The Green Blob in Academe

by | Oct 29, 2014

Catherine Mitchell is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Exeter. She is also one of the academics behind a joint venture between Exeter University and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, called IGov: ‘Innovation, Governance and Affordability for a Sustainable Secure Economy’.

IGov is a four year research project aiming to understand and explain the nature of sustainable change within the energy system, focusing on the complex inter-relationships between governance and innovation. The project is housed in the University of Exeter’s Energy Policy Group and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Our approach is to examine theories of change alongside actual practice in the UK and a number of comparison countries. The ultimate objective is to develop a framework for governance that better enables practices to change and the UK to move towards a sustainable, secure and affordable energy system. IGov is about new thinking for energy.

Needless to say, I find this stuff weird.

Why? First, leaving aside what we know about the Green Blob (we’ll come back to that), I find the growing nexus between the academy and the state weird. ‘A government of all the talents’, as Gordon Brown called it, seems to make at least superficial sense. But it leads to the grim politics that Gordon Brown will be remembered for. Expertise, though a necessary thing for governments to draw from, given undue prominence, is corrosive to the democratic sphere. Second, it seems to me that Academe’s growing role as outsourced policymakers invariably attracts the dimmest academics, who nonetheless are now able to campaign for “change” under the cover of academic prestige, rather than out in the public sphere, amongst the hoi polloi. I don’t think that is a healthy way to construct policy.

For example… What business is it of Exeter University to lobby for ‘sustainable change within the energy system’? Who asked them to devise plans to get ‘the UK to move towards a sustainable, secure and affordable energy system’?

That’s not to criticise academics for having views — and stating them — about how the world should be organised, if it should be organised at all. But put it this way, would IGov ask an academic who is critical of its aims to join it? No. But neither is it open to public criticism, yet it has influence in the public sphere.

On Monday, Professor Mitchell posted an article to the IGov blog, criticising David Rose’s Mail on Sunday article on the Green Blob, which Barry Woods and I helped with. Mitchell says ‘It is the Black Fog the Daily Mail needs to worry about, not the Green Blob’. After dismissing the article as ‘reactionary, evidence-free journalism which provides a small part of a whole picture, thereby giving the wrong view’, she makes her argument that the fossil fuel lobby — the Black Fog — is far more extended into policymaking than the Green Blob is.

One thing we can be certain of is that it is not the green blob which is somehow taking over parliament. The ‘black fog’ which supports fossil fuels and the conventional energy system is far bigger, and has a far greater impact across the globe, and in Britain.

To make her point, she uses research from the IEA, OECD and IMF, which claims that subsidies for fossil fuels are much greater than the subsidies for renewables. This is a proxy, on Mitchell’s view, for the extent of the lobbying either sector does. I thought I’d email Professor Mitchell, to explain why she’s wrong.

Dear Professor Mitchell,

As one of the reporters on the Mail on Sunday story you refer to in your recent blog post, I was interested in your comments that the ‘Black Fog’ should concern the Daily Mail {sic} more than the ‘Green Blob’. Being a freelance researcher on energy and climate matters, a number of your other comments also concerned me.

You express the view that the article represented ‘reactionary, evidence-free journalism which provides a small part of a whole picture, thereby giving the wrong view’.

In fact a substantial amount of research was undertaken for the article, and some was produced beforehand. The bulk of the evidence for the claims made in the article exist in the published reports of the organisations referred to – a requirement of US (though sadly not UK) law. I have provided some links below this email.

The reports published by the US, UK and Brussels-based organisations referred to all emphasise their roles in campaigning for planned coal-fired generating capacity in the UK to be cancelled, and their success in bringing about national and EU legislation. We show that The Hewlett Foundation alone made grants of $0.5 billion to ClimateWorks, which is the major donor in turn of the European Climate Foundation (ECF), who make further grants from a €25 million budget to organisations to lobby for policy change. We found further substantial grants are made directly between ClimateWorks and ECF’s funders and their beneficiaries.

You go on to claim that a greater problem than the effect of ‘green blob’ funding over policy-making is the black fog, which is ‘taking over parliament’. The only evidence you offer in support of this claim is the ‘direct public subsidies to different energy sectors’, revealed in reports by the International Energy Agency (IEA), IMF and OECD. I believe that you may have misunderstood the research you cite.

The summary of the report you linked to makes the claim that “The global cost of fossil-fuel subsidies expanded to $544 billion in 2012 despite efforts at reform. Financial support to renewable sources of energy totalled $101 billion.” However, what is not explained is how these figures are produced.

The IEA explain their methodology: “It compares average end-user prices paid by consumers with reference prices that correspond to the full cost of supply.” The OECD explain the problem with this approach. As the price paid by the consumer after duty and so on is generally greater than the reference price, the IEA do not consider that Britain subsidises the fossil fuel sector. And so on the IEA’s analysis, no country in Europe or North America subsidises its fossil sector, either. We can, on the terms of your own argument, then, determine that the size of the ‘black fog’ is zero, and that its influence in Westminster and in Brussels is zero.

The OECD’s analysis, which is drawn from the same data, does claim that Britain subsidises the fossil fuel sectors. But it admits that ‘The scope of what is considered “support” is here deliberately broad, and is broader than some conceptions of “subsidy”’. Taking the case of Britain, for example, the OECD looked at the tax benefits enjoyed by gas companies, and found the sector to be subsidised in 2011 to the amount of £3.631 billion. However, this includes £3.51 billion of ‘subsidy’ in the form of a reduced rate of VAT on domestic energy. If this is a subsidy at all, it is a consumer subsidy, not a producer subsidy. The remainder – £121 million is dwarfed by the amount the sector pays to the Treasury.

Returning to the IEA’s analysis, further investigation shows, too, that it includes in the largest part subsidies to poor consumers not to producers.

Neither analyses suggest, as you claim that ‘direct public subsidies’ are paid to ‘fossil energy sectors’ at all, much less in Britain. In fact, a PWC survey of the oil and gas sector found that it contributed more than £30bn to the Treasury. No subsidies are paid to the fossil sectors. And what the OECD claims is a ‘subsidy’ in the form of reduced rates of VAT on fuel and power in the UK is in fact a consumer benefit that is equally applied to green energy – it just happens that less of it is produced, so it draws less subsidy. In this respect, the OECD’s analysis is extremely misleading. My own research shows that, even taking the OECD’s analysis at face value, when we compare the ‘subsidies’ given to green and brown sectors on a unit-for-unit basis, the renewable sector enjoys thirteen times the subsidy that the fossil fuel sector received.

You are right to say that claims about the ‘green blob’ influencing policy should be seen in the context of the efforts of ‘black fog’ to do the same. However, you are wrong to suggest that our investigation did not attempt to do this.

In fact, I spoke to a number of green organisations’ press officers about the new EU 2030 targets and the effect of industry lobbying on both sides of the debate on the Friday before publication. The Greenpeace European Office, for example, were adamant that there was such resistance to the new targets, but were unable to identify it in the terms of the article, or quantify such intervention, beyond reference to the Magritte Group, which, the spokeswoman admitted, did not seem to have intervened in the discussion about 2030 targets. A spokesman for Climate Action Network Europe told me that “the business voice has been very divided, with some being more or less on the same page as NGOs… Big multinational companies, not just renewable energy companies”. We did not look into commercial support for green policies, though we had the opportunity to point out that substantial commercial interests exist in them, and are involved with ECF beneficiaries, and have working relationships with them and politicians.

Had the organisations we spoke to – and we spoke to quite a few – been able to offer us evidence that the ‘black fog’ had intervened in the way that the ‘green blob’ has intervened, this detail would have been in the article. However, and as the article pointed out, there is only one organisation which could be described in that way. But it is very poorly funded and it refuses donations from people with interests in the energy sector.

It does not seem unreasonable, therefore, to suggest that the black fog may be nothing more than a figment of the green blob’s imagination, and that if any such lobbying effort exists, its effect is negligible. After all, the ‘green blob’, as they themselves claim, were successful in closing down the planned Kingsnorth coal-fired power station replacement, and in securing a promise of ‘no new coal without CCS’ from the previous and coalition governments.

I am surprised that it needs to be pointed out to a professor of energy policy that the OECD, EIA and IMF reports on subsidies have no place in a discussion about energy policy lobbying, and are themselves misleading measures of the energy market. If the lobbying funded by American billionaires simply went to arguing for more cash for the renewable energy sector, it might be harder to criticise them. But the consequences of yet more and further-reaching policies such as the Climate Change Act and the new 2030 targets will be felt more by people outside of the energy sector than within it. Even with the EU’s targets, it seems unlikely to me that the fossil sector’s bottom line will be affected – the EU’s 2030 targets and CCA will not close down the world market for fossil fuels.

You are entitled to your own research interests and political preferences, of course. But it looks like you have dismissed an article out of hand, on a university blog, without the substance to back it up, merely on the basis of prejudices. If the point of academic expertise is to cheerlead preferred policies, and to shout ‘boo’ at Big Oil and the wrong kind of newspapers, we can surely add them to the list of organisations recruited into the Green Blob. It seems to me that you have done precisely what you accuse the Mail on Sunday of doing – namely, ‘reactionary, evidence-free journalism which provides a small part of a whole picture, thereby giving the wrong view.’

If I have misunderstood your blog post, however, I would be grateful for your explanation. Otherwise, I hope that you will be correcting your blog post.

Best wishes,

Ben Pile.


ECF grantees:-
ECF Annual Report 2013:-
ClimateWorks donors:-

Hewlett Foundation grant database:-

Hewlett Foundation statement of support for ClimateWorks:- “That is why the Hewlett Foundation decided to make a five-year, $100 million a year commitment, beginning in 2008, to ClimateWorks. ClimateWorks Foundation is a clearinghouse for this work, coordinating and supporting an international network of regional climate foundations in each of the world’s top carbon-dioxide-emitting regions-the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Latin America, as well as one to monitor the preservation of forests. The ClimateWorks Foundation is governed and led by a board of preeminent civic, business and scientific leaders from around the world and committed to supporting and sharing the best approaches to combating climate change from every corner of the world.” —

Packard Foundation grant database:-
Includes the following grants to ClimateWorks:-
2014 – $66,100,000 –
2013 – $250,000 –
2013 – $66,100,000 –
2012 – $66,100,000 –
2011 – $66,100,000 –
2010 – $46,757,793 –
2009 – $40,400,000 –
2008 – $33,400,000 –

McKnight Foundation grant database:-
Includes the following grants to ClimateWorks:-
Year Approved: 2008 – Grant Amount: $16,000,000
Year Approved: 2010 – Grant Amount: $26,000,000
Year Approved: 2013 – Grant Amount: $1,000,000

Oak Foundation grant database:-
Includes the following grants to ECF;-
2009 – $1,700,000 –
2011 – $2,938,505 –
2012 – $6,825,710 –
2013 – $468,270 –
2013 – 4,771,798 –

And hte following donations to ClimateWorks:-
2008 – $600,000 –
2010 – $2,000,000 –
2011 – $3,750,000 –
2012 – $2,400,000 –

ClimateWorks 2011 Annual Report:-
ClimateWorks 2010 Annual Report:-
ClimateWorks 2009 Annual Report:-

In which the following grants to are listed:

In 2009, CW gave $64,858,769 to regional climate foundations, which
included $10,100,000 to ECF
In 2011, CW gave $83,446,516 to regional climate foundations, which
included $13,632,557 to ECF

in 2010:
European Climate Foundation – To support E.U. programs – $13,775,200
European Climate Foundation – To help track, assess, and compare
countries’ climate mitigation – $963,000
European Climate Foundation – To support the Deutsche Umwelthilfe
“Soot-Free for the Climate” European diesel filter campaign – $715,000
European Climate Foundation – To support carbon capture and storage
(CCS) strategy and grants management – $1,000,000
TOTAL: $16,453,200

ClimateWorks 2012 990 form:- — in which CW declares that it made $25,367,175 in grants to
European organisations.

ECF grant to CAN Europe:- E345,453 in 2013 –
ECF grant to FOE Europe:- E339,967 in 2013 –
Grants to WWF Europe:- E531,280 in 2013 from “foundations” –
Grants to Green Alliance from “foundations”:-

Example statement of ClimateWorks’ support of lobbying policy ends:- “ECF support helped ensure that the European Commission committed to strong, binding targets and minimized loopholes in its updated climate policies. ECF also helped defeat a half-dozen proposed coal power plants and supported adoption of some of the world’s strongest fuel-efficiency standards.” —

Then I took another look at Professor Mitchell’s profile page…

She is on the Board of the Regulatory Assistance Project – a US based non-profit organisation that provides regulatory advice to Governments. She has also advised numerous national and international companies, NGOs and institutions on various aspects of the transition to a sustainable energy system.

The Regulatory Assistance Project sounds innocuous enough. It is ‘a global, non-profit team of experts focused on the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the power and natural gas sectors, providing assistance to government officials on a broad range of energy and environmental issues’.

I’d seen the name before. It had popped up during my research for David Rose. If you have a look at ClimateWorks’ 2012 990 form, for instance, you’ll see this:


ClimateWorks gave The Regulatory Assistance Project more than $8 million in 2012. If you haven’t read the Sunday Mail article yet, the significance of this is that ClimateWorks is the clearing house for the vast funds that flow between ‘philanthropic’ organisations and special interest lobbying organisations, like RAP. The European Climate Foundation, which is the focus of the Mail on Sunday Article, is the European Office of ClimateWorks, and distributes £tens of millions to our friends such as FoE, Greenpeace, WWF and smaller propaganda outfits like Richard Black’s Energy and Climate Intelligence {sic} Unit, and The Carbon Brief, which is now headed up by my old pal, Leo Hickman.

ASIDE: On that last point, check out this from ClimateWorks’ 2011 report, where it explains what it spent its ‘climate science communications’ budget on…


$600,000… FOR A BLOG! If there are any generous billionaires reading this blog, please get in touch.

Back to Professor Mitchell. She was criticising David Rose’s article, and yet the organisation in the USA, which she is a director of, is a beneficiary of the foundation, funded by billionaires such as the Hewletts, Packards, and so on.

I sent Professor Mitchell another email.

Dear Professor Mitchell,

Since sending you my email, I notice from your profile that you are a board member of the US Regulatory Assistance Project, which was the beneficiary of $8,674,434 of grants from ClimateWorks in 2012.

Given that you discuss in your blog post the need for transparency, do you not think you should have mentioned your relationship with the organisations identified in the Mail on Sunday article?

Best wishes,

I’m not expecting a reply.

UPDATE: Catherine Mitchell has emailed to say that her blog post has been amended. The comment about ‘reactionary, evidence-free journalism which provides a small part of a whole picture, thereby giving the wrong view’ has been removed.


  1. Paul Matthews

    “I find this stuff weird.”

    It’s worse than weird. The IGov website is a meaningless string of buzzwords and cliches, “innovation”, “governance”, “develop a framework” “enabler of change” “transition”, and of course “sustainable”, which comes up 14 times.

    Read their hypothesis if you can: “Our hypothesis is that the key enabler of change in the transition to a sustainable, secure and affordable economy is the governance arrangements in energy, i.e. the rules and incentives that shape the type, rate and scale of innovation in practices, and the consequent outcomes (see figure below).”

    It would be bad enough if this woolly political mumbo-jumbo were funded by a politics or social science organisation. But why on earth is the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council supporting it?

  2. Ben Pile

    Paul – It would be bad enough if this woolly political mumbo-jumbo were funded by a politics or social science organisation. But why on earth is the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council supporting it?

    My hypothesis is that weakness in social/political science (in the broadest sense) forces a search for a new basis — in the material sciences — for legitimacy. The ‘sustainable’ life, rather than the Good Life, so to speak.

  3. Barry Woods

    I would be more impressed with her honesty, if she disclosed on her blog, that she was on the board of an organisation that was receipt of funding by Climate works.. Which was the topic of the Mail article she was criticising.

  4. hunter

    If we set aside questions of Dr. Mitchell’s character, we can still see her actions and words.
    She appears from her words to be at best poorly informed on the topic she is promoting.
    She is clearly reactionary- condemning and dismissing something she does not like out of hand without facts to support her position.
    She is in a conflicted relationship, profiting from the conclusions she pushes yet claiming academic objectivity.
    Good work, Ben.
    Hopefully your communication with Dr.Mitchell will achieve a much broader audience.

  5. hunter

    What is also clear is the the large foundations and NGO’s are not serving the purposes for which they were permitted to exist.
    They are becoming an unaccountable unchecked form of governance not subject to scrutiny disclosure that are under the control of small groups of interlocking interests that are pushing agendas in the public square that are anything but transparent.

  6. Hilary Ostrov (aka hro001)

    Very well done, Ben, Barry and David. On my side of the pond, as Vivian Krause has extensively documented over the last number of years, many of the same US based Foundations have been funding Canada’s very own branches of the Green Blob.

    Much of the moolah was/is channelled via the Canadian branch of the Tides Foundation. For example, see Krause’s:

    Quelle surprise, eh?!

  7. geoffchambers

    Well done. I’ve been looking at some of the same tentacles of the Green Blob, but in a far less thorough fashion. I think I’d die of boredom before I could formulate a letter as thorough and well documented as your email to Mitchell.
    I started with the ECF, because they’re so central (a “foundation of foundations” they call themselves) and because I was looking for some informed comment in the French Press about the new French energy law (an equivalent of the Climate Change Act) which aims to cut energy use by 50%, while switching to renewables and electric transport. The only article I found was in le Monde, and was written, not by journalists, but by two employees of the ECF. We’re close to a situation where journalism cedes its place in democratic debate to any philanthropist-funded organisation with a blog and a tame PR man who can use a spell checker. It would be simpler if they just named Bob Ward Minister of Truth and let him get on with it.
    One gem I turned up is that one of the funders of the ECF is the Children’s investment Fund Foundation. Their website suggests a lot of money being channelled into fighting Ebola and mother-child transmission of AIDS, but they also spend money on fighting climate change (but in Europe, not in Africa) by financing the men in suits in Brussels and Berlin. I’d love to know how Richard Black reacts to the news that some of his financing is money sidetracked from the fight against AIDS and infant malnourishment. More at
    I’m turning my attention to the European Union, which channelled €9 million to
    environmental NGOs last year, and has plans to triple its environmental expenditure over the next six years. If American millionaires want to spend their spare cash financing phantom blogs run by green nerds who produce reports which are the subject of press articles which they write themselves, there’s not much we can do to stop them. But EU money in theory belongs to us.
    The EU is currently subsidising dozens of NGOs whose job is to criticise the policy of the European Union, for example two organisations whose sole purpose is to criticise the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Construction and Development. It’s true Kings traditionally employed Fools to criticise them. But they were fools. I’d feel happier about the activities of the Catherine Mitchells and the Jonathan Porritts if they were obliged to wave pigs’ bladders at their public appearances.

  8. potentilla

    Thanks for this thoughtful article Ben, especially the section on fossil fuel subsidies. It would be useful to have an expanded post on energy subsidies as it is a topic that is frequently misrepresented. Looking at it from a common sense point of view, it is obvious that the revenues to government from the fossil fuel sector are greater than any subsidies provided. Governments throughout the world are scrambling to develop fossil fuel resources simply because of the significant net revenues they will receive.

  9. Ben Pile

    Geoff – One gem I turned up is that one of the funders of the ECF is the Children’s investment Fund Foundation.

    Almost the entire ECF board is made up of people from ECF’s funders:

    Kristian Parker is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Oak Foundation and a member of its founding family.
    Charlotte Pera is president and CEO of the ClimateWorks Foundation.
    John H. McCall MacBain is Founder of Pamoja Capital and President of the McCall MacBain Foundation.
    Susan Bell spent fourteen years as Vice President for The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
    Kate Hampton is the Executive Director for Climate Change at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.
    Johannes Meier is managing director of the Bertelsmann Foundation

  10. Roddy

    Noble hedge-funder Sir Chris Hohn of TCI philanthropically gives money to causes he and his ex-wife believe in, and is hailed.

    Evil Aussie hedge-funder Sir Michael Hintze of CQS philanthropically gives money to causes he believes in, including £5 million to the Natural History Museum to fund programmes to study problems that threaten Earth’s biodiversity such as the maintenance of delicate ecosystems and the impacts of environmental pollution, and is vilified for the tuppence he gave to the GWPF.

  11. Vinny Burgoo

    Geoff, the European Commission’s annual funding of environmental NGOs is far more than €9 million. That’s the amount given under a special part of DG ENV’s LIFE+ scheme that allows the funding of general operating costs for NGOs rather than of individual NGO-run projects. I don’t know how much the latter comes to (the EU online databases have lamentably basic search functions) but last year New Direction, a free-market thinktank, estimated that in 2010 the European Commission gave €131 million to environmental NGOs. Dunno how credible that is or what was included but it’s likely a lot closer to the actual total than your €9 million.

    Many of the NGO-run projects funded by the EC are admirable: not lobbying for political change under the cloak of saving the planet but actually getting hands dirty saving newts and lynxes and what have you.

    But here’s an example of a >€1 million grant that’s not included in the €9 million and looks a whole lot like EC-funded self-lobbying.

    IFOAM is an NGO that lobbies for the wider adoption of ‘organic’ agriculture, runs an ‘organic’ accreditation scheme and offers training in ‘organic’ farming.

    It counts as an environmental NGO because its attachment to ‘organic’ farming stems from wibbly wobbly woo about sustainability etc rather than anything rational that might make it a primarily agricultural/overseas development NGO/trade association. (Or a religious NGO. It has its own anthem, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. The lyrics are worth a look.) Plus the EC gives it money from funds earmarked for environmental NGOs, therefore it’s an environmental NGO.

    A few years ago the European Commission gave IFOAM €450,000 to preach the ‘organic’ gospel in North Korea, of all places. IFOAM took the Commission to court for not renewing that grant (and lost the case) but they’re still friends and the Commission continues to throw money at it. The latest Commission grants to IFOAM listed in the Financial Transparency System are for last year. They were worth about €1,400,000. Three quarters of that went towards promoting ‘organic’ agriculture as a way of mitigating climate change (say what?) and the last quarter (€340,000) was supposed to ‘Enhanc[e] public awareness of the common agricultural policy’ by telling the people of Europe that the CAP is a GAP in a door that can be opened by closing the GAP in the door of… No idea. I’m sure it made sense to someone somewhere at some point.

    Some links:

  12. hunter

    NGO’s that exist to lobby should receive no public funding. They frankly should not be tax free, either.
    If they are not spending large amounts of their revenue on direct services to the poor, to physically improving something like the environment, then they are businesses like media or advertising.
    And if they do some token work but spend most money on salaries and benefits, they are not worthy of tax free status either.
    Government giving to the current NGO’s is in effect tax payer funded patronage (pork barrel in the US idiom) and is an end run to push unpopular policies and fund insiders.

  13. Lee Jones

    Good piece Ben, and I see now why you were going on about subsidies the other day!

  14. johanna

    Great work, Ben.

    I think the issue about fossil fuel “subsidies” which keeps popping up among the True Believers, needs further explanation, though.

    Reduced tax rates, or things like depletion allowances for resource companies, are not subsidies to anyone – neither producers or consumers. The only way that they could be characterised as such is if you start from the proposition that everything belongs to the government, and the extent to which they let you keep the fruits of your labour or enterprise is a gift from them to you. It is a profoundly totalitarian concept, which is no doubt why it appeals to many members of The Blob.



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