Many of my favourite articles are printed on the pages of The Guardian. Being an anarcho-capitalist has the rather splendid consequence of finding oneself concurring with writers from a broad range of political persuasions: free market advocates and social liberals alike. One Guardian columnist that I regularly find myself in agreement with is George Monbiot; founder of the excellent ArrestBlair.org and author of several admirable polemics (ranging from highlighting the travesty of the Common Agricultural Policy to the hypocrisy of President Obama).
Yet I also think that Monbiot often gets it wrong – very wrong. Reading his recent piece entitled ‘Secrets of the Rich’, one quickly realises that the man appears to have a vendetta against the ‘ultra-rich’ and their apparent inability to consider anything but their personal wealth. Discussing free market think-tanks and organisations that propagate climate change scepticism, Monbiot writes that:
‘Conspiracies against the public don’t get much uglier than this…’
He then references previous revelations that ‘102 organisations which either dismiss climate science or downplay the need to take action’ are financed, in part, by ‘two secretive organisations [the Donors’ Trust and the Donors’ Capital Fund] working for US billionaires’. It has also been revealed that nearly 500 other free-market/conservative organisations receive funding from these groups.
Compelling stuff. This is a fine piece of investigative journalism. It highlights the important role of the media in uncovering the methods by which think-tanks operate. It is not, however, a ‘conspiracy’: or at least no more a conspiracy than the largely US government-funded Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission-funded Friends of the Earth Europe, and the EU-funded WWF. Exactly the same accusations of vested interest can be levelled at the state-funded organisations that advocate state action on climate change: the only difference is that with governments, individuals have no choice but to pay up. The world is a marketplace of ideas and informing people about those who finance the proliferation of those ideas is the job of investigative journalism, not state coercion. Monbiot evidently disagrees:
‘I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is outrageous that the Charity Commission allows organisations which engage in political lobbying and refuse to reveal their major funders to claim charitable status.’
In the immortal words of Milton Friedman, ‘I am in favour of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible’, and that, in my opinion, that would include granting lobbyists charitable status. But even by Monbiot’s own terms, the ‘opponents of the billionaires’ (such as environmentalist NGOs) are just as guilty of attempting to ‘influence public life’ as any free market think-tank:
‘Any group – whether the Institute of Economic Affairs or Friends of the Earth – which attempts to influence public life should declare all donations greater than £1000 [or face greater expropriation by the state].’
Indeed, in defending Greenpeace against being denied charitable status in New Zealand, the group’s lawyer argued that ‘the engagement of charities in political advocacy was more acceptable now in 21st century New Zealand’. Straight from the horse’s mouth, we see that Greenpeace make no apology for being a group with an avowedly political agenda.
The conflation of the rich with global warming scepticism is another of Monbiot’s errors. Whilst it may be true that many wealthy people fund climate change sceptic organisations, they also finance advocates of action on global warming. As bitter a pill as it may be for Monbiot to swallow, even the oil and gas giant BP has previously rallied for action on climate change; it was a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Current members include Exelon, Shell, and Rio Tinto. There are many other cases of prosperous environmentalists, demonstrating diversity of opinion amongst the wealthy as well as the less well-off.
Calling voters who happen to agree with global warming scepticism ‘gullible’ shows Monbiot’s contempt for those who reach a different conclusion to him: the same contempt that he accuses the rich of having for the views of ordinary men and women. Divisive issues have powerful lobbyists on both sides, and to focus dogmatically upon ‘who said it’ rather than what was actually said is simply a 21st Century update of the inane concept of ‘bourgeois logic’.