Britain's leading private university ‘becoming a mouthpiece for fossil-fuel industry’

Exclusive: The University of Buckingham has appointed an anti-windfarm campaigner to set up a new energy institute

Britain’s leading private university risks becoming a propaganda machine for the fossil fuel industry after it appointed a well-known anti-windfarm campaigner to set up a new energy institute, academics have warned.

The University of Buckingham, which already has links to former Chancellor Lord Lawson’s climate-sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Foundation (GWF), has raised further concerns about its academic neutrality by hiring John Constable to head the new unit.

Dr Constable is best known for his report in 2013 which concluded that adopting renewable energy would see the population “begin to step back towards the condition of ‘laborious poverty’ [that is] characteristic of the pre-coal era”. The Government dismissed his report as “a manifesto for locking the British economy into excessive reliance on imported gas”.

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John Constable is a well-known anti-windfarm campaigner

Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, told The Independent: “Having a doubt-monger like this heading an academic institute is a terrifying and depressing thing.”

Dr Constable is director of the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a charity that claims to be “promoting sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy” – but which critics say is a front for climate scepticism.

The REF, which insists it is independent, has never revealed the sources of its funding despite repeated allegations that it is financed by fossil fuel interests. “I suspect that Buckingham’s new energy institute will mainly churn out propaganda against renewable energy, rather than carry out robust academic research,” said Bob Ward, director of policy at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Institute.

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The University of Buckingham is the only independent university in the UK with a Royal Charter, and probably the smallest with just around 1000 students (Corbis)

“John Constable is a campaigner and has a track record of making exaggerated claims about the costs and impacts of policies to promote onshore windfarms.

“If Buckingham wants to be taken seriously, it will need to be transparent about its funding, publish papers in peer-reviewed journals and take part in academic conferences,” Mr Ward added.

 

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Doug Parr added: “If Buckingham’s new energy institute has an approach to energy at all similar to REF’s approach to renewable energy, then I fear for their students.”

Professor Myles Allen, of the University of Oxford, criticised institutions such as the University of Buckingham and GWF for “spending so much time hunting for reasons not to worry about climate change at all that they have little energy left for a serious discussion about what to do about it”.

Last night Dr Constable dismissed concerns about the independence of the new unit – to be called the Buckingham Energy Institute (BEI) – as “groundless” and said he would disclose all its funders when it launches formally.

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“The BEI will, as REF always did and does, take it as read that there is a strong case for reducing emissions as part of an insurance policy against climate change. The BEI will not be linked to ‘climate scepticism’ but it may well be critical of current energy policies,” he told The Independent.

“Vested interests in the renewables sector... supported by ideologically dogmatic NGOs, are always keen to smear critics of climate policies with the accusation that they are ‘sceptical with regard to climate change’, but this is frequently untrue. It is certainly not correct in my own case,” Dr Constable added.

He said the BEI would publish free, online databases with information notes for the public.

Critics of the University of Buckingham have regularly pointed to its ties with the Global Warming Foundation, a charity which has never revealed its funding source but has always insisted that it is independent. Last October the Charity Commission ruled that GWF had breached the rules on impartiality in its climate-change coverage.

The foundation’s director, Benny Peiser, occasionally lectures at the University of Buckingham. The university has also awarded honorary degrees to GWF’s founder Lord Lawson and Matt (Viscount) Ridley, a commentator and Conservative member of the House of Lords.

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Offshore windfarms, like Scroby Sands in the North Sea, are costly to set up (Getty)

Viscount Ridley, who is a brother-in-law of the climate-sceptic Owen Paterson, the former Environment Secretary, has said there will be a “probable net benefit from climate change until towards the end of the century”.

Terence Kealey provides another link. A member of GWF’s academic advisory council, he was the University of Buckingham’s vice chancellor for 13 years until he left last summer.

John Drew, Dean of Humanities at Buckingham, dismissed any suggestions that the university cultivated contacts with climate sceptics.

“We have really quite a large number of honorary graduates, who are distinguished in their fields, as are Nigel Lawson and Matt Ridley. Earlier this month we conferred an honorary MA on Bernie Marsden, a local resident and former [heavy metal band] Whitesnake lead guitarist,” Dr Drew said.

Profile: Dr John Constable

He is a vociferous critic of the Government’s energy policy. In a 2013 report for the Civitas think-tank he said a shift to renewables would mean “more people would be working for lower wages in the energy sector, energy costs would rise, the economy would stagnate, and there would be a significant decline in the standard of living”.

Despite having these views, Dr Constable (below) is director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity which claims to promote “sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy” – although plenty of scientists question whether it is even independent, let alone an advocate of renewable energy.

Dr Constable says: “There is a strong case for reducing emissions as part of an insurance policy against climate change. However, the premium for that insurance policy must be affordable and proportional to the risk.”

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