DeSmog

Oxford University Professor Condemned for ‘Legitimising Lies and Falsehoods’ of Climate Denial Group

Prof Peter Dobson said Global Warming Policy Foundation members were not climate deniers ‘for the most part’.
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George Hodan / CC0 1.0

Oxford University is facing criticism after the UK’s principal climate science denial group appointed a second professor to its ranks.

Emeritus Fellow Professor Peter Dobson has defended his decision to accept a position on the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF)’s academic advisory council, just weeks after his colleague Professor Peter Edwards joined the organisation as trustee.

Campaigners said that they were “saddened” by the recent appointments to the GWPF, an organisation founded by climate science denier and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Nigel Lawson in 2009 to combat what it described as “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to address climate change.

The Oxford University Climate Justice Campaign, which includes students, alumni and academics, is making renewed calls for the institution to sever all ties with the fossil fuel industry, after publishing a report claiming the University had received £11 million from fossil fuel firms since 2015.

“By joining the GWPF Dobson lends legitimacy to the lies and falsehoods that GWPF has perpetuated,” a spokesperson told DeSmog.

“As long as Oxford receives money from the fossil fuel industry it raises the question of whether academics like Dobson are incentivised to join climate denying think-tanks, and to defend the fossil fuel industry, due to the money their departments received from these companies.” 

Fossil Fuel Ties

Dobson joined the Engineering Sciences department of Oxford University in 1988. He formally retired in 2013, but continues to teach courses on “innovation” in the maths and physics departments.

He also conducts research into energy and decarbonisation technologies with Professor Edwards at the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology–Oxford Centre for Petrochemical Research (KOPRC), a centre co-run by Oxford University and a Saudi Arabian research centre, which was recently highlighted in a report from students detailing the University’s ties to the fossil fuel industry. 

Dobson supported the Oxford Energy Society (which counts the oil major BP among its sponsors) in its first year after it was founded by two engineering students. Dobson is also a former academic director of University’s Begbroke Science Centre, which partners with industry to produce research in areas including energy and automotive technologies.

Defending his membership of the thinktank, Dobson told DeSmog he did not consider members of the Global Warming Policy Foundation to be climate deniers “for the most part”.

“They are offering more open debate than all of the lobby groups that seem to have latched on to the issue of climate and its relationship with human behaviour,” he said.

“I am more aware than most people of the misinformation and hype being put out by climate change protagonists. Most of these people do not want to hear any view expressed which contradicts their simplistic views about the evils of fossil fuels.”

‘False Debate’

Jose Antonio Moreno, a member of the THINKClima research project at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, said the GWPF was the most cited think tank in the UK press on climate change issues among climate contrarian think tanks analysed in Europe.

He believes the prominence of the thinktank could be “due to the fact that they incorporate political and academic profiles of some renown”, such as the recent appointees from Oxford University.

This could lead to a false equivalence in coverage, he warned. 

“In particular, the press has used statements by members of the think tank to qualify ongoing debates on climate change, or to offer a “sceptical” version of the issue in order to achieve a balance of information that was, in reality, a false debate that does not correspond to the scientific consensus that exists,” he said.

A spokesperson for Oxford University told DeSmog the University was “committed to freedom of expression,” adding that “all academics have the right to promote their research and expertise through the media or other external organisations”.

Updated 29/09/21 to clarify that Dobson was involved in supporting the Oxford Energy Society in its first year after being founded by two students.

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Rachel is an investigative researcher and reporter based in Brussels. Her work has been covered by outlets including The Guardian, Vice News, The Financial Times and The Hill.

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