Media gives climate denier fuel lobbyist a platform to attack ‘Just Stop Oil’ protests

The claims, which were shared by the Labor Party in a contentious tweet calling for injunctions against the protestors, have been contradicted by the AA, the Petrol Retailers Association, and the government.

Image Credit: PA Media

A climate denier and fuel lobbyist who campaigns against net zero policies was given a platform by major media outlets to attack fossil fuel protests—without any mention of his climate views or industry funders.

Howard Cox, founder of the FairFuelUK campaign against fuel duty, was quoted in The Sun, MailOnline, inews and the Telegraph’s live blog and was interviewed on Sky News this week about “Just Stop Oil” activists, who were blocking fuel terminals to protest against new oil drilling licenses.  

The Sun story quotes FairFuel claiming “1 in 3 garages have run dry of petrol” and 1,200 petrol stations have been affected. The claims, which were shared by the Labor Party in a contentious tweet calling for injunctions against the protestors, have been contradicted by the AA, the Petrol Retailers Association, and the government.

The media outlets which ran Cox’s claims failed to mention that FairFuelUK is funded by freight industry bodies Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association. They also did not mention that Cox has downplayed what he calls “alleged man-made causes” of climate change and questioned its links to extreme weather. 

DeSmog has previously reported on how climate deniers are using concerns about energy to push a pro-fossil fuel agenda.

Cox runs an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) with Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of back-benchers who are working with climate deniers to oppose the UK’s 2050 net zero target. 

He has recently spoken on panels hosted by denial group CAR26, and last month told the BBC that concern about the climate impact of the UK’s fuel duty cut was “virtue signalling”. Cox rejects the label of “claim change denier”, calling himself a “climate change realist”.

“Just Stop Oil” are calling on the UK government to stop new licenses for oil and gas extraction. The UN and International Energy Agency say there should be no new oil and gas projects if global temperatures are to be kept within the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target.

The UN climate body IPCC recently called for “deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions”, warning of “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

Backtrack on petrol claims

The FairFuel tweet on the fuel terminal protests, picked up by The Sun, said: “We are getting credible intelligence that 1 in 3 garages have run dry of petrol and/or diesel particularly in the south, because of the ‘stop oil’ amoebas.”

The MailOnline story notes that this was contradicted by the AA, which said despite “isolated” shortages “none of its 2,700 patrols had experienced difficulties getting fuel”, and by the Petrol Retailers Association, which said of its forecourts, “the majority are unaffected”. 

The Guardian reported that FairFuel backtracked on its claims after being contradicted by the government, tweeting that “pump shortages are indeed minimal and not as bad as first indicated”. 

When contacted, Howard Cox told DeSmog: “The AA are not the fountain of all road info. Our survey over the weekend from 2,600 drivers who replied to our ask of fuel availability, showed one in three respondents across mainly below the Midlands were struggling to get fuel particularly diesel. That is fact. It improved a few days later in a follow up. I reported exactly that.”

Earlier this year Cox admitted to using a “loaded” question in an online survey, also covered by The Sun, that supposedly showed public opposition to the UK’s 2030 petrol and diesel ban and other climate policies.

Last week the Sun published a poll supposedly showing high public support for fracking without telling readers it was commissioned by Net Zero Watch, a climate denial campaign that recently called for renewable energy to be “wound down” completely. 

Both the poll and the renewables demand were promoted with quotes from Net Zero Scrutiny Group chair Craig Mackinlay. 

The survey finding of 44 percent support for fracking is out of step with the official government figure of 17 percent and an Opinium survey last week that found only 26 percent support. 

Climate science denial

Cox is increasingly vocal in opposing climate action. In an interview on BBC 5 Live Breakfast last month, Cox said concern about the climate impact of the UK’s fuel duty cut was “virtue signaling”, and went on to question the scientific consensus on climate change. 

After the interview he complained of BBC bias, tweeting: “@BBCNews’s anti private car driver stance has become their religion.”

Cox has spoken on three panels this year hosted by CAR26, a climate science denial group that questions whether carbon dioxide is a “significant factor in global warming” and suggests teaching children about climate change is “borderline child abuse”. CAR26 director Lois Perry has said the climate crisis is a “con” designed by “elites” to make people poor and hungry. 

At a CAR26 event on 7 April, Cox offered to join forces with fellow panelist James Delingpole, an open climate denier who at a CAR26 event in February said: “Climate change is not real, in the sense that man-made climate change is not a problem. Let’s stop paying lip service to this nonsense.”

Last month DeSmog revealed that Cox wrote a report for the Fair Fuel APPG opposing the UK’s 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars, but failed to declare that he is director of a company, Ultimum, that is developing the sort of “fuel catalyst” his report promoted. Cox denied any conflict of interest and claimed he would be resigning from the company. 

Another contributor to the report was the Global Warming Policy Foundation, of which Net Zero Watch is the campaign wing. The group is working with Mackinlay and other backbench MPs to oppose the UK’s net zero target. 

UPDATED 14/4/22 to include Howard Cox’s response.


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