Rupert Murdoch. Photo: David Shankbone

The Murdoch empire is like Covid spreading misinformation in an anti-climate agenda. But things are changing. And in the UK it’s following competitor Daily Express in a campaign to green the UK.

The Murdoch empire

“This guy is one of the greatest enemies of climate change action on the planet,” Kevin Rudd recently told the Financial Times’ Simon Kuper.

Since 1987 Murdoch’s transformed a loose federation of local Australian outlets into an extremely influential empire, News Ltd.– something that the country had not previously experienced.

He now owns more than half of Australia’s newspaper enterprises plus the TV channel Sky News. Murdoch’s rise is documented in a recent BBC series.

Sky News commentator Rowan Dean once said the “renewable energy industry is a massive con being played by billionaires upon gullible climate believers”. He is also a regular columnist at The Australian Financial Review.

Murdoch’s son James has turned against his own father and slammed “media property owners who know the truth but instead choose to propagate lies”. He says he left NewsCorp because it “legitimises disinformation”.

Both the US and Australia, where Murdoch’s empire largely holds sway, have some of the biggest contingents of climate deniers. Rudd believes that Murdoch Senior’s motivation is simply that he is averse to regulation of any type.

Besides outright climate denial, tactics employed by Murdoch outlets include, cheerleading hydrocarbon industries, and casting climate change enthusiasts as a cultural or economic problem. Climate change becomes not about the science but about identity politics.

A vaccine for the denialist pandemic

Misinformation is these days widespread – the psychological equivalent of viruses deliberately let loose to cause pandemics of warped perception.

Media diversity is crucial to a healthy democracy – whether social or news media because self-confirming bubbles amplify extreme and false views.

This is all covered in Michael Mann’s new book The New Climate War.

Mann has been at the forefront of this war right from the start. In this book he criticises the more recent tactic that fossil fuel companies and their supporters have used to deflect opposition – which has been supported by right wing media like Fox News and Sky News.

Because they’ve lost the argument that climate change does not exist, they now put the onus on consumers to do something about it rather than fossil fuel companies.

You can see this in Shell’s recent Net Zero Carbon policy. It contains nothing about leaving oil in the ground. It is all about carbon sequestration, offsetting and behaviour change. Their business model hasn’t changed. Their tactics have.

“They want you to believe that they are green and part of the solution. But they’re not,” Mann told the BBC in an interview this week [move forward to 2.40.48 to listen to the interview]. “The measures they propose are not nearly sufficient to save us from 3° of warming.”

In the same interview Mann criticises Bill Gates’ approach (outlined in his own new book How To Avoid A Climate Disaster) – and his support for nuclear power.

Gates’ book and the media blitz surrounding it has been ridiculed by Sky News…. another common tactic for dismissing the science behind the message.

Campaigners can expose right wing, oil company-funded misinformation all they like, as The Fifth Estate already has. But unless climate activists spread the message outside of their bubbles, in a way this new audience can get, the vaccine of truth will fail to immunise the infected population.

Enter Dale Vince

Dale Vince is one man who is doing just that, using one of the UK’s most reactionary newspapers, which he’s been persuaded to start a long campaign to “green Britain”.

Vince’s story is phenomenal. The self-made chief executive of British renewable energy giant Ecotricity, he left school aged 15 and became a New Age traveller, living in a wind-powered double decker bus. After building his first wind turbine, in 1996 he founded Ecotricity based on principles of social, financial and environmental sustainability.

Since then, he has been at the vanguard of electric vehicles, a UN ambassador for climate issues, supporter of Extinction Rebellion, the owner of the first ever vegan football club, and amassed a £120 million fortune in the process.

The Daily Express, the pro-Brexit paper is telling its readers: “Join our Green Britain revolution: Let’s give UK economy £21 billion boost.”

Vince is using the platform to invite readers “to join me on a journey –  to a greener Britain. Imagine, just for a minute – a country where electricity made entirely from the wind and sun, powers not only our homes and businesses, but our transport too; cars, buses, trains, even planes.

“A country where we grow grass to make the gas we need. Where energy is abundant and affordable.”

The “Green Britain” campaign includes support for a petition to scrap VAT on low and zero carbon products – which the UK government previously said it couldn’t do because its hands were tied by European Union red tape – yet since Brexit still hasn’t done.

All of this will appeal to patriotic, lower-income right wingers as much as left-wingers. It is identity-proof.

A poll commissioned by the Daily Express cites support for its campaign with 66 per cent of adults worried by the state of the planet, climate change and the decline of wildlife and nature, and changing tax laws to green behaviour and make polluters pay.

And Vince also has a new book out from Penguin Books – Manifesto – the story of his life and how to change the world.

Vince is a rarity. But he shows that if money can buy a media platform, this applies equally to the millionaire owners of greentech companies.

Maybe more of them should copy him.

Postscript: In his latest podcast in which he describes his experience of working with the Daily Express, Vince claims to have received flack from both the left (for working with the paper) and the right (for being a leftie radical), but says the campaign is being received so well that now the competition – would you believe Murdoch’s Sun and Times newspapers – want to run their own “green Britain” campaigns. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

David Thorpe is the author of ‘One Planet’ Cities: Sustaining Humanity within Planetary Limits and Director of the One Planet Centre Community Interest Company in the UK.