Saturday, 08 June 2013 00:00

The extreme anti-extremist: Raheem Kassam’s climate-sceptic ‘GreenCEASE’ project

GreenCEASE film "Inside the anti-growth lobby" GreenCEASE film "Inside the anti-growth lobby"

In the wake of the Woolwich murder, the press has been very receptive to arguments in favour of banning "hate preachers" from universities, arguments espoused by, among others, a group called Student Rights. Despite this pressure group’s non-transparency, shoddy research methods, and lack of legitimacy among actual students, the press continues to take it seriously and it has featured on the front pages of the Times, the Guardian and in a number of other media outlets.

But this week two MPs announced they were quitting the advisory board of the group following criticism of its activities. And its credibility will be further dented by the revelation that Raheem Kassam, Student Rights’ director, ran an anti-environmental side project which attempted to undermine the science of climate change.

In April and May last year Kassam wrote a number of articles for the Huffington Post and in his by-line described himself as director the 'Green Centre for Economic Analysis and Sustainable Environment'.  However, the link to said institution at the bottom of his articles now redirects to a wedding website. So what is, or was, the 'Green Centre for Economic Analysis and Sustainable Environment'?

Its name seems to have been chosen to accommodate the snappy acronym 'GreenCEASE', intended to parody Greenpeace, an NGO it spent much of its time attacking. GreenCEASE launched a website on 5 April 2012 which can still be viewed here and its Twitter account is also still live.

According to its founding principles, GreenCEASE existed to 'analyse the economic impact of global environmental concerns, adopting a "growth first" approach to carbon-neutrality' and to 'ensure that those who are not actively willing participants in environmental endeavours are not coerced or conscripted into any movement against their will'. Gallingly, it even framed its activities in terms of apparent concern for the poor of the global south and even for the environment, saying its "growth first" approach would enable 'developing nations to flourish and encouraging more rapid poverty alleviation around the world’ and that it would highlight ‘hypocrisy, waste, corruption and counter-intuitive measures which could actually further harm the environment'.

In practice GreenCEASE was engaged in spreading doubts about the science of climate change and attempting to attack and undermine environmental campaigners, scientists conducting research on global warming - and even government-sponsored initiatives to combat climate change.

Its Twitter account history reads like a who’s who of the climate denial movement, featuring the Heartland Institute, described by the Economist as 'the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change' and the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), former chancellor Nigel Lawson’s think tank, responsible for spreading 'demonstrably inaccurate' information about climate science. GreenCEASE also Tweeted its output at, or retweeted the content of users called @globalwarminghoax, @skepticscience, @ClimateScam, @AGW_IS_A_HOAX and a host of other users describing themselves as 'AGW skeptics' (where AGW stands for anthropogenic global warming and skeptic is, arguably, a euphemism for denier).

In the world of politics, GreenCEASE made attempts to reach out to Conservatives Douglas Carswell MP, a relatively recent convert to climate scepticism, Daniel Hannan MEP, who has openly questioned man-made climate change, and UKIP’s Roger Helmer, MEP, who has characterised environmental initiatives as 'eco-fascism'. It also published the work of James Dellingpole, a journalist with no scientific expertise, who infamously blogged about "climategate" in the Telegraph with what George Monbiot termed 'ill-informed viciousness'.

Since GreenCEASE seems to have been a side-project of the libertarian-right blog The Commentator (of which Raheem Kassam is executive editor) it’s no surprise that it also Tweeted links to climate-sceptic articles by its contributing editor Peter C. Glover. He is described by The Commentator, which has itself published articles bashing the Green Party and suggesting wind turbines may pose a health hazard, as a 'climate science expert'. But his co-authored book Energy and Climate Wars: How Naïve Politicians, Green Ideologues, and Media Elites are Undermining the Truth About Energy and Climate is included on a list of ‘books espousing climate change denial’ in an article exploring the links between climate denial books and think tanks in the journal American Behavioural Scientist.

GreenCEASE produced an amusing film entitled 'Inside the Anti-Growth Lobby' attempting to  portray the 2012 sustainability conference 'Planet Under Pressure' in London as somehow sinister, as well as a 'movie trailer' called 'Green Imperialism' featuring clips from the Forest Stewardship Council's 2012 conference in Dusseldorf.  But most hilarious is a short called 'World Domination' in which Kassam claims the WWF and other groups are restraining the development of poor countries - complete with visuals of a plastic panda running rampage across a map of the world. While it lasted, GreenCEASE railed against 'climate alarmists', advocating instead what it called 'climate realism' and, most damningly, opposed pursuing what it called 'anti-growth' environmental policies, in its words, 'before the science is settled'.

The project, however, was short-lived and seems to have had little impact. Its Twitter activity petered out slowly, grinding to an apparent halt in March this year. Kassam has not responded to questions about his own views on anthropogenic climate change, or on whether GreenCEASE had any other members, continues to exist or why it stopped. But it seems likely that it proved difficult and unrewarding to propagate such discredited doubt-mongering ideas anywhere but on the fringes and within the pre-existing denial movement.

It is important to note, however, that Kassam has had no such problems finding a platform for his views about the danger of – usually Muslim - "extremism" at universities, propagated through his other body, Student Rights. Indeed, comparing the reception of his two projects is instructive. The current climate of Islamophobia - which yesterday saw an ugly new low when a North London Islamic centre was burnt to the ground in an apparently racist attack by the English Defence League (EDL) – also expresses itself in the readiness of media outlets to run with dubious stories about, or merely tenuously linked to, supposed "extremism". Getting pickup for climate change denial, which not only flies in the face of the evidence, but also runs counter to the political consensus, is much harder.

There is rich irony in the fact that after an investigation at University College London found no evidence supporting the idea that attempted "underpants bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been "radicalised" at the university, Student Rights produced a report called 'Extremism on Campus: A Lesson In Denial'. As it turns out, Student Rights director Raheem Kassam is the one in denial and espousing extremist views.

Hilary Aked

Hilary Aked is a freelance researcher and writer, an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a doctoral candidate at the University of Bath.