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Climate Change Denialism: Case Study of the German Think Tank EIKE

Climate Change Protest

EIKE think tank plays a key role in the climate change denial movement in Germany. In May 2019, EIKE advocated for a symposium on climate change denial in the German parliament. This event was coordinated by the AfD, the German far-right party.

Climate change is one of the scientific topics that has become very politicized and subject to controversy and denialism. A number of Spanish academics conducted a study about the case of the think tank EIKE due to the large number of its outputs. The study focuses on: -The arguments used by EIKE to justify its denial of climate change – Its close link with the German far-right AfD party – and finaly its presence in the media

On the other hand, the Heartland Institute is well known for its attempts to spread climate denial ideas. In 2003, it created the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a platform for climate action contrarian scientists to attack reports compiled by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The strategies countering climate action ranged from criticizing activists or politicians to more radical arguments, such as denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change. EIKE stands out among these think tanks as the organization with the highest number of outputs, which, together with its focus on climate issues, makes it a noteworthy case study.

EIKE, A STRONGHOLD OF EUROPEAN CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL IN GERMANY

EIKE represents “a growing number of natural scientists, humanitarians, economists, engineers, journalists and politicians who regard the assertion of climate change as solely ‘man-made’ as not scientifically rigorous and neglects known solar and other natural influences” (EIKE, 2020, para. 1).

On the hand, the Heartland Institute is known for its attempts to spread climate denial ideas. In 2003, it created the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a platform for climate action contrarian scientists to attack reports compiled by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A recent investigative report exposed how the Heartland Institute has redistributed funds from different companies and economic elites in the United States to promote climate denial and delay ideas. EIKE constitutes one of the branches deriving from Heartland’s network, receiving economic, ideological, and logistic support from this U.S. climate action contrarian think tank.

Despite EIKE considering itself a nonpartisan organization, as occurs in many think tanks, there are certain links that give an indication of the organization’s orientation. EIKE delivers seemingly scientific arguments for people who do not believe in anthropogenic climate change among political members and supporters of the AfD (Alternative for Germany party), while EIKE gained influence and its stance on climate change even reach the parliamentary floor. The German think tank Adelphi documented the climate contrarian stances of far-right European parties in a report stating that EIKE’s vice president, Michael Limburg, and other contributors have held key roles in the development of AfD’s stances on climate change.

The connection between EIKE and AfD has taken place in a context in which far-right populist parties are growing and displaying climate denial stances. Moreover, in May 2019, EIKE advocated a climate change denial symposium in the German parliament, which was coordinated by AfD. Besides, EIKE has been claiming specific scientific arguments such as acknowledging that climate change is happening but that humans are not the cause or are not the single cause and non scientific arguments in related to economic growth, market self-regulation, minimum government intervention, or criticism of a tax on pollution.

ASSESSING EIKE’S OUTPUTS

According to Ruser (2018), there is no room for climate action contrarian organizations in Germany. EIKE is a stronghold of climate action obstructionism in Germany but press analysis reveals that the think tank’s popularity is marginal, which is consistent with Ruser’s analyses about climate action obstructionist organizations not having a place in the German context. EIKE’s large output resonates with well-worn climate change denial arguments studied in the United States (Cook et al., 2018). Its relationship with the far-right political party AfD makes this think tank relevant enough to be included in the discussion on the climate counter-movement and its influence, especially given that the press popularity of this think tank has been mostly linked to this relationship. The counter-frames most used by EIKE include nonscientific arguments such as condescending criticism and attacks (present in 76.49% of the EIKE’s 134 studied texts).

The second most common counter-frame used by this think tank is that of criticism on politicians and media defending the climate consensus and action (which appears in 60.50% of EIKE’s texts). Thus, we can sustain that EIKE’s discourse is in line with what Oreskes and Conway (2011) described as a common strategy employed by the climate counter-movement: discrediting scientists and climate campaigners so as to undermine their message. This resonates with studies on think tanks such as Heartland Institute, which focused much more on casting doubt on scientific uncertainty (Boussalis & Coan, 2016) but now is progressively switching to attacking scientists (Cann & Raymond, 2018).

Other common counter-frames used by EIKE are those of humans not causing climate change or not causing it alone (43.49%), and the idea that any policy will be worse than global warming (48.14%). This stance could be explained by the existence of identities and beliefs linked to industrial thinking that do not acknowledge the flaws of modernization regarding the environment (e.g., Anshelm & Hultman, 2014).

On the other hand, the study shows how alliances with the far-right do not provide the think tank with great visibility but bring the think tank into certain circles of visibility. Perhaps research in alternative media that is close to the far-right or in social media can shed more light on the visibility and influence that this think tank is achieving with this strategy.

To recap, EIKE represents a hard core of climate change denial in Germany that enjoys little popularity in the press. However, its political ties to the far-right AfD party contribute to bringing its ideas into the minority streams of the political sphere. This is something to be wary of. Now more than ever, we need journalists who are prepared to warn their audiences about these links between climate action denial organizations and to pursue scientific and ethical communication.

Find the full study here



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