Germany’s leading climate change denial think-tank EIKE (Euroäisches Institut für Klima und Energie) recently received a lot of international attention. A team of reporters of Germany’s investigative journalism unit Correctiv and the TV magazine Frontal21 uncovered the ways in which U.S. denial think tank and lobby group Heartland Institute can be hired to promote disinformation about climate change.
Although the story covered mainly the Heartland Institute, Germany’s major partner organization EIKE was in the spotlight as well as the stories focused on joint conferences in Germany and the effort to develop competition for the shooting star of the new climate change political movement Fridays For Future, Greta Thunberg. Such investigative research provides a great opportunity to take a closer look at the role of think tanks in the development of new repertoires of action of right-wing movements and the interplay between public protest and electorate arenas.
EIKE, which holds not much more than a postal address in Jena (and is not based in Munich as written in the Washington Post) has been the major European think tank denying the human cause of global warming. Links to U.S. denial organizations have existed for a long time with EIKE’s leading head Holger Thuss being a part of the European wing of CFACT, the “Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow” for example. Eike was founded back in 2007, but the “institute” became quite a bit more active in recent years after Germany’s new right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland entered parliaments at state, federal and European level. The graph below documents the growing number of blogposts EIKE publishes with a peak in 2019 of 1235 posts.
EIKE and the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD):
EIKE has close ties to AFD notably via Eike’s vice president Michael Limburg who works for AFD MEP Karsten Hilse, the leading denial advocate in the German Bundestag. AFD is the only German political party which opposes climate change mitigation and thus hopes to catch many of the 15-20 percent Germans who profess not to belief in man made climate change or have doubts about it. After the Euro saving operation and the migration crisis, AFD deliberately uses climate change politics to distinguish itself from the other parties, a strategy of provocation designed by new right intellectual Götz Kubitschek to create right wing civil society space and to cross the media threshold.
The following chart illustrates AFD campaigns targeting the various issues relevant to climate change mitigation and the youth movement Fridays for Future and its popular Swedish leader, Greta Thunberg, in particular.
The party’s continuing commitment to neoliberal economic policies helps to explain the objections to the strong interventionism needed to meet key climate change policy objectives in the energy sector (“Energiewende” switching from fossil energy to renewables), the transportation sector (“Verkehrswende” switching to public transport and electric cars) and real estate (requiring low energy housing etc.) among others. In each sector, traditional producers are threatened by climate change mitigation and help feeding concerns about consumer expenses for necessary ecological transformations, job and security issues. Interest groups and companies hesitate to openly support AFD, but they are likely to help funding clandestine lobby activities designed to obstruct and slow down dedicated strategies like Energiewende. While U.S. denial strategies have been known for quite some time, just recently we learned about European multinationals like Shell and Bayer, for example, funding the leading human made climate change denier Fritz Böttcher for years. Funding of EIKE and other denial activities (of the Berlin based Institut für Unternehmerische Freiheit, for example) remains in the dark, but the recent increase in EIKE activities suggests that money has been flowing.
A key role in the ongoing climate change related policy opposition is played by think tanks like EIKE. They see “Freedom in jeopardy” due to social movement activities and not societies and humankind under threat due to global warming. We examined the publications available on the EIKE website between the beginning of 2009 until the end of 2019. The analysis confirms the scope and endurance of the effort of the German denial camp in general and the intensification of the effort following the successful establishment of AFD in electoral politics.
The major task of EIKE is negative campaigning. Key efforts are dedicated to attack successful advocates of ambitious climate change mitigation like scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), where leading climatologists like Stefan Rahmstorf or Hans Joachim Schellnhuber are based. But similar to the AfD even more attention has been paid to Fridays for Future and Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion recently.
The most recent addition to the right-wing repertoire of action is the copying of Greta. A young right wing “influencer” from Germany has been picked by Heartland in the United States to counter the successful messenger of the climate change movement Fridays for Future. The German Teenager Naomi Seibt from Münster has been selected and funded to be featured in U.S. media and elsewhere. Seibt has 8.000 followers on Twitter, 85.000 on Youtube. Her videos hit the 20k mark in terms of views. While these are impressive figures for a 19 year old, the social media presence is nowhere near the popularity of Greta in social media let alone the media in general and the public at large. Correctiv has investigated how leading figures from German right-wing circles have promoted Seibt’s channel. However, more important than the German public is Seibt’s use for U.S. denial and climate change opposition purposes. Heartland has fielded her at the U.S. Conservative Political Action Committee Conference and in the major news networks such as Fox News. American denial forces hope to diminish the status of Greta Thunberg by way of offering alternative figureheads for the denial and the general public: See, other teenagers share our position and are pretty, too. And not even as angry as this Greta type! Notwithstanding the arguably greater relevance of anti-Greta in the United States, the following graph shows the youngest effort of EIKE for parallel support of Seibt in Germany.
The young woman appears to take over from previous campaigns by EIKE in favor of AFD, Heartland, and the Kalte Sonne Blog of Fritz Vahrenholt. It remains to be seen if this attempt to emulate progressive social movement capacities will take a hold. Akin to the Heartland effort to create a counter institution to the IPCC, the Non-governmental panel on climate change with “experts” and reports designed to contradict the messages from the global science community, the creation of a Greta on the right may be more important to mobilize within the bubble than to advance across the sections in society. It is an important demonstration of the remaining capacity available to the denial movement amidst latest reports of financial troubles of Heartland itself. Since Seibt is peddling the “German denial” message according to which climate change is real, but not man-made, the latest propaganda move may also indicate a strategic shift of fossil industries and other opposition forces in the face of Australia’s heat fire catastrophes and the many other incidents of the climate crisis that can simply no longer be denied.