Secrecy and the climate disinformation industry

Dec 17, 2023
Climate Change
Image: Pixabay

The Atlas Network’s main goal has been to spot and train global talent in the ultra free-market libertarian field and connect it to the free-flowing money that the alliance functions to assist. They now have at least 515 partner organisations in over 100 nations. Secrecy is key for the corporations and plutocrats funding this model, structuring replicating “think” tanks and funding academics and spin doctors to sell what the backers can’t say. Atlas and partners hate attention. We must not let them hide.

Dr Jeremy Walker’s research into the Atlas Network’s Australian partners brought that American body to prominence over the referendum campaign. His study on thinktanks including the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) carrying Atlas strategies into Australian civic discourse raised Atlas’s profile. The latest attack by Atlas partner organisations is a strategic campaign against offshore wind farms.

The model, as Walker reports, for the supposedly grassroots campaign against offshore wind farms in coastal NSW is derived from a related campaign in the United States.

Sydney University of Technology hosted an international webinar last week that brought together some of the best research voices challenging the climate disinformation industry which is substantially coordinated by Atlas. This sector blocks climate action and attacks democracy globally: there is to be no scope for any nation’s public to obstruct their ultra-free market goals.

Dr Jeremy Walker led the program hosted by former senator Scott Ludlum. Duke’s Professor Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains, Professor Timmons Roberts from Brown University and environmental journalist Brendan DeMille spoke. (Unfortunately Amy Westervelt of the outstanding Drilled became unavailable.)

Speakers linked to resources including the collection of fossil fuel industry documents proving its treachery. Demille’s Desmog provides extensive information about Atlas Network’s functions and international partners. Roberts linked to evidence supporting offshore wind energy. (The latest series from Drilled focuses on the criminalisation of climate and environmental protesters.)

Walker outlined Atlas’s history, pointing out that international oil industry manoeuvring began in the earliest years of the 20th century, even before widespread universal suffrage in democracies. Overriding national constraints in supranational treaties and trade deals is central to their power and profit.

Walker noted that the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) acts as the inner sanctum of the Atlas Network. It was founded in 1947 with oil connections from the outset, and neoliberalism can be dated from its inaugural conference.

As of the last leaked membership list of the secretive MPS in 2013, former Prime Minster John Howard was a member. John Roskam (Executive Director until 2022, now Senior Fellow, at the IPA) and News Corp’s Janet Albrechtsen were listed. Director and Founder of the CIS, Greg Lindsay, was a former president of the MPS. Ron Manners, founder of Atlas connected “think” tank the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation is a current director of the MPS. Maurice Newman, around the time he was chair of the ABC, was also listed. He helped found the CIS and was a seminal backer of Advance Australia which led the campaign against the Voice to Parliament.

The notorious Charles Koch took over orchestrating Atlas’s success after Antony Fisher’s 1987 death, and was a member of the MPS. Koch Industries is a “kingpin of climate science denial.” Without the Kochs and Rupert Murdoch, the Tea Party which morphed into Trump’s MAGA movement would have been stillborn. In 1980, when his brother and partner David ran as a Libertarian Party candidate, father of American conservatism William F Buckley described their politics as “Anarcho Totalitarianism.”

MacLean’s presentation highlighted the fact that the figures who held these “public choice” theories, devised by James Buchanan and largely funded by Koch, knew their ultra-free market ideas would not win majority votes and so set out secretly to cripple democracy by any “technology” they could devise. MacLean drew attention to global attacks on democracy and surging autocracy, featuring the Atlas-connected money and “think” tanks that drove the Brexit vote as well as promoting far-right and neofascist politics in Europe. Both movements are tied to climate denial.

The Atlas Network’s main goal, as Demille summarised it, has been to spot and train global talent in the ultra free-market libertarian field and connect it to the free-flowing money that the alliance functions to assist. They now have at least 515 partner organisations in over 100 nations. The contributions of donors and even the fact of bodies functioning as Atlas partners, have been hidden as part of making any account such as this look like a conspiracy theory. They know that the impacts of complete deregulation – tainted water, air, dangerous workplaces – will be unpalatable even to the people inculcated to believe deregulation is desirable. The secession of the rich from civil society, particularly in paying tax, has meant ever fewer services and deteriorating infrastructure for the poor. Secrecy is key for the corporations and plutocrats funding this model, structuring replicating “think” tanks and funding academics and spin doctors to sell what the backers can’t say.

For some of the oligarchs behind and strategists working for the Atlas Network and interrelated bodies there is a genuine reactionary yearning for an older white society governed by strict “biblical morality.” Christian Libertarianism is a description of America’s perverted libertarianism that desires statist control of bodies. For other cynics in the network, religious Right factions provide a voter bloc and cover for the free market and climate-denial activities. For this reason, the forces work in concert with and fund Christian Nationalists.

The autocracies promoted by these forces around the globe promote fossil fuel production and consumption. Ultra free-market concepts are matched with repression of individuals and the end of rights and freedom of conscience. Citizens who are content to earn and consume may not notice the difference until climate disasters make their food unaffordable or unavailable. Those who aim to protest the breakdown of our societies under the manifold pressures of the climate catastrophe and economic injustice, combined with the brutal treatment of climate refugees, will be branded extremists or terrorists and will suffer.

The irony is that the people targeted by the strategists into becoming part of the climate denial and delay movement – such as the conspiracists who join the NIMBYs to fight renewables like offshore wind farms – are almost right. But this conspiracy is tracked and piled high with peer-reviewed academic study.

Atlas’s credo is: “We believe that all individuals have the right to pursue opportunities, enjoy success, and live a life of freedom without coercion or persecution. And so we tirelessly aid in the unshackling of individual liberty, free enterprise, and voluntary cooperation to prevent future poverty.” This pablum is actually intended to disguise the impoverishment of the vast majority of humanity, indeed its destruction in the climate catastrophe, while the 0.1% enjoy the liberty that statement celebrates.

Atlas and partners like the CIS hate attention. We must not let them hide.

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