A well-connected motorcycle lobby group is denying climate science and telling bikers that climate change is an “eco-fraud” that will “cost you your freedom”, DeSmog can reveal.
The Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) is one of the UK’s largest motorcyclist associations, and claims to have some 50,000 members. It met with the government in June, when it lobbied ministers to halt the proposed phase-out of conventional cars with internal combustion engines.
The group also boasts ties to influential MPs including biker and Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley Jr, both of whom are MAG members.
MAG “fiercely opposes” next month’s expansion of London’s flagship anti-pollution measure, the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), and claims to have played a “key” role in April’s anti-ULEZ demonstrations held in central London.
MAG also runs a campaign called “Operation Earthquake”, which it says is designed “to stop dangerous changes to transport policy based on the eco-fraud”. In campaign material sent to its members, the group is spreading misinformation which denies climate science and suggests that green policy is a government plot to take away their freedoms.
DeSmog can reveal that MAG chair Neil Liversidge has a record of climate science denial, including the claim in December that “the so-called ‘climate crisis’ is all bullshit hyped up by people who want an excuse to control us”.
Operation Earthquake hopes to pressure MPs into scrapping the UK’s ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030. The ban does not currently affect motorcycles, but the government has held a public consultation, which concluded in September, on extending this ban to new fossil fuel bikes and mopeds. The polluting vehicles phase-out policy has been in the news in recent days, with the Daily Mail running a series of stories calling for the 2030 ban to be reconsidered.
MAG’s campaign comes as opponents of climate action are increasingly spreading false information about traffic control policies. A traffic filter scheme in Oxfordshire, London’s ULEZ expansion, and “15-minute city” plans across the country have all been the subject of conspiracy theories, which claim that climate change is being used to impose a Covid-style “lockdown”.
“Without a transition to electric vehicles we won’t cut our climate impact by nearly enough to avert a crisis,” Johann Beckford, policy adviser at the independent think tank Green Alliance told DeSmog.
“As the biggest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions, transport is at the top of the list for change, and phasing out the use of the most polluting vehicles is an essential part of the net zero transition”.
In 2020, motorcycles produced 400,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, according to the Department for Transport. This is roughly equal to running a gas-fired power plant for a year, per the US Environmental Protection Agency’s equivalences calculator.
Longstanding MAG member David French told DeSmog that MAG’s opposition to established climate science is discrediting the organisation. “This unscientific stance is irrational and damaging to the image of motorcyclists and it is something which many of my fellow motorcyclists disagree with,” he said.
MAG’s director of communications and public affairs Lembit Opik disputed the basis of the scientific consensus on climate change when contacted by DeSmog, but did not offer an on the record response. Liversidge did not comment on the record.
MAG appears to have growing political influence.
In June, the group was invited to attend a motorcycle industry roundtable with Transport Minister Jesse Norman, during which it lobbied the government to halt its proposed ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.
MAG claims that the government agreed in the meeting to a further summit with the authors of a report published in October 2022, co-commissioned by MAG and the lobby group Fair Fuel UK, that criticised the government’s phase-out policy.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We’ve been clear on our commitment to reduce transport emissions and our Transport Decarbonisation Plan sets out an ambitious and credible path to do this.
“This includes world leading policies such as our zero emission vehicle mandate, which sets ambitious targets for the sales of new zero emission cars and vans, and it is important that motorcycles do not remain powered by fossil fuels as the rest of our transport system is cleaned up.”
MAG’s head of communications and public affairs is former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, and Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker is a prominent member and supporter.
In 2014, Baker called MAG a “serious, strategic and focussed riders’ rights body”, in October 2021 he publicised his membership of the group, and in July 2022 he endorsed MAG’s petition for motorcyclists to be able to use bus lanes. When approached for comment, Baker said, “I’m a member, I’m glad to be”. Baker’s father is MAG’s Cornwall Representative and a friend of Liversidge, according to a tweet by the latter in August 2022.
Baker is himself a leading opponent of climate action in parliament. Until he became a minister in September 2022, he was a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s principal climate denial group, and was co-chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a group of backbench Conservative MPs that has attacked the government’s climate targets.
In early March, MAG conducted an interview about “how to lobby your MP” with DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr, chair of the Motorcycling All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), an informal body that brings together MPs to lobby on specific issues.
In the video, Paisley – who is a member of MAG – encouraged viewers to contact him, along with their MP, on motorcycling issues, explaining that “as chairman [of the APPG], I get them access, right, to the minister.”
He added: “It’s an all-party group, so that also gives you a wee bit of leverage.”
DUP leaders have a long record of climate science denial. They have lobbied for years to quash the introduction of a Climate Change Act in Northern Ireland. Former DUP Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has called man-made climate change a “gigantic con” and a “hysterical semi-religion”. Wilson told DeSmog that he is representing constituents “whose pockets are being picked by the carbon zero zealots”.
Conservative MP Trudy Harrison, who was then serving as Under-Secretary of State for Transport, reportedly praised MAG at a Westminster Hall debate in October 2021, during which three MPs said that they were members of the group.
Harrison met with MAG representatives in December that year, who expressed the group’s opposition to the “coercive, arbitrary date for phasing out the internal combustion engine”. Harrison reportedly said that she looked forward to “working closely” with MAG, following the meeting.
Harrison’s links to MAG are long-standing, having celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Whitehaven branch in September 2017. In July 2022, Harrison became Transport Minister but moved in September to Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Land Use, her current role.
“Protecting the environment is about the freedom to breathe clean air and to live on a sustainable planet,” Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay told DeSmog. “We would urge all politicians to distance themselves from individuals and groups who deny the incontrovertible evidence that we must act now to decarbonise all parts of society”.
Operation Earthquake’s “campaign pack” not only opposes the phase-out policy for new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030 but attacks the scientific basis for climate action and the transition away from fossil fuels.
The material states that MAG “reject[s] claims there’s a human-caused climate crisis” and asserts that “so far, nobody has presented anything to show a human-caused climate crisis”.
“Climate is changing because it has always changed”, it says. “But our tiny human contribution to CO2… is not creating ‘dangerous’ climate change. This miniscule input simply can’t do what the climate alarmists say it does”.
The campaign pack adds: “Banning your petrol-powered machine won’t save the planet: it’ll just cost you your freedom”.
Opponents of green policies are increasingly spreading the claim that anti-pollution measures are an attack on citizens’ liberty.
In December, widely-shared conspiracy theories about a “climate lockdown” were couched on support among local authorities for “15-minute cities” – the idea that people should have key services near their homes – and a traffic filter scheme in Oxford.
The May-June edition of MAG’s members’ magazine, “Open Road”, includes articles opposing ULEZ, low-traffic neighbourhoods, and 15-minute cities, about which it says: “we are not prepared to accept a prison – a world reduced to virtual meetings and proxy lives online”.
MAG has consistently argued for even the most polluting motorcycles to be exempted from London’s ULEZ, claiming that the poorest individuals – who can’t afford to swap polluting bikes for cleaner models – are punished under the scheme.
Under the London Mayor’s scrappage scheme, individuals are offered grants to scrap non-compliant vehicles, including motorcycles. According to a City Hall report published in February, harmful pollution levels in central London have reduced by 46 percent compared to a scenario without the ULEZ.
MAG has also produced a presentation titled, ‘Climate Fundamentalism: Dogma vs Science’, which claims “there is no evidence CO2 is [the] primary driver of global warming” and that the world is currently in an ice age. The presentation references several climate science denial groups, including Net Zero Watch, CFACT, and the Heritage Foundation.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.
The IPCC also states that global warming will cause “increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and, in some regions, agricultural and ecological droughts; an increase in the proportion of intense tropical cyclones; and reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told DeSmog: “The scientific evidence on both the climate emergency and air pollution is unequivocal. The mayor would urge Londoners to look at the facts about ULEZ, to read the evidence about the damage air pollution is doing to people’s health and to be cautious about those who are clearly scaremongering and spreading misinformation”.
‘People Who Want to Control Us’
MAG chair Neil Liversidge has repeatedly attacked climate science. In a LinkedIn article published in February, Liversidge wrote: “I do not believe [global warming] is entirely man-made, and nor do I believe we can do anything to stop it, much less reverse it”.
He claimed that if you point out mistakes by climate scientists then “Greta’s Gestapo will cite it as evidence you are a ‘denier’”, in a derogatory reference to the climate activist Greta Thunberg.
In a tweet in December, Liversidge said: “Get fracking, re-open the pits, sod electric cars. The so-called ‘climate crisis’ is all bullshit hyped up by people who want an excuse to control us”.
Last summer, he tweeted a video from GB News presenter Neil Oliver, and said: “There’s been no rise in Earth’s temperature for 15 years. The politicians are fiddling the figures for their own ends. Vote against all politicians who support net zero and the 2030 ban on new [internal combustion engine] vehicles”.
In an interview in March, Opik also questioned the evidence for cars’ impact on climate change and whether low-traffic schemes cut pollution.
However, the views expressed by the MAG leadership appear to be alienating some of its members.
David French, who has been a member of MAG for 20 years and founded its Ireland branch, told DeSmog: “As a motorcyclist and life member… I fundamentally disagree with the organisation taking on a stance of denying man-made climate change and encouraging its members to lobby their local MPs on this basis.
“This is being done to fight the planned ban on petrol motorcycles but instead completely discredits the organisation and damages important campaigns such as rider safety, bus lane access and vehicle theft prevention.”
French likened MAG’s position to the stance of the National Rifle Association, which has insisted that any changes to gun ownership laws in the US are a breach of individual freedoms.
Oliver Lord, head of strategy and UK for the Clean Cities Campaign, said: “Phasing out the noisy and polluting combustion engine is all about freedom. It’s about freeing our lungs from filthy air and freeing future generations from a climate catastrophe.
“Our leaders should block out this noise and focus their precious time on ending our addiction to fossil fuels before it’s too late”.