Today
Mon 1 June 2020
Subscribe

Mat Hope explains how the dark money-funded US alt-right is using a German teenager to advance more misinformation about the climate emergency.

Share this article

Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Nigel Farage… and a German teenager hardly anyone has heard of. While the first three names are regulars on the lucrative US speaking circuit, 19-year old Naomi Seibt is in every way the newest kid on the block. 

If she seems an odd late addition to the glitzy carnival that is the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2020 – which has been taking place over the past few days in the US – she shouldn’t. Because she embodies everything that the dark money funded American alt-right is trying to achieve.

Plucked from YouTube, Seibt is being pitched as the “anti-Greta”; the alt-right, climate science-denying antidote to Swedish campaigner extraordinaire Greta Thunberg. And it’s a pitch that the media has bought willingly – desperate to find an ‘opposition’ where there is none.

Seibt appeared as a blip on the radar after undercover journalists in Germany infiltrated a climate denier conference to understand the strategies behind its misinformation campaigns. They made a beeline for James Taylor, director of climate and environmental policy at the Heartland Institute, an organisation known to have received funds from Exxon and the Koch, and which once put up a billboard comparing those who understood human-caused global warming to the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski

Taylor told the journalists that he intended to make a make a young YouTuber from Germany into a climate science-denying star. The Correctiv journalists declined to name the YouTuber. Now they don’t have to.

A few weeks later, the Washington Post produced a profile of Seibt, accompanied by a quote from Taylor in the third paragraph calling her “a fantastic voice for free markets and for climate realism”. It was Taylor’s communications strategy come to life. In the following days, The Times, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and many others had picked up on Seibt. All of them called her the “anti-Greta”.

Each time they did, they gave the dark money-funded US alt-right a commodity more valuable than gold; they gave credence to its propaganda. Seibt’s story is a classic example of professional lobbying, funded by dark money and vested interests, failing to be scrutinised by those paid to separate truth from spin. It is an egregious example of false equivalence.

Because Seibt is no Greta.


Equating Science and Socialism

The most glaring and galling difference is that Seibt is a paid-up mouthpiece for the Heartland Institute. She has an active financial interest in spreading misinformation about climate change.

This is no tale of youthful discovery. It is an age-old story of an image (this time of a young heroine) being co-opted by those paid to combat truths that are inconvenient to their cause (in this case, a cause close to the hearts of mainly old, white men) and sold.

Which leads to a second fundamental difference between Seibt and Thunberg: there is no organic origin. Seibt has made 21 Youtube videos, most of them in German and most of which have tens of thousands of views. That’s impressive for an average 19-year old, perhaps but it is distinctly unimpressive for a (now professional) lobbyist who has received millions of dollars of free advertising over the past month. Her reputation has been manufactured by those who see her value.

Thunberg has inspired a millions-strong grassroots movement of youth activists that reluctantly give up a day’s education each week to make their point. Seibt has entertained a handful cronies in conference halls and has been financially rewarded by organisations funded by Big Oil for doing so. These are not the same thing.

Moreover, Thunberg’s main complaint is that those who should be qualified enough to understand objective science and act on the information they are presented with continue to sit on their hands.

Seibt, in contrast, conflates scientific inquiry with political ideology. She says that she wants an alternative perspective on climate science. The simple reason that isn’t easily found is because there isn’t one. Climate change is real, driven by human activities and an imminent threat. That’s what contemporary science says.

Seibt’s willingness to equate ‘science’ with ‘socialism’ is proof of the potential of the opaque lobbying techniques of the Heartland Institute and its global peers. This is what they’ve been paid to say for years. It turns climate change into just one more line item in a wider culture war, despite there being no inherent reason why people of all political stripes shouldn’t want to save the planet – even those such as Seibt, who is allegedly an associate of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Fascist or otherwise, we all inhabit the same astronomical blob.

This anti-science message is why Seibt has been invited onto the CPAC stage alongside the world’s most prominent anti-intellectual: President Trump – a man famously flexible with the truth. 

The fact that Seibt isn’t the equivalent of Greta? No matter, CPAC’s devotees have calculated that, if the opposite is repeated enough times, it will become true.


More stories filed under Reportage