner Orange Prize for Fiction

Scientists:

Dr Charlie Gardner, Associate Senior Lecturer, University of Kent
Dr James Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Global Systems, University of Exeter
Dr Jim McQuaid, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Dr Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment, Imperial College London
Prof. Adrian Chappell, Professor of Climate Change Impacts, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Cardiff University
Prof. Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science, University of Cambridge
Prof. Andy Challinor, Professor of Climate Impacts,University of Leeds
Prof. Andy Morse, Professor of Climate Impacts, University of Liverpool
Prof. Ben Sheldon FRS, Luc Hoffmann Professor of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Prof. Caroline Lear, Professor of Paleoclimate Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Cardiff University
Prof. Chris Clark, Sorby Chair of Geoscience, University of Sheffield
Prof. Ian Brooks. Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds
Prof. Ian Hall FLSW, Professor of Palaoclimate and Climate Systems, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Cardiff University
Prof. Jim Haywood, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Exeter
Prof. Joanna Haigh, Emeritus Professor of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London
Prof. John Marsham, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds
Prof. Jonathan Sharples, Professor in Oceanography, University of Liverpool
Prof. Lisa Emberson, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York
Prof. Mark Maslin, Climatologist, Department of Geography, University College London
Prof. Martin J Genner, Professor in Evolutionary Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
Prof. Nicholas Howden, Professor of Water and Environmental Engineering, University of Bristol
Prof. Nick Hewitt, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
Prof. Nicolas Bellouin, Professor of Climate Processes, University of Reading
Prof. Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair in Mathematical Modelling of Climate Systems, University of Exeter
Prof. Ric Williams, Chair in Ocean and Climate Science, University of Liverpool
Prof. Richard Pancost, Professor of Biogeochemistry, Head of School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol 
Prof. Roy M. Harrison OBE, FRS School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham
Prof. Simon L. Lewis, Department of Geography, University College London
Prof. Tim Coulson, Professor of Zoology, Chief Editor Ecology Letters, University of Oxford

Organisations:

Black Mountains College
Christian Climate Action
Climate Museum UK
Craig Mackinlay Watch
Culture Declares Emergency
Eco Action Families
Extinction Rebellion
Frack Free Sussex
Green Christian
Ikigai Farm Community Benefit Society
Music Declares Emergency
Operation Noah
Steve Baker Watch
The Fleming Policy Centre
Truth Teller
Writers Rebel

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Source: Charity what charity? Letter of complaint about the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s charity status

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