Our latest DeSmog UK epic history post recalls how Dr Benny Peiser transformed from Marxist radical to director of Lord Lawson’s climate denial charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Dr Benny Peiser, a sports anthropologist whose PhD focused on the ancient Olympic games, was chosen by Julian Morris, founder and president of the International Policy Network, to submit a chapter to the think tank’s publication on climate change entitled Adapt or Die.
Peiser’s chapter was called “Climate Change and Civilisation Collapse” and in it he explained that humans had often panicked about the end of the world, and expressed his view that global warming was just the latest example.
Peiser explained his theory that Marxists, who became disillusioned by the failure of capitalism to collapse in on itself, turned instead to the environmental cause.
“Deeply infuriated by the failure of their predictions and the unremitting vibrancy of capitalism, many disillusioned believers turned to ecological pessimism and environmental determinism,” he argued.
“However, none of these horror scenarios has alarmed the public as much as the alleged peril of human-caused global warming.”
Elsewhere, Peiser has boasted about his own youthful environmentalism to boost his credentials as a commentator on climate change. He likes to tell the story of how he was a founding member of the pioneering German Green Party in Frankfurt, and would play football with leading Green politician Joschka Fisher.
In the telling, his latter-day conversion to scepticism represents an intellectual maturity. However, the extent of his teenage radicalism may come as a surprise to his sponsor Lord Lawson and his other free market friends, while his late conservatism has been a disappointment to the environmentalists in his family.
Left-Wing Street Fighter
Dieter Nentwig is married to Rina, Peiser’s half-sister and, during the 1980s, hired Peiser, a student at the University of Frankfurt, to work as an assistant at his music agency.
Nentwig told me: “He changed his attitude too… he changed everything, you know. Don’t ask me why. He cut his hair short and things like that. He was like a hippy. He was like a left-wing street fighter for a couple of years, taking part in all the big demonstrations going on in Frankfurt, not only against nuclear power, also against the Hausbesetzer – big houses being taken over by the housing agents to remove them, to throw people out and get rich people in.
“And students in those days took those houses illegally, and squatted [in] the house. And he was in that movement too. And there were big street fights in Frankfurt, I know he was part of this.”
He added: “We were certainly surprised he became more bourgeois as we would say. And we didn’t investigate [the question of] why did he change.”
Peiser managed the musician Frank Wolff and his band, Frankfurter Kurorchester, who would perform before tens of thousands of anarchist and Marxist demonstrators fighting with the police at German nuclear power stations around the same time that Lawson was suppressing the coal miners’ strike in England.
Wolff said: “He was a pretty radical left-winger – he always does things in some way radical. Arno Lustiger [a German historian] was a fatherly friend to Benny and decidedly left wing. Benny was surely dogmatic – maybe not so much anymore today – but heavily dedicated.”
Wolff believes Peiser was a member of the Maoist Communist Union North. And he was always a contrarian.
“In Germany, everyone bitched about Boris Becker [former world No. 1 professional tennis player]. Not everyone, but the intellectuals – ‘he can’t even speak German correctly’ and so on. And Benny said: ‘Why, he is a great tennis player’. Yes, he consciously took the opposite opinion. That’s kind of typical for him.”
Research and Writing
Peiser wrote for the hardline radical Frankfurt newspaper Pflasterstrand and knew the Marxist editor, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Cohn-Bendit was also a founder of the autonomist group, Revolutionärer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle), which recently became mired in controversy for the “fictional” accounts he published in the 1980s describing sexualised encounters with young children.
Peiser landed a lecturing post in the sports department at Liverpool John Moores University in 1993 where he met his wife Gillian, who had worked as a language teacher in secondary schools before working at the education department of the university.
Professor Tim Cable, his boss, said that the university tried desperately to convince Peiser to engage in substantive research but, during almost two decades, he produced only three published papers.
Peiser began sending out a newsletter, called CCNet, which began discussing asteroids and moved onto climate science, and would occasionally get quoted in the media. Cable, giving evidence to an information tribunal, said the university simply ignored what Peiser said even though he was breaking media protocol.
He admitted the university was embarrassed when the Times Higher Education Supplement compared Peiser to the moronic Simpsons character, Homer Simpson.
Cable said: “He was not a trained scientist… Dr Peiser’s work in climate science had no scientific credibility… it brought disrepute to the university, not repute.”
Peiser may have a point that some in the environment movement have abandoned their Marxist past. But, he is living proof that former Marxists are well represented among the sceptic and free market think tanks too.
Our epic history series will continue with a look at Lord Lawson’s muddled account of when he first came to talk about climate change.