Climate sceptic think tank receives funding from US billionaire bankroller of Conservative crusades

Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most prominent climate sceptic policy group, has received funding from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of the biggest donors to hard-line Conservative causes in the US over the decades.

Warnings made about newly formed group of climate change sceptics

Founded by former Conservative chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson in 2009, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GRPF) lobbying group has long been accused of spreading misinformation about climate change with “little or no regard” for scientific evidence and seeking to slow progress on necessary action.

In 2021, the UK’s charity watchdog, Charity Commission, came under fire for dismissing calls to remove charitable status from the GWPF, which has educational charity status but boasts views that scientists warn are ‘detrimental to the public.’

The high-profile climate change denialism group, which has led the backlash against the UK government’s net zero policy, hit the headlines this week for receiving funding from groups with oil and gas interests.

Despite consistently insisting that it is independent of the fossil fuel industry, tax documents seen by the Guardian and OpenDemocracy reveal that the GWPF has received funding from companies working in coal, gas and oil.

Over four years, the GWPF’s US arm, the American Friends of the GWPF, received over $1m from US donors. $864,884 of the $1m was channelled to the UK group.

One donor is the US-based Sarah Scaife Foundation, which has $30m-worth of shares in 22 energy companies, including $9m in Exxon and $5.7m in Chevron.

Sarah Scaife Foundation funding

In 2018 and 2020, the GWPF received $210,525 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, part of the Scaife family foundations, which include the Carthage Foundation and the Allegheny Foundation.

The Scaife family is one of the 30 top richest families in the US, boasting a combined net worth of around $11.5bn.

Asides its associations with the oil industry, the Sarah Scaife Foundation’s holding as a reliable funder of right-wing causes being a key donor to a UK climate denial group that has status as an educational charity, makes enlightening reading.

The foundations are financed by the Mellon oil, banking and industrial fortune. Since founding the T. Mellon & Sons Bank in 1869, which later became Mellon Bank, the Mellon family has increased its fortune through diversified investments, including major coal, steel, and real-estate interests, and Gulf Oil Corporation. 

The Sarah Mellon Scaife, Carthage and Allegheny Foundations were run by Richard Mellon Scaife, son of Sarah Mellon Scaife. Richard Mellon Scaife died in 2014. The US billionaire was a principal heir to the Mellon banking, oil and aluminium fortune.

The Scaife Family Foundation is controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife’s son David.

‘Billionaire bankroller of Conservative crusades’

Richard Mellon Scaife, who owned several newspapers, was a major backer of Conservative causes. Described as the “billionaire bankroller of conservative crusades,” Mellon Scaife spent heavily to expose Bill Clinton’s ‘Troopergate” misbehaviour, and became a central figure in Hillary Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

His political donations are said to have ‘fuelled a rise of the New Right.’ In the 1990s’ Richard Mellon Scaife gifted $1.8m to The American Spectator, which funded investigations into Whitewater and Bill Clinton’s personal life.

The growth of the conservative movement has been attributed to a “handful of deep-pocketed, committed, and unusually patient wealthy benefactors such as Richard Scaife were willing to underwrite the broad ideological movement.”

Major funder of the ‘Islamophobia Network’

Scaife and his three foundations are also said to represent one of the biggest contributors to the Islamophobia Network.

A Think Progress report notes how “the Scaife Foundation’s support of the Islamophobia network is a fraction of Scaife’s overall philanthropy, but it falls in line with his long-history of both creating right-wing echo chambers while, at the same time, funding the “experts” who feed it with soundbite fodder.” 

The funder of right-wing causes is also said to have owned a 42% share in the conservative media outlet NewsMax, which is known for its anti-Muslim rants.

Heritage Foundation associations

Scaife also served as the vice chairman of the notorious conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. The US think tank is funded by tobacco and oil companies and has spent years denying the scientific consensus on climate change and lobbying against action on smoking.

In February this year, co-chair of the Conservative party Oliver Dowden gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation to complain that “a social media mob can cancel you” and blasted a “painful woke psychodrama” that he claimed was afflicting the UK.  

According to tax filings, former Heritage president Edwin Feulner serves as a trustee of the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

The Washington Post estimates that between 1974 and 1992, Scaife gave around $200m to conservative causes and organisations.

Summing up the unsettling nature of right-wing political groups in the US attempting to influence UK democracy, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the LSE Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“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.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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