A poll showing public support for a referendum on the UK’s net zero goal covered on the front page of yesterday’s Telegraph was paid for by a newly-launched climate science denial group run by a leading figure in actor Laurence Fox’s political party.
The survey, conducted by YouGov, was commissioned by “CAR26”, a campaign group that questions whether carbon dioxide is a “significant factor in global warming” and suggests teaching children about the dangers of climate change is “borderline child abuse”.
The revelation prompted two past clients of the PR executive’s company to distance themselves from her firm, which has worked with environmentalist fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Dragons’ Den entrepreneur James Caan.
CAR26, a nod to the UN climate summit set to begin next week, was registered as a company last month and boasts a talking sunflower called Ambassador Seeotu (CO2) as its “loveable mascot”.
The group’s director Lois Perry is an associate at 6 Hillgrove, a PR firm whose clients have included the National Lottery, Aldi, Little Chef and the Big Issue.
The company, headed by Richard Hillgrove, has worked with environmentally-friendly companies, such as SaveMoneyCutCarbon and Naked Energy, as well as high-carbon clients like Indago Petroleum and Air Berlin.
Perry has been a regular on Jeremy Vine’s chat show and is the South East Representative of Laurence Fox’s Covid-sceptic Reclaim Party, which opposes lockdowns and masks, and casts doubt on the effectiveness of vaccines.
DeSmog recently reported on how Fox had made campaigning against low-traffic neighbourhoods a key plank of his political activities.
Anti-Net Zero Campaign
The poll comes as opponents of climate action have been calling for a referendum on the government’s net zero policy ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit the UK is hosting in Glasgow.
Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath called for a referendum in his column last week, followed by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who wrote in the paper on Monday that “there is a case to be made that if the political elite refuse to engage, a referendum on net zero might be necessary”.
The Telegraph has a long history of casting doubt on climate science and opposing action to cut emissions, with a study published in August finding that the paper’s coverage of climate change between 2005 and 2019 was “well behind the curve” in terms of scientific accuracy.
Former Brexit Minister Steve Baker appeared to back the idea of a net zero referendum in a BBC interview yesterday ahead of the government’s spending review.
Sean Buchan, researcher and partnerships manager at Stop Funding Heat, said: “The timing of this new campaign is not a coincidence. As the world’s leaders enter the most important climate talks in five years – perhaps ever – fringe groups will inevitably try to derail the proceedings.
“That The Telegraph has platformed this campaign’s toxic narrative is no surprise. The Telegraph already has a lamentable track record on climate science, but this will continue to put their advertisers in an awkward position. For example, Sainsburys, who are funding the Telegraph while promoting themselves as a ‘Principal Partner’ of COP26.”
‘Climate Analysis Reason’
He added: “Questioning the cost of climate policy while ignoring the human and economic cost of the alternative is highly misleading. It is a subtle form of misinformation, and the potential damage of such narratives – and giving them an oversized microphone – should not be understated.”
CAR26 was registered on the Companies House website last month, with its business activities described as “market research and public opinion polling”. Perry is the only person listed as being involved in the company.
The campaign’s website says its name stands for “climate analysis reason” and seeks to “offer balance to COP26”.
It claims to oppose the “plentiful absurdity in the ‘climate emergency’” and lists key questions it wants to see answered as: “Is CO2 a significant factor in global warming?” and “What are the good and bad impacts of any global warming?”.
CAR26 also says it “denounces conscription of our impressionable passionate youth to a false ‘war on CO2’ by green millionaires, educators and politicians – brainwashing and distracting from deserving real conservation and humanitarian issues like pollution, disease, clean water and sanitation. Borderline child abuse?”
‘We Don’t Share Their Values’
The CEOs of both Naked Energy and SaveMoneyCutCarbon criticised the campaign after being contacted for comment.
Naked Energy CEO Christophe Williams said his solar power company worked with Richard Hillgrove in 2011, but added: “We don’t work with them and we don’t share their values.” He said if the pair were involved in climate science denial, this would be “completely at odds with what we’re trying to do”.
He said the company had briefly used 6 Hillgrove’s services in 2011 and that they would be requesting its logo be removed from the PR firm’s website.
“I can confirm that we do not share the views you have highlighted by CAR26 and if this is being driven by Lois Perry, we categorically disagree.”
“Naked Energy is a British design and engineering firm with the sole purpose of helping reduce man-made climate emissions through the deployment of our unique solar collectors. We are in fact exhibiting our technology at the COP26 next week for the duration of the event, as we were selected by the Cabinet Office and the [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,” he added.
Mark Sait said his consultancy SaveMoneyCutCarbon (SMCC) had been a client of 6 Hillgrove but had never worked with Perry: “We are not aware of or have ever dealt with Lois Perry and therefore would not be aware of her or her views on this subject matter.”
He said SMCC had helped homes and businesses save significant amounts of energy and water, which he said was its “primary focus rather than the opinion of any individuals.”
“There will always be resistance and sceptics to any major cause, like global warming”, he added.
“We continue to review the best ‘fit’ of all our suppliers on a regular basis and will consider your allegations in our next review,” he said.
A spokesperson for Vivienne Westwood said: “Vivienne worked with Richard Hillgrove on a freelance basis in the past for an environmental campaign against fracking in the UK, and a human rights campaign in support of the release of Julian Assange.
“She has not worked with 6 Hillgrove since 2020 and has no intention of working again with him in the future. Vivienne Westwood is not one of Hillgrove’s clients.”
They added: “Vivienne Westwood has no connection to or acknowledgment of Lois Perry and has never worked with her.”
CAR26, 6 Hillgrove, the Telegraph, and YouGov have been contacted for comment.
UPDATE: This story was updated on 28/10/21 to include a comment from Vivienne Westwood