Think tanks have played a decisive role in the organised obstruction of climate action, denying, minimising, or derailing ambitious climate change mitigation. This research briefing reviews the case of the Ludwig von Mises Institutes and the Property and Freedom Society, a network of ultra-libertarian groups active around the world, which we refer to as the Mises Institute Network in the mobilisation and the dissemination of climate policy opposition discourse. We review the origins, the history, the global distribution and the climate-related output of 31 Mises Institutes between 2000 and 2021.
Our analysis reveals climate obstruction messaging based on a critique of climate science, principled objections to state intervention and planning and the social forces supporting climate change mitigation, as well as advocacy of free-market environmentalism as a suitable alternative to established climate politics. While Mises social theory includes a determined critique of environmentalism, it paid limited attention to climate change before 2016. From 2016, there has been a concerted effort to disseminate climate opposition discourse featuring a clear spike in published articles during 2019. Contextually, 2019 saw the U.S. Green New Deal proposal and the European Union Green Deal decision suggesting a tipping point for advocating free-market environmentalism in response to climate change to contend the increased state intervention discourse emerging in domestic and international climate policy planning.
Additionally, ties exist between scholars of Mises Institutes to a broad range of business groups ranging from gold, trade and investment firms in Germany, tobacco companies in the U.S., business school, consulting and service firms in Spain, and metal employer association and financial groups in Sweden. Furthermore, the network is engaging in an international effort to recruit new members into the ultra-libertarian movement, with an active university presence and active online campaign to spread Mises’ philosophy and recruit more members, particularly students and young people, to the movement.
Despite the lack of transparency and limited evidence of fossil industry funding, the Mises Network of think tanks has a clear voice in the denial and delaying think tank train, gaining speed at this pivotal moment in time. Our results indicate a dedicated effort to spread climate change opposition messages across the network. The core ideology of the Austrian economics tradition related to Ludwig von Mises provides the climate change opposition with a straightforward repertoire of arguments. Put simply, the coordinated activities of Mises Institutes across countries illustrates an attempt to circulate widely opposition to climate policy based on the radicalism of Mises social theory that focuses on resistance to government intervention and a form of market fundamentalism as a primer to maintain business as usual at the behest of the planet.
The study can be summarized into nine key findings
- Mises’ philosophy provides a compact repertoire of arguments to oppose climate change mitigation.
- Opposition arguments emerge from Mises Institutes’ philosophical critiques of environmental thinking.
- Mises Institutes have enjoyed financial support since the late 1990s, globalized from 2000 onward and maintains a presence in 25 countries in 2021.
- The U.S. Mises Institute received a sizeable gift in the late 1990s, and yearly funding increased considerably, particularly during the 2008 financial crisis. However, little or nothing is known about the financing of the Mises institutes in other countries.
- Attention to climate change increased markedly since 2016 with dedicated efforts to operate across borders and (language) cultures.
- Several members of Mises Institutes are in positions at universities to shape economic thinking, potentially mobilising young people to join the movement,
- The Mises Network joins other obstruction think tanks in using climate contrarians to promote obstruction discourse.
- Ties exist between members in the Mises Network to a broad range of business groups ranging from gold, trade and investment firms in Germany, tobacco companies in the U.S., business school, consulting and service firms in Spain, and metal employer association and financial groups in Sweden.
- The Mises Network plays a role amongst a much more extensive network of climate obstruction think tanks to undermine climate action.