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Orbán’s think tank is on a mission to break Europe’s climate ‘consensus’

Orbán’s think tank is on a mission to break Europe’s climate ‘consensus’

by host
Orbán’s think tank is on a mission to break Europe’s climate ‘consensus’

BRUSSELS — Global warming? A luxury belief. Net-zero policies? Soviet-like rules. Telling children about the uncertain future of a boiling planet? A crime. 

Those are just some of the fringe — and factually challenged — views increasingly bouncing around Brussels thanks to a think tank closely linked to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. 

The organization, MCC Brussels, gets funding from the Hungarian government and has one of Orbán’s closest advisors on the board. It made headlines in April when police, citing unmanageable counterprotests, tried to shut down an event set to feature Orbán and anti-EU rabble-rouser Nigel Farage.

Now, MCC has turned its attention to fracturing the EU’s “consensus” on climate change — a push that neatly aligns with Hungary’s own ambitions as it prepares to assume the EU’s rotating presidency in July.

The opening salvo came last Thursday, just meters from the Schuman roundabout at the EU’s core. The MCC event had all the hallmarks of a typical, sedate Brussels gathering — academics ruminating, policy jargon galore. But the panel topics (“the perils of net zero”) and warnings against climate “scientism” indicated the boundary-pushing motives.

“The battle of the ideas has just begun,” said Frank Furedi, MCC Brussels executive director, telling POLITICO he plans to host similar forums as the year progresses.

The campaign comes at an advantageous moment for climate contrarians in the EU. Politicians are wrestling with farmers enraged by new environmental rules. And anxious executives are lamenting high energy costs, pleading for government relief in the face of Chinese and U.S. competition.

Furedi sees an opening to create a new generation of climate iconoclasts in Brussels.

“I hope to influence the people working around the bubble, particularly the younger employees and intellectuals,” he said. 

His end goal? Create a “coalition of people who I would call genuinely skeptical.”

Spreading the word

Just don’t call them “climate deniers” — Furedi insists that’s a gross oversimplification.

“When it comes to issues that have to do with the environment, and with climate, we seem to be discouraged from thinking,” said Furedi, adding that he likes to pay homage to the statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century Italian philosopher burned to death for questioning Catholic dogma, every time he’s in Rome.

“We are informed that the science has spoken, that matters are beyond debate,” he continued. “The United Nations assures us that everything has been settled. And therefore anybody who’s taking a divergent path is either malevolent or addicted to consumerism.” 

Yet by any measure, the science has spoken. There is clear scientific consensus that humanity’s continued release of certain gasses into the atmosphere is rapidly warming the planet and exacerbating extreme weather events.

Furedi denies that MCC’s intent is to question the scientific diagnosis. Instead, he wants to quibble with the policy prescription. The speakers at last Thursday’s event may not have gotten the memo, though.  

Richard Lindzen, a former atmospheric sciences professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the crowd that “consensus exists because most educated people don’t know science.”

Yet since his retirement in 2013, Lindzen has faced repeated accusations that he is the one spreading false information about climate science. Investigative news outlet DeSmog referenced him in its climate misinformation database, also noting the professor has received money from fossil fuel companies for his testimony and research activities.

Meanwhile, Calum Nicholson, the director of the Budapest-based Climate Policy Institute (CPI), warned the MCC audience that “scientism” — a toxic brew of science and religious fervor — had taken over. 

“Scientism is where we believe science can also be a guide to our culture and our values,” said Nicholson.

CPI’s website fleshes out this belief with hotly titled articles like “The Nazi Propaganda of Going Green” and “Balancing Green Dreams with Practical Realities.”

Furedi insisted the intent is to detach policy from the scientists.

“Every time I hear the word ‘research-led policy,’ I’ve got to reach for my metaphorical gun,” he said. Politicians, he argued, should prioritize ethics, not science, to craft laws based on “what they would like to see get done.”

From Budapest to Brussels? 

MCC Brussels has received considerable scrutiny over its links to Viktor Orbán’s government, which regularly broadcasts anti-EU rhetoric and tangles endlessly with Brussels over democratic backsliding allegations.

The organization is an arm of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), a Budapest-based college that gets considerable funding from the Hungarian government. And MCC’s chair is Balázs Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister’s political director (the two are not related). POLITICO reported that Furedi got the Brussels gig after a chance encounter with Balázs Orbán in London’s Trafalgar Square. 

The think tank’s stance broadly reflects a skepticism toward green policies that Budapest doesn’t hide. Viktor Orbán called the EU plans to tackle climate change a “utopian fantasy” that would only raise energy prices.

MCC Brussels said it is not coordinating its contrarian campaign with the Hungarian government. Nor is the effort linked to Hungary assuming the rotating EU presidency in July, which will give Budapest the power to coordinate diplomatic talks on policy files for six months.

“I don’t even know if that’s an issue for them or not,” Furedi said when asked about whether the Hungarian government had influenced last Thursday’s event. 

A Hungarian spokesperson in Brussels said he was not following the conference and declined to comment on the think tank’s position.

“As far as the Hungarian presidency is concerned,” he said, “I can confirm that climate is high on our agenda.” 

He added: “Our sectoral priorities also take it into account.”

Furedi sees his organization as playing the long game. Indeed, despite recent pushback, Europeans across the political spectrum still broadly agree on the need to cut planet-warming emissions.

“It’s not going to come out of this straight away,” he said, “but we got to begin somewhere.” 

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