The Merchants of Doubt Come to Jersey

How Secretive Vested Interests Continue To Shape And Influence Global Policy On Climate Change

Ollie Taylor
7 min readFeb 19, 2024

In 2019, I wrote that climate breakdown had arrived and that how seriously we took it would define the future of human society. I then gave examples of some of the major climate-driven disasters that had happened that year across the globe, there were plenty to choose from; it worked out the equivalent of a climate disaster happening every week.

A recent study has estimated that the damage caused by the climate crisis through extreme weather over the last 20 years equates to costing £13m an hour, and although humans have become better at predicting and preparing for climate and weather-related disasters, saving more lives, they’ve surged five-fold over the last 50 years.

Despite this reality, the UN has warned in a major report that governments are still failing to cut emissions fast enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to keep global average temperatures below the safe limit of 1.5°C. The UK government’s advisors have stated that they are missing its climate targets on “nearly every front”. In fact, the UK government recently announced plans to grant new North Sea oil and gas licences every year, and the Labour Party has just u-turned on its pledge to spend £28 billion a year on a greener economy.

So why are Western governments failing to meet their carbon emission reduction targets, despite the serious economic and societal costs that climate breakdown clearly represents?

One answer may lie in how our governments and democracies have become overly subject to powerful vested interests more than at any other time in our history. The 2014 documentary film Merchants of Doubt explores how certain individuals and interest groups created doubt and confusion around the scientific evidence for climate change. The film draws parallels between the tactics used by the tobacco industry that obfuscated the links between cancer and smoking and those now being employed by climate change sceptics to distort and misrepresent the climate science.

A good example is the multinational oil and gas corporation, Exxon. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, its scientists predicted global warming “correctly and skillfully” according to the American journal Science. Despite this, Exxon ran a 30-year campaign using lobbyists and think-tanks to cast doubt on human-driven climate change and the science underpinning it. Not much has changed: when former Chief Minister Kristina Moore and former Environment Minister, Jonathan Renouf, attended the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai last year, they did so along with 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists, a record number for the annual event.

The documentary details how a small group of influential scientists and well-funded lobbyists were able to manipulate the global public perception of the science and influence government policy decisions. It’s a well-perfected system that continues to influence governments to this day, and it seems Jersey has now become the latest target for these merchants of doubt.

Last week, the Jersey Climate Forum (JCF), hosted a presentation at St Helier Town Hall titled “Lessons from Economic History — can wind and solar sustain a modern economy?” Unable to personally attend, I asked Deputy Jonathan Renouf, who attended the private event given to States Members, for his view on the presentation:

“The argument, such as it is, appears to be based on the idea that fossil fuels are so uniquely special, have such incredible properties, that without them, societal collapse beckons. It is such a one-sided apologism for the fossil fuel industry that it is hard to take seriously.”

No wonder this was his conclusion, The JCF appears to be a new lobby group that, according to its website, will “ensure that the Jersey Government’s response to current political calls for Net Zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 passes rigorous scientific and cost-benefit analysis.” The self-styled “climate watchdog” has as its president Graeme Phipps, someone with extensive ties to the oil and gas industry.

A Canadian national now living in St Martin, Mr Phipps spent his first 20 years in the oil industry working for Esso Resources and Exxon, but he has also held senior positions at numerous oil and gas companies over the years, including Petro Kazikhstan, Nexen Inc., Petro-Canada, Prime Line Energy holdings Inc., and the formerly active Jersey registered oil exploration company, EastSiberian Plc.

Last month he wrote a letter to the JEP questioning the scientific consensus, arguing that more CO2 in our atmosphere has a “very minimal and ever-decreasing impact on climate warming” while also positing the question “How likely is it that humans rather than natural factors like the earth’s orbit and solar activity cause the most of the change?” Another member of the Jersey Climate Forum is former local politician and JEP columnist Ted Vibert who has written several columns in this paper arguing against the science of climate change and the benefits of renewables, some of which are published on the JCF website.

The presentation, however, was given by a Dr Johhn Constable, touted as “one of the world’s leading energy experts”, whose main qualification for such a claim, other than being a “private consultant”, is a PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University. As well as the public presentation, he also gave a second private one to sitting States Members in St Paul’s Centre after it was deemed inappropriate by some politicians and the public to hold it in a government building. This private event was attended by Deputies Max Andrews, David Warr, current Environment Minister, Steve Luce, Barbara Ward, Steve Ahier, Rose Binet as well as Deputy Renouf.

Dr Constable’s main profession seems to be as the Energy Director for the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Founded in 2009 by the late Lord Nigel Lawson, the think-tank has long been accused of promoting climate denialism. As a registered charity, the GWPF is not legally required to disclose its donors, and it refuses to do so, while also claiming that it doesn’t take funding from fossil fuel interests. However, research conducted by Open Democracy looking at their US tax disclosures showed funding connections to the Koch brothers, the Sarah Scaife Foundation — set up by the billionaire libertarian heir to an oil and banking dynasty — that owns shares in Exxon and Chevron, as well as the Donors Trust, which has “given hundreds of millions of dollars to more than 100 groups working to cast doubt on the scientific consensus behind climate change”.

In 2014, following a formal complaint, the UK Charity Commission investigated the GWPF and found that its website promoted a particular position on global warming that was neither balanced, neutral or educational. Following the Commission’s review, the GWPF established a new non-charitable organisation called Net Zero Watch to act as its campaigning body, now being “fully able to promote the opinions and policy change” unhindered.

Being a separate body it could now claim that it was completely independent and did not “accept gifts from either energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company.” A current board member of this lobby group happens to be Martin Bralsford, the former President of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce and a former chairman of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, currently offering a carbon offsetting scheme to local businesses. Still, by 2022 the GWPF was once again reported to the Charity Commission, this time over fossil fuel interest funding that called into question its charitable status.

The GWPF and Net Zero Watch are part of what’s known as the “Tufton Street crowd” that also includes the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Civitas, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), all of which promote a libertarian, anti-regulation, free-market view of the world. All have also tried to influence measures to combat climate change, The TaxPayers’ Alliance has argued against fuel duty increases and the implementation of charging Clean Air Zones in the UK. Civitas published a report by the climate sceptic, Ewen Stewart, that greatly overestimated the cost of Net Zero to the UK, and the Centre for Policy Studies has been pushing for further North Sea oil and gas drilling.

The IEA has taken funding from BP every year since 1967 but is more recently infamous for being behind the economic policies during Liz Truss’s disastrous premiership that nearly crashed the British economy. In 2018, the government arms-length organisation, Jersey Finance, also paid the IEA to write a report rubbishing the notion that offshore financial centres are “hotbeds of tax evasion.”

Dark money and think-tanks have also been behind other lobbying campaigns, including the pro-Brexit organisation, Vote Leave, which started out of Tufton Street offices with, amongst others, Lord Lawson acting as a founding member along with the founder and former chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Matthew Elliott. Brexit has turned out to be a disaster for the British economy, including in Jersey, causing high inflation and a recruitment crisis, with a clear majority of the British public polled believing it has not benefitted either them or the country.

Following the presentation at St Helier’s Town Hall, Jerseyman Dr Mark Leybourne, who’s been working in the offshore wind industry for the past 16 years and has a PhD in energy, publicly stated that he would be “more than happy to contribute factual evidence to this important debate”. Hopefully, Jersey will take him up on his generous offer, lest we continue to let the merchants of doubt and their paymasters control the narrative, along with the safety and prosperity of our future.



Ollie Taylor

Jersey (UK) Evening Post columnist and founder of Nine by Five Media. Always looking for the local angle. Views are all mine and not that of any employer.