Revealed: The Science Denial Network Behind Oxford’s ‘Climate Lockdown’ Backlash

A traffic filter scheme in Oxfordshire has been “weaponised” by the anti-climate lobby.
Not Our Future put leaflets through letterboxes in Oxfordshire. Credit: DeSmog
Not Our Future put leaflets through letterboxes in Oxfordshire. Credit: DeSmog

The “grassroots” backlash to a traffic reduction scheme in Oxfordshire is being boosted by an international network of established climate and Covid science deniers and amplified by right-wing media, DeSmog can report. 

The group ‘Not Our Future’ made headlines last month by putting leaflets through Oxfordshire residents’ letterboxes calling them “guinea pigs” in the UK’s first “climate lockdown”. This was a reference to a conspiracy theory about a government plan to curb people’s freedoms. 

False claims about the Oxfordshire County Council scheme to cut traffic and pollution went viral online, with one tweet by climate sceptic author Jordan Peterson being viewed 7.5 million times. The claims, which have seen local councillors receive death threats, have been fact-checked and debunked as misleading, and the council has described them as “harmful to public debate”. 

Not Our Future’s director David Fleming, an anti-Covid lockdown and vaccine activist, presents his campaign as a people-powered movement opposed to a coming “authoritarian future” imposed by what he calls “The Blob”.

However, DeSmog can report that the group was conceived by Fleming years before the pandemic or the Oxfordshire scheme, and is backed by a network of high-profile climate deniers and conspiracy theorists based in the UK, Canada, the United States and Australia. 

It is also the latest sign of a growing alliance between opponents of climate action and anti-Covid vaccine conspiracy theorists. Not Our Future’s founding signatories include Kathy Gyngell, a trustee of Tufton Street think tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s main climate science denial group. 

Gyngell’s website TCW hosted an anti-vaccine event in London last week with climate denial author James Delingpole, anti-vax MP Andrew Bridgen, and 90s pop group Right Said Fred, the public face of Not Our Future.

Experts say fears generated by the Covid pandemic are being exploited to oppose green policies. 

“Until 2020, fear-mongering about so-called ‘green tyranny’ had little to point towards, and often felt like an abstract, even lame Boogeyman,” said Jennie King, head of climate research and policy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) think tank. 

“The pandemic was a moment of genuine trauma for millions of people,” she said. “That trauma has been weaponised by the anti-climate lobby, who now condemn any public policy as an ‘infringement on civil liberties’ and draw direct comparisons with Covid.” 

Trouble in Oxford

Oxfordshire County Council is trialling a traffic filter scheme which requires permits on six roads for cars – but not buses, vans, taxis, heavy goods vehicles or motorbikes – to cut traffic and pollution. Parts of Oxford already have a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in place. 

In December, posts on social media falsely conflated the proposed traffic filter with a separate scheme for 15-minute cities – the idea that people should be able to reach amenities close to their homes – and labelled it a “climate lockdown”.

The subject was raised in parliament for the first time last week by Conservative MP Nick Fletcher, who called 15-minute cities an “international socialist concept”. There was also a segment on the topic on last night’s episode of BBC Newsnight

Not Our Future

The backlash spilled out into the real world with Not Our Future’s leaflet campaign in Oxford in January. The group was registered as a limited company in August 2022 by Fleming, who has a background in marketing for Formula One racing. 

In 2020, Fleming founded Covid-19 Assembly, a Covid denial group which was dissolved as a limited company in April 2022, without having published any accounts, according to openDemocracy

While Fleming is best known for his Covid activism, DeSmog can reveal that he claims his first motivation for setting up the campaign was his opposition to the UK’s climate policies. 

In an interview last month, Fleming said: “I first came up with this idea three, four years ago because of climate. Theresa May had signed us up to Net Zero, and the public just didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to start it then, whereas Covid gave me that opportunity to step up.”

He said the purpose of the campaign was to promote “the great reset”, a right-wing conspiracy theory about a global plot by sinister forces to impose their will on the world. It distorts a real sustainability initiative launched by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic.  

However, Not Our Future conceals this agenda. “We’re not talking about ‘the great reset’, that kind of thing, you know, up front”, Fleming said in the interview. “We just want people to say, ‘Yeah, we want a better future. We don’t want that thing that’s coming towards us, that’s been foisted on us’. It’s basically a common ground that anyone can identify with and go from there.” 

In the interview, Fleming also promoted the bogus Climategate scandal of 2009, which he said showed climate scientists were “colluding and manipulating data” and “creating a hoax” – a claim contradicted by multiple enquiries. 

This anti-climate message permeates Not Our Future’s propaganda. The group’s website lists what it calls “de-industrialisation caused by the NetZero energy crisis” among the areas where “governments around the world are laying the tracks for a bleak and authoritarian future”. 

The website’s reference to “The Blob” may refer to the so-called “green blob”, an old term of abuse for environmental groups. 

The group’s leaflets also reject climate science, claiming the world is in an “ice age” and that “the climate is changing as it always does” in a “natural cycle”, and that “achieving Net Zero by 2050 will destroy our way of life”. 

Fleming Responds

Not Our Future’s website and social media posts say it plans to spread its message across the country, and Fleming has suggested people lobby their MPs to support its aims.  

When contacted by DeSmog, Fleming rejected the notion that he was hiding his real politics. “I am not disguising anything. I’m trying to be 100 percent open and truthful about everything,” he said.

Fleming said the WEF’s plans were “laid out in public” and accused DeSmog of being funded by “billionaires”. 

He defended his views on climate change and Covid, claiming he studied “environmental science” and health. 

“I understand the scientific method and have enough grounding in public health and the atmosphere to understand what scientists and doctors on both sides are saying to make my own mind up,” he said.

On his foreign supporters, Fleming said “Not Our Future isn’t just a UK project”, and when asked about his funding, he said: “I don’t have to disclose anything to you. However, 95 percent of money spent so far has come directly from me.” 

Tufton Street and Climate Deniers

Not Our Future’s website lists its “founding signatories”, many of whom have links to climate science denial or conspiracy theory politics. 

Kathy Gyngell is a trustee of the GWPF, the Tufton Street think tank whose campaign arm Net Zero Watch has called for “a new fleet of coal-fired power plants” and the “complete” phaseout of wind and solar power. 

Gyngell is also editor of TCW, formerly The Conservative Woman, a website which regularly publishes climate science denial and Covid misinformation. 

TCW hosted an anti-vaccine event in South London on February 10 featuring Andrew Bridgen MP, who was suspended from the Conservative Party last month for likening Covid vaccines to the Holocaust. 

Gyngell did not respond when contacted for comment. 

Other signatories include veteran climate denier James Delingpole – who was also at the TCW panel – and actor Laurence Fox, head of the Reclaim Party, which has campaigned against low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes. Reclaim representative Lois Perry runs CAR26, a climate denial pressure group. 

Another founding signatory is Vernon Coleman, author of a self-published book called A Bigger Problem than Climate Change: The End of Oil, who calls climate change a “malicious, dangerous myth” and refers on his blog to “the global warming hoax which is going to destroy us”. 

Signatory Robin Monotti, a filmmaker, tweeted in December that “The CO2 causing #ClimateChange narrative is a hoax”, and shared the “World Climate Declaration”, an open letter denying basic climate science organised by the Climate Intelligence Foundation (CLINTEL), a lobby group backed by fossil fuel interests. 

Another signatory is prominent Australian climate denial tweeter Peter Clack, who praises carbon dioxide in his Twitter bio. Earlier this month he posted: “Powerful globalists like the World Economic Forum in league with the United Nations are about to seize control of the majority of the world by stealth. Climate is just a distraction.”

Signatory Del Bigtree, an U.S. filmmaker and founder of the Informed Consent Action Network, an anti-vaccine group, has repeatedly promoted the idea of “climate lockdowns”. 

Not Our Future’s website bears a statement that reads: “The Founding Signatories have no role in the running of the organisation or campaign apart from their endorsement and support.”

Anti-Climate Amplifiers

The idea that Oxfordshire’s traffic filter scheme is a “climate lockdown” was amplified by a familiar list of climate denial influencers. 

These include Steve Milloy, a Fox News contributor and director at the Heartland Institute, which has received funding from ExxonMobil. In December Milloy tweeted: “Oxford (UK) to introduce first climate lockdown”. 

As mentioned above, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, who has become a leading spreader of climate science denial, spread the false Oxfordshire “climate lockdown” claim to his 3.8 million followers, in a tweet viewed 7.5 million times. 

Peterson has promoted several well-known climate deniers through his YouTube channel in the past two months, including Judith Curry, Alex Epstein, and Richard Lindzen

GB News Support 

Several of Not Our Future’s backers are linked to GB News, the climate sceptic TV channel whose owners, Dubai-based investment firm Legatum Group, run a think tank, Legatum Institute, which has received donations from the American Koch Industries oil dynasty. 

The channel also has a record of broadcasting misinformation about Covid vaccines. Presenter Mark Steyn parted ways with GB News last week amid two Ofcom investigations into claims made on his show. 

Not Our Future is fronted by Richard and Fred Fairbrass of the pop group Right Said Fred, who frequently appear on GB News and have expressed anti-Covid vaccine views. 

A spokesperson for Right Said Fred told DeSmog that the brothers were aware of Fleming’s views, and said that the TCW panel they spoke on last week was not an anti-vaccine event. When asked if they agreed with Fleming that climate change is a hoax, they said “the issue of climate change is still being debated”.

Three GB News presenters – Neil Oliver, Calvin Robinson, and Laurence Fox — are founding signatories of Not Our Future.  Oliver promoted the false Oxfordshire “climate lockdown” story on GB News alongside CAR26 director Lois Perry. Oliver was recently criticised by Jewish groups for promoting conspiracy theories with antisemitic roots. 

Fox recently interviewed Oliver on GB News about the “government narrative” on Covid vaccines and how broadcasting regulator OfCom has “stifled debate”. A tweet promoting the segment read: “We don’t want 15 minute cities, we don’t want net zero, we don’t want digital IDs, we just want to be left alone.”

Social media user turned political commentator June Slater, who has appeared on GB News to say that climate change is not an “emergency” but rather a “strategy”, has also promoted the idea that Covid travel restrictions were “mission creep” designed to prepare the public for “climate lockdown”.

Adam Barnett - new white crop
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Michaela
Michaela is the Lead Researcher at DeSmog, with a particular focus on agribusiness and the livestock sector.
Chris Deane headshot
Chris joined DeSmog in August 2022 as a Researcher. He previously interned with Unearthed, Greenpeace's investigative journalism unit.

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