Guest post by Christopher Booker
To the colourful Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole, it was winner of the coveted award for the "Biggest front page non-story in history of journalism". What he was referring to was a tale published a week ago under the by-line of The Times's enviromment correspondent Ben Webster which led the paper, covering virtually the entire front-page and with a whole further page inside, beneath the huge headline "Oil giant gives £1 million to fund climate sceptics."
Everything about this story was bizarre. Its essence, based on information which as Webster told us was had been supplied by Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change, was that Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, last year gave "almost £1 million" to four US think-tanks.
These hired lackeys had then shamefully gone on to describe the various official inquiries into the Climategate emails scandal as "whitewashes", apparently citing them as evidence that the dangers of global warming had been "grossly exaggerated".
The story concluded by suggesting that Exxon Mobil had clearly corrupted these four venal think tanks into giving "the oil company at least another year of freedom to reap the profits of its high-carbon strategy".
The most obvious puzzle was why this remarkably tenuous tale should have been put by The Times on its front page, presumably rating it as the most important news of the day. The evidence assembled by Mr Ward, who had apparently "been monitoring Exxon's links to sceptic groups," hardly seemed to stack up even in its own terms.
One think-tank had apparently received $50,000 last year, another had also received $50,000 - but how all this added up to "almost £1 million" in the past 12 months was far from clear. Furthermore, none of these think-tanks had really been anything but bit-players in the great ongoing row over Climategate.
As is familiar to anyone who has followed the details of that scandal and the various subsequent inquiries, it was hardly necessary for anyone to be given money by Exxon to describe their reports as no more than a blatantly perfunctory "cover up". Their sole purpose was clearly to shower the Climatic Research Unit and the various senior IPCC scientists involved in the incriminating emails with bucket-loads of rather murky whitewash.
Not one of the knowledgable sceptics who have torn those reports apart in detail, led by Steve McIntyre on Climate Audit, has ever received a cent of funding from "Big Oil". And what makes all this particularly laughable is that the penny-packets given to think-tanks which were almost wholly irrelevant to the debate are utterly dwarfed by the colossal sums poured into all the groups and organisations on the other side of the argument.
Even the big oil companies have long since been putting their real money into projects dedicated to showing how they are in favour of a "low carbon economy". In 2002 Exxon gave $100 million to Stanford University to fund research into energy sources needed to fight global warming. BP, which famously rebranded itself in 2004 as "Beyond Petroleum", gave $500 million to fund similar research.
In fact two things made The Times's grotesque overblowing of this story rather much more interesting than many Times readers might have guessed. The first was the fact that the origin of the story was Bob Ward, who has in recent years become familiar to followers of the climate debate as a tireless advocate in the media for warmist alarmism.
Looking raather like a night-club bouncer, though not so polite, Mr Ward seems to have set himself up as a professional attack dog for the cause, harrying anyone who dares publicly to promote scepticism by any means he can find.
He used to work in this capacity for the fanatically warmist Royal Society, in which role, in 2007, he organised a voluminous series of complaints to the regulatory body Ofcom, signed by "37 professors", against Channel 4's documentary The Global Warming Swindle. A year later, after wasting huge quantities of everyone's time, Ofcom failed to uphold any of Ward's complaints.
Since he joined the Grantham Institute, Mr Ward has not only written countless letters to the press and appeared frequently on TV, he has also launched a number of similarly time-wasting complaints to the Press Complaints Commission against articles by climate sceptics such as myself.
I have been the target of two such monster complaints in the past year, each wasting collectively hundreds of man-hours, and on each of which the PCC eventually found it impossible to rule in his favour. Mr Ward was also closely involved in the row which earlier this year much excited the warmist press over a misquotation from Sir John Houghton, one of the founding fathers of the IPCC and one of the doughtiest champions of Michael Mann's now wholly discredited "hockey stick".
Mr Ward's employer, the Grantham Institute, is backed by significantly big money. It was set up in two parts, one under Lord Stern at the LSE, the other run by another committed warmist Sir Brian Hoskins at Imperial College, funded with £24 million from Jeremy Grantham, an investment fund billionaire. Its chief purpose is to advise governments, firms and investment funds on how to promote and invest in ways to "fight climate change" - which is now of course one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative industries in the world.
Even more interesting in terms of its complex relations with the new worldwide climate industry is the vast business empire run by Rupert Murdoch and his son James, owners of the paper which last week published Ward's peculiar story.
If you mention to anyone in North America that the Murdoch empire might these days be moving towards rather active promotion of the warmist cause, they will only laugh, pointing out that, in the US, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are two of the very few pillars of climate scepticism in America's media establishment.
But at the British end of the Murdoch empire, there have recently been signs that this is far from being the case. For the past two years, for instance, its television arm, Sky, has been teamed up with the world's richest environmental lobby group WWF (income £400 million a year), in a bid to "help combat climate change" by saving the CO2-rich Amazon rainforest.
Then a few weeks back there was that curious episode when the Murdoch Sunday Times published a grovelling correction of a story familiar to reader of this blog which soon made headlines round the world as "Amazongate".
This was the scandalous story, first dug out by the tireless researches of Richard North, of how the IPCC's latest 2007 report had included a shock-horror claim that 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest was under threat from climate change. This had no scientific basis whatever. The only source given for this claim was a WWF propaganda sheet, which in turn had drawn its key sentence from the website of a small Brazilian environmental advocacy group set up by Dr Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center (in turn closely linked to the WWF).
Even though The Sunday Times's report on this aspect of the story back in January was entirely correct (as was recently confirmed by WWF) for some inexplicable reason The Sunday Times agreed, following a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, to retract its original correct claim about the IPCC.
Rather more shadowy still, however, are the Murdoch family's links with Bill Clinton's Climate Change Initiative. The head of strategy and communications for this influential and lavishly funded body is James Murdoch's wife Kathryn.
The "Climate Initiative" is in turn part of the William J. Clinton Foundation, fast-becoming one of the richest foundations in the world. It is supported to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by the likes of Bill Gates of Microsoft. Thanks not least to its involvement with climate change, it likes to boast that it has recently been named as one of the world's "Top 10 Green NGOs".
Both Rupert Murdoch and his son are listed as among the Clinton Foundation's leading donors. Rupert, along with Barbra Streisand, was one of the three sponsors of a project to reduce the "carbon footprint" of 20 major cities.
And Mrs Murdoch's Climate Initiative, as can be seen from its website, is involved in co-ordinating and arranging finance for a whole string of "climate-related" projects, potentially worth billions of dollars, from building vast solar energy parks in countries such as India to developing schemes for "carbon capture and storage".
Another of the Climate Initiative's major projects is to find ways of turning the CO2 locked up in forests into "carbon credits", which can then be sold on the world market at a large profit. In this potentially lucrative enterprise it is teamed up with, among others, the Woods Hole Research Center. As was first revealed on this blog, this is the body which, along with WWF, is involved in a scheme to turn the vast Amazon rainforest into carbon credits, under the UN's REDD scheme (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation).
Also backed by the World Bank, they hope to get finally approval for this sheme at the UN's Cancun climate conference later this year, According to a formula worked out by Woods Hole's Dr Nepstad, they reckon that turning the world's rainforests into carbon credits could generate in all some $60 billion, by selling the right to offset the CO2 contained in the forest's trees against that emitted by firms in the developed world.
The Murdoch newspapers may of course be perfectly entitled to champion a cause in which their proprietors so fervently believe. But when it comes to comparing the piddling sums in funding received by a handful of sceptical think-tanks to the oceans of cash poured into the other side of the climate debate, there is no contest.
How The Times's front-page headline might rather more relevantly have been re-worded was "Governments, foundations, multi-national corporations including the owners of this newspaper and Big Oil give hundreds of billions of pounds to promote worldwide climate bonanza." But doubtless The Times's editors would have ruled that this was too long for their front page.