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As ever with science these days, not everything is as it seems. As many countries worldwide struggle with the continued spread of COVID-19, there is an ongoing scientific debate about how best to control the virus without destroying the economy.

Earlier this month, newspapers worldwide began reporting on what is called the “Great Barrington Declaration,” an online petition calling for a “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19.

In the UK, the petition was splashed by the tabloid press, and pushed by right wing, libertarian commentators, yet even covered by the BBC.

The petition has been largely dismissed by leading experts. Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the declaration was “based on principles that are dangerous to national and global public health.”

Dr. Rupert Beale, from the world famous Francis Crick Institute’s Infection Laboratory, described the declaration’s main principle, “safely building up ‘herd immunity’ in the rest of the population” as “wishful thinking.”

And Professor Sir Robert Lechler, President of the British Academy of Medical Sciences, said the herd immunity strategy is “simply not possible as there is no way to sustainably protect such a large group of people without imposing huge risks to their mental and physical health.”

But it is in the United States, where this idea is being treated more seriously. Some of the declaration’s authors have met with Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Scott Atlas, an adviser to President Trump.

The Washington Post adds that Trump is an enthusiastic supporter of the Declaration adding that the plan “is endorsing what the president’s strategy has been for months.” Bloomberg believes that the declaration is now “shaping US policy” on its COVID-19 response.

This is scientifically nonsensical. As the Post retorts: “Trump wants to try for herd immunity. Without a vaccine, it could kill millions.”

So where is the declaration from? A great investigation by the Byline Times has found that the declaration “has been sponsored by an institution embedded in a Koch-funded network that denies climate science while investing in polluting fossil fuel industries.”

As Greenpeace points out, Koch Family Foundations have spent USD $145 million directly financing 90 groups that have attacked climate change science and policy solutions, from 1997-2018.

Although one of the brothers who funneled millions in climate denial, David Koch died last year, the funding still continues through his foundations.

Earlier this month, on the eve of the declaration being launched many of the scientists involved attended a gathering at the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a libertarian free-market think-tank in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

According to Byline Times: “The AIER did not simply host the event which produced the Declaration, but is also the registered domain name owner of the website publishing the Declaration, gbdeclaration.org.”

Its investigation revealed that “corporate records filed with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirm that the AIER operates as part of a Koch-funded network of climate science deniers.” In 2018, the AIER received $68,100 for “General Operating Support” from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The AIER is also receiving media support from Emergent Order, which is based in Texas, and which also linked to the Koch Brothers. According to Byline, the AIER has “provided extensive multimedia public relations support services to a network of climate science deniers bankrolled by the Charles Koch Foundation.”

You do not have to look far on the AIER’s website to find anti-environmentalist and climate denial articles. The website advocates that “Brazilians should keep slashing their rainforest”, and attacks environmental and climate activists, warning about “climate hysteria” in which one climate denial organization backs up its evidence by citing another climate denial organization, the Heartland Institute.

Like all the other Koch-funded libertarian networks they argue that we should all be left to the “power of free markets to find solutions to humanity’s problems.”

The AIER’s views are so flawed that that are beyond laughable. They argue that free markets will save us, forgetting that it exactly that which has got us into the current climate emergency. Somehow free markets and Big Oil will be our climate saviors, they believe. As OCI pointed out the other day, none of the major oil companies have plans that get anywhere near 1.5 degrees warming.

Big Oil will never save the climate. Nor will the free market. Nor will an organization that pushes ideological pseudo-science in the name of freedom.

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