DeBunked: Spiked’s Ella Whelan on Oil and Renewables

We correct false claims made on BBC Question Time about the solution to the UK’s energy woes.
Ella Whelan on BBC Question Time
Ella Whelan on BBC Question Time. Credit: BBC

First posted on Twitter on 17 February 2023. This version is expanded.

Spiked columnist Ella Whelan made misleading claims about North Sea oil and renewable energy on a recent BBC Question Time.

Here is the evidence for why she’s wrong – and Spiked’s record of climate science denial and fossil fuel funding.

Spiked was introduced as a “non-conformist” outlet on BBC Question Time. In fact it’s a libertarian publication with a history of climate denial and opposing green policies. E.g. In 2018 Spiked published “The Myth of a Climate Crisis” by denier Ben Pile.

Spiked claims to be independent, but between 2015-18 the website received $300,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, an arm of oil giant Koch Industries and a major funder of climate denial.

On BBC Question Time, Whelan suggested the UK government invest in “new exploration of North Sea oil” to grow the economy.

This statement ignores fossil fuels’ role driving climate impacts and the associated financial risks. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says any new fossil fuel extraction projects are incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5C.

Climate change is already hurting the world economy. Under current policies climate change impacts are projected to cost the UK 7.4 percent of GDP by 2100. Meanwhile, the growing net zero sector employs 850,000 people and is adding £71 billion in Gross Value Added to the UK economy. 

Whelan also claimed “wind turbines and solar panels are not going to keep us warm”. In fact, heat pumps, which are powered by electricity, are considered the greenest and most efficient way to heat homes with no need for oil or gas.

Her claim also plays on a common falsehood that wind and solar power are unreliable. In fact in winter 2022, renewables provided more UK electricity than gas power stations: 27 percent of UK electricity was generated by wind, and wind and solar were the EU’s top power source.

The National Grid has said the UK can switch to a 100 percent renewable grid led by wind and solar energy.

In the past, Whelan has claimed to care about climate change, for example in a 2022 interview with TalkTV. But she has also attacked – and misrepresented – efforts to do something about it.

In the same interview, Whelan said the “deluded idea of Net Zero” would mean a “dystopian” scenario in which “people have less, be more miserable, not heat your home, not eat what you want, not travel”. 

These critiques are familiar “climate delay narratives”, which paint green action as disruptive and are not a true reflection of plans to reach net zero set out by the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee (CCC), or any other government policy. They also ignore the urgent need to cut emissions and transition to green energy. 

Spiked writers like Ella Whelan are frequently hosted on mainstream media without mention of the publication’s history of climate denial and fossil fuel funding. 

We hope this thread helps inform future media appearances by Spiked columnists, so that their claims can be challenged with evidence. See more in Spiked’s DeSmog profile here.

This blog is part of our DeBunk pilot project. You can read more about the project here.