Left Foot Forward on DEFRA Climate Propaganda

Rupert Read has written a post for Left Foot Forward attacking the Daily Mail's reporting of our research note released yesterday.  Unfortunately, he hasn't taken the time to look into the evidence we presented and makes some misleading assumptions.

Even the very start of his article is a bit unfair:

Today, the Mail continues in the same vein. They’ve published an article describing the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) as being “utterly bonkers and misleading”, citing a Whitehall report which claims public opinion on manmade climate change hasn’t been changed by the work of this fund.

The Mail haven't described the Fund or its projects as utterly bonkers and misleading, they've quoted me saying that many "of the Climate Challenge Fund projects are utterly bonkers and misleading, and come with a huge price tag."

Things don't get better when he moves on to points of substance:

"The first point to make here is that just because public opinion has not dramatically shifted on climate change does not mean that the work of the CCF hasn’t contributed to the current state of public opinion not being worse than it actually is.

Honest journalism on this story would consider the possibility that, if the CCF hadn’t done its work, recent opinion polls on the public’s climate-understanding would be even worse than they actually are. (An analogy in this particular regard is the vast amount of money spent by laundry/detergent sellers on advertising. They do NOT expect to win any improved market share by spending this money – they are just trying to avoid losing market share.)"

The evaluation's finding that "the aggregate picture is one of neutral or very modest positive shifts" isn't based on national opinion polls but on before and after surveys of the people who actually participated in the projects.  The data isn't perfect because not all projects monitored their performance adequately, but the lack of progress the evaluation found isn't a result of these projects failing to offset other people becoming less convinced thanks to things like the weather or the CRU e-mail scandal, they're actually failing to produce changes in attitudes among those who actually took part.

"That’s a very far cry from a verdict that the money spent was wasted.

Even if the Brook Lyndhurst study that the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) dug up does say the Climate Challenge projects didn’t succeed in shifting public opinion at all, this would hardly be much of a stunning conclusion – for changing attitudes and behaviour on manmade climate change is notoriously difficult."

If you spend money and fail to get results that money is wasted whether or not the project is hard.  If I spent a million pounds trying to breed a cow that could fly to the moon that money would surely be wasted, even if I made a good effort.

"The TPA have been extremely selective in the CCF projects they highlight. Here is a rather fuller listing of the vast array of projects that the Fund has been engaged in: http://tinyurl.com/ccf-projects"

We published a full list in our research note yesterday and many of the projects the Daily Mail didn't have the space to cover are pretty outrageous too.  Here's the video we released along with the research note:


He then defends his own organisation getting a grant:

The Mail story opportunistically concludes by saying:

“The Climatic Research Unit [CRU] at the University of East Anglia, which received £16,000 from the Climate Challenge Fund, has come under fire over leaked emails which show scientists attempted to hide data from sceptics.”

I work at UEA, but you don’t need to work here to be aware – any journalist would or should be aware – that the CRU is itself a pretty huge organisation. The money that it received from the CCF was for completely different purposes than the temperature-mapping work which is at the centre of the stolen-emails controversy.

CCF funding is for projects about public understanding of sustainability, etc. – not about the actual business of temperature-measuring. In other words: there is no real connection between this story and that controversy. The Mail has arbitrarily linked the two, to try to jump on a bandwagon."

Here is the description of the project provided by DEFRA (included in our research note):

"They travel through years in climate history & gradually discover what climate change will be drawn from key University of East Anglia (UEA) findings on climate change is & what they can do about it."

The University is being given a grant to promote its research findings on climate change to the public.  To say that there isn't a link between that and a major scandal, including a clear breach of FOI law, at a research unit in the university responsible for producing climate change research is utterly absurd.

In the end, even if the projects had succeeded in convincing people, the scheme would still be dreadful.  It is bad enough that the Government squandered millions on such embarrassingly bad propaganda, but the fact it is producing propaganda at all is the real issue here. The Climate Challenge Fund has clearly gone well beyond simple public information and is attempting to influence the public’s political views.  This is particularly worrying when some of the projects are pushing unfounded ideas, such as the suggestion we'll all need to wear sunglasses by 2020, as facts.  When it comes down to it, neither politicians nor officials should use taxpayers' money to promote their views – even if it’s a view that Left Foot Forward also hold.

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