The personal archives of prominent Dutch climate denier Frits Böttcher (who died in 2008) reveal that he received over a million guilders – close to half a million in euros – from Shell and other Dutch multinationals during the 1990s. The explicit objective: to question human responsibility for global warming.
From 1989 to 1998, Dutch multinationals paid over one million guilders (close to half a million euros) to Frits Böttcher (1915-2008), a prominent climate denier. The explicit goal: sowing doubt about climate change and humanity’s role in it.
Böttcher used the money to set up an international network of climate sceptics. He produced multiple reports, books and opinion pieces. In these he wrote, for instance, that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist and that CO2 is not dangerous, quite the opposite: it’s ‘good for plants’.
The doubt created led, among other things, to a lack of political support for regulatory measures with regard to CO2 reduction during the 1990s.
Funding for Böttcher’s ‘CO2 project’ finally ran out in 1998 . His 24 sponsors were concerned about public opinion and the climate scepticism lobby proved incapable of stopping the Kyoto Protocol being signed in 1997.
This research is part of the Shell Papers, a joint research project conducted by Platform Authentieke Journalistiek and Follow the Money, into the ties between the Dutch government and the oil giant.
This article was published in English on March 3, 2020. Read the original article in Dutch here.
Frits Böttcher would later refer to it as a ‘historic moment’. On December 21, 1989, the retired chemistry professor visited Shell’s headquarters in Amsterdam. That day, Shell supervisory director Jan Choufoer was going to introduce him to the head of the company: managing director Huub van Engelshoven.
Böttcher was highly regarded in the Netherlands. He’d been teaching at Leiden University for decades, and he was on various supervisory boards: Pakhoed, Hoogovens, Elsevier Scientific publishers and 11 others. He was an active member of the VVD [conservative-liberal political party] and – from 1966 to 1974 – he was the President of the Raad van Advies voor het Wetenschapsbeleid [the government’s advisory council on scientific policy] and from 1973 to 1976 he was a member of the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid [scientific council for government policy]. Choufoer and Böttcher had become acquainted when the chemistry professor acted as one of the permanent advisors of Shell’s research department.
According to Böttcher, the Club of Rome’s worrying conclusions didn’t mean that the whole system had to be upended
To the general public, Böttcher was primarily known as the co-founder and former chair of the Dutch branch of the Club of Rome. This informal association, founded in 1968 by political, academic and business leaders, had issued a resounding alarm about unbridled economic and population growth, as well as the finite nature of fossil fuels in its 1971 report The Limits to Growth.
But according to Böttcher, the Club of Rome’s worrying conclusions didn’t mean that the whole system had to be upended. On the contrary: he disagreed with the call from left-wing environmental movements for far-reaching government intervention. For example, in the autumn of 1989, he published two opinion pieces in NRC Handelsblad [a Dutch broadsheet], in which he resisted the ‘witch hunt’ on CO2 – a chemical ‘the entire food chain on the planet is based upon’. The title of his first piece: ‘Our planet is not a greenhouse’.
To Böttcher’s delight, this message had also been adopted by Shell’s boardroom. ‘I allowed myself to be persuaded by a number of contacts – generally from Shell circles – to take on a CO2/greenhouse effect project,’ he wrote in one of the countless letters he left to posterity, which are now stored at the Noord-Hollands Archief [North Holland Archive] and which Platform Authentieke Journalistiek was able to peruse. In another note, he wrote about his first meeting with Van Engelshoven: ‘At the end of the meeting, Huub stated that Shell wanted to make 80,000 guilders available for my project.’
Frits Böttcher (1915-2008) admitted that he ‘could never throw anything away’. The whopping 15.9 metres of documents that are stored at the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem prove that he wasn’t exaggerating. He meticulously recorded all his meetings and conversations, whether on the telephone or in person, sometimes even adding a brief biography of the person he had spoken with.
This article is based on the folders that were organised under the name ‘CO2/greenhouse project’. In the past few months, PAJ has combed through these folders. We did so in the context of the Shell Papers, a major investigation into Shell, in cooperation with Follow the Money. The documentation provides unique insight into the manner in which a considerable proportion of the Dutch business community deployed Böttcher’s name and skills to raise doubts about the causes of climate change as well as the necessity of reducing CO2 emissions.
Some of Böttcher’s notes are handwritten and merely state the name of a company sponsor and the sum donated, while others are extensive minutes of meetings, written out by one of his assistants. The attention to detail is remarkable: there are even documents that note who sat where or which wine was served during a business lunch or dinner.
Separate bank account
Van Engelshoven set one important precondition for the financial support of the CO2 project: Böttcher had to convince at least three other companies to co-sponsor it. An easy assignment for Böttcher, who had held over a dozen supervisory board positions and was therefore properly integrated into various company networks. He soon convinced AkzoNobel, Hoogovens and the ANWB. ‘I had that taken care of in less than a week,’ he later wrote with some glee. In 1990, Samenwerkende Elektriciteits-Productiebedrijven (SEP), DSM, KLM and Pakhoed joined as well.
The archived documents revealed 15 other companies and organisations that supported the CO2 project, including NAM, Gasunie, Texaco, Schiphol and the German chemical giant Bayer. For example, on 2 May 1996, Willem Lindenhovius, head of Public Affairs at the NAM, wrote to Böttcher: ‘On behalf of [NAM director] Jan Oele it is our pleasure to confirm that the NAM is willing to donate f 12,500 this year and the next, specifically for the CO2 greenhouse activities.’
At Hoogovens, both the 1988-1993 chairman of the board Olivier van Royen and his successor Maarten van Veen happily sponsored Böttcher. Furthermore, the chemistry professor’s archive contains letters from DSM board member Ruud Selman and chairman of Gasunie’s board George Verberg, all promising to sponsor him. Böttcher got in touch with the Samenwerkende Elektriciteits-Productiebedrijven (SEP) via chairman of the board Niek Ketting, who was – like Böttcher - also an active member of the VVD. Ian Christmas, chairman of the International Iron and Steel Industry(IISI), personally ensured that this international trade association also provided funding.
In Böttcher’s opinion however, no company’s support was as important as Shell’s. He wrote that the oil company is the project’s ‘godfather, so to speak’ and was its ‘number one’ sponsor. In a document dated 1995, Böttcher lists his ‘loyal ‘supporters’ in ‘Shell’s corner’: ‘In alphabetic order: Harry Beckers, Jan Choufoer, Peter van Duursen, Huub van Engelshoven, Hein Hooykaas, Henny de Ruiter, Karel Swart, Gerrit Wagner, Ernst Werner.’ In 1997 and 1998, the project’s two final years, John Jennings, Peter Langcake and the later CEO Jeroen van der Veer were involved in sponsoring on Shell’s behalf.
Böttcher insists that the IPCC is politically motivated, that CO2 does not contribute to rising temperatures, and that sea levels will decrease
The payments are routed via Böttcher’s Global Institute for the study of natural resources. Böttcher also opened a separate bank account, ‘Conto separato CO2’, for company donations. All in all, he received well over one million guilders in donations for the CO2 project.
Böttcher did not spend the money on himself: most of it was used to pay two assistants who arranged meetings, kept minutes and typed out letters for the professor. The remaining funds were spent on travel expenses, including multiple trips to the United States, Germany and Brussels, as well as on various lunches and dinners with his many contacts. The chemistry professor himself worked pro bono, convinced by the need to fight against ‘the CO2 witch hunt’.
Böttcher’s personal motivation to partake in the climate debate, however, didn’t mean that he wasn’t influenced by his funders’ wishes. Early on, the participating companies ask him to internationalise the CO2 project; he responds by contacting renowned climate sceptics in the USA. When Shell manager Van Engelshoven asks for a combative article in the trade publication De Ingenieur [The Engineer], Böttcher delivers: he entitles the piece ‘Climate Change and the CO2 Myth’, and attacks politicians who ‘promote unrealistic objectives’.
In the media, Böttcher insists that the IPCC is politically motivated, that CO2 does not contribute to rising temperatures, that sea levels will decrease, not rise and that, taking population growth and increasing energy demands into account, it’s an illusion to believe that a climate treaty could lead to a reduction in CO2. And, finally, his hobby horse: CO2 is good for plant growth.
In a 1995 interview with 2Vandaag, a public tv news programme, he claims that ‘Plants are craving for more CO2 in the atmosphere. [..] The current increase, from 0.028 to 0.035 percent, is merely the first step in the right direction for the plant world. Let’s emphasize the positive, instead of harping on about CO2.’
Böttcher in 2Vandaag (source: Beeld en Geluid).
The Club of Rome man
Böttcher’s CO2 project is a Dutch example of a strategy that is applied globally by the fossil fuel industry, described extensively in books such as Merchants of Doubtby Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, and De Twijfelbrigadeby Jan-Paul van Soest. The strategy boils down to this: find a renowned scientist, fund him to sow doubt about the damaging consequences of your product, and subsequently build your lobby against government regulation upon this foundation.
It’s not by sheer accident that the Dutch multinationals throw in their lot with Böttcher at the end of the 1980s, when climate change enters the public debate. For example, the UN Climate Panel IPCC was founded in 1988 and during the campaign for the general elections of 1989, Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers (christian democrats) revealed his party’s intention to reduce CO2 emissions by 2 percent per year in the Netherlands. Six weeks before Böttcher’s meeting with Van Engelshoven, in November 1989, global leaders convening in Noordwijk (NL), almost agreed upon an international treaty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
In Frits Böttcher, the fossil fuel industry found a partner who was a media darling
In Frits Böttcher, the fossil fuel industry found a partner who was a media darling. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t a climate scientist at all, but a professor in chemistry. ‘I don’t think he cared for the real science behind it,’ says former climatologist Wieger Fransen, who started his career at Böttcher’s Global Institute and subsequently worked for the scientific department of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). ‘Böttcher didn’t bother with scientific climate publications,’ remembers Fransen. ‘He got his information from newspapers or magazines such as New Scientist. All secondary publications, and no peer reviewed articles.’
Böttcher was thoroughly aware of his image as a socially engaged academic. From his notes on a meeting he had in 1994 with Shell’s Van Engelshoven: ‘Huub emphasised again that, as a scientist, I am perceived as more neutral than people from the business community are.’ His role in the Club of Rome was convenient: ‘The Club of Rome and particularly my actions as part of the latter are a myth,’ he wrote in December 1996. ‘It should be kept alive.’
In the USA, in the 1980s, the fossil fuel industry had managed to attract major scientists willing to disperse doubt about climate change. Those included Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer, two physicists with impressive academic careers who were, among other things, involved in developing the atom bomb.
Seitz, Singer and a handful of other American scientists became deeply engaged in the climate debate. Sometimes they spoke out personally, other times on behalf of organisations such as the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) and the George C. Marshall Institute, which were both co-funded by the industry. ‘They used their scientific credentials to present themselves as authorities, and they used their authority to try to discredit any science they didn’t like,’ Oreskes and Conway wrote, summarizing the approach of these scientists.
Industry interests were huge, but that wasn’t their sole motivation, Van Soest explains: ‘Funding of this kind is correlated with a certain ideological conviction; conservative, and convinced of the blessings of the free market. They were also trying to justify themselves.’
Even though it received a barrage of criticism, What Does the Science Tell Us proved incredibly influential
In 1989, Frederick Seitz published the report Global Warming: What Does the Science Tell Us? on behalf of the Marshall Institute. Oreskes and Conway describe how Seitz and his people ‘cherry-picked the data,’ in order to distort the assessment of the causes of the temperature increase observed. “Their initial strategy wasn’t to deny the fact of global warming, but to blame it on the sun,’ Oreskes and Conway wrote, leaving the impression that CO2 didn’t matter.
Even though it received a barrage of criticism, What Does the Science Tell Us proved incredibly influential. John Sununu, chief of staff of the then US president George Bush Senior was holding it up ‘like a cross to a vampire, fending off greenhouse warming’, according to somebody present at the climate conference in Noordwijk in 1989. Sununu would subsequently play a ‘leading role’ in thwarting this conference’s aims.
Frits Böttcher was deeply impressed by the Marshall Institute’s report. He forwarded it to Elsevier science editor Simon Rozendaal, who used it in his first article as a climate sceptic, published in February 1990: ‘Hoezo broeikas?’ [‘Greenhouse? What greenhouse?’].
Simon Rozendaal talks about his article in Elsevier (source: YouTube user Hans Labohm).
Meanwhile, Böttcher had developed close ties with the report’s author Seitz. He’d also befriended Fred Singer and Donald Pearlman – known as the ‘High Priest of the Carbon Club’, by dint of his work for the fossil fuel industry and willfully derailing several climate conferences. Böttcher consulted all three substantively and strategically about how to fight the IPCC and the ‘climate witch hunt’.
On 5 July 1992, Böttcher receives an invitation from Fred Singer. It’s a token of appreciation: ‘I hope you agree to join SEPP’s advisory board. Your advice and commitment are important to us.’
Encouraged by Huub van Engelshoven, Böttcher tries to set up a European sister organisation for the George C. Marshall Institute. Initially, he fails: the organisation wishes to keep a tight control over activities taking place in its name. However, the board expresses their hope that Böttcher will find another way to persevere. Eventually, in 1994, he does. With the Brits John Emsley and Roger Bate, Böttcher founds the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), a European network of climate sceptic scientists. In the mid 1990s, ESEF publishes two climate sceptical books. ESEF would later be absorbed by the Heidelberg Appeal Nederland and, yet later, by the Groene Rekenkamer [Green Accounting Office], which is still active.
In the board rooms
While Böttcher’s simplistic but clear and crisp narrative about ‘the CO2 myth’ played well in the media, the majority of his work took place behind closed doors. On February 2 1994, he wrote DSM board member Ruud Selman that his objective was to provide ‘ammunition' to opponents of climate policy and to ‘help them prevent all kinds of harping being pushed through’.
The World Coal Institute, the global federation of coal companies, copied parts of Böttcher’s pamflet Science or fiction (1992) in its newsletter
The archived materials reveal that Böttcher’s strategy was very similar to that of his American colleagues. He would write a climate sceptic book or article, and his contacts and sponsors within the business community would then disseminate it amongst colleagues, politicians, journalists and, of course, the IPCC.
And it worked. For example, the World Coal Institute, the global federation of coal companies, copied parts of Böttcher’s pamflet Science or fiction (1992) in its newsletter. The institute subsequently handed out that newsletter during the environment conference in Rio, to great acclaim, and later gave it to the IPCC working parties that would prepare the first ever climate conference. Ian Christmas, chair of the International Iron and Steel Industry (IISI), made sure that Böttcher’s books were disseminated to all steel company board members globally. And Lois Johnston, Texaco’s press spokesperson, did the same, approaching all her colleagues in the oil industry and her media contacts.
Böttcher also managed to get his message across to business leaders and politicians in his home country. ‘He was held in high esteem by the intellectual elite, particularly because of his Club of Rome background,’ explains Pier Vellinga, co-founder of the IPCC and, in the early 1990s, the first climate change professor in the Netherlands. ‘He would give lectures at events where the Dutch elite met. That’s how his climate denial stories got to infuse both politics and policy.’
Vellinga would regularly give lectures about his work for the IPPC at the same events. ‘Usually, a deafening silence would follow my speech,’ he says. ‘Or Böttcher’s sympathisers would attack me, claiming that – as a TU Delft graduate – I lacked the proper background in meteorology.’
Böttcher had an impressive network. This is how the former ceo of KLM, Jan de Soet, described Böttcher on the occasion of his 80th birthday, in October 1995: ‘Throughout his life he has held positions in a wide range of circles, colleges, guilds and countless associations and companies. He operates in a mystical, intricate network that comprises almost all spiritual and social movements in our society. A cluster of which the once so formidable ‘200 van Mertens’ could only dream of.’
‘He regularly dropped by at the energy department at [the Department of] Economic Affairs’
The chemistry professor was a member of two informal associations that admitted only the absolute top of the Dutch political and economic elite: the Tafelronde, and De 8CHT. He himself founded the latter in 1972; the group met approximately six times a year. Other members included Allerd Stikker (DSM), Jan de Soet (KLM), André Spoor, Hans Wiegel (VVD), Nout Wellink, Henny de Ruiter (Shell advisory board ), Karel Vuursteen (chairman of the board at Heineken) and Hans Wijers.
‘He regularly dropped by at the energy department at [the Department of] Economic Affairs,’ says Frans W. Saris, who was the director of the Energy Research Centre (ECN) from 1996 to 2002. Stan Dessens, who headed the Energy division at the Department of Economic Affairs between 1988 and 1999, admits that he supported Böttcher: ‘I opined that, as the spokesperson of a countervailing position, he should be given a proper platform. After all, he had academic standing and a fine reputation, and wasn’t someone you’d expected to be politically opportunistic.’
Parliamentary archives show that especially the VVD welcomed Böttcher’s scepsis. Jan te Veldhuis, who was their environmental spokesperson between 1982 and 2003, referred to Böttcher when he called for a ‘realistic CO2 policy’ in 1992. Te Veldhuis would continue to emphasise scientific dispute and doubt in the following years.
This article is part of the Shell Papers, a joint research project conducted by Platform Authentieke Journalistiek and Follow the Money, into the ties between the Dutch government and the oil giant. In April 2019, we filed a total of 17 FOIA requests, demanding copies of all Shell-related documents from nine ministries, three provinces and five municipalities.
As of March 2020, the FOIA procedures are still ongoing. You can track their progress here:
In an interview, Te Veldhuis informs us that he and Ad Lansink (CDA) ‘pushed’ for Böttcher’s invitation to speak before Parliament’s climate committee in 1995. During that talk, Böttcher went off on his hobby horse: ‘The only fact is that CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing [..] and that this is beneficial for plants. Everything else is hypothetical.’
His soundbite made it into the evening news. ‘I was the only speaker at that meeting who got on TV,’ Böttcher wrote afterwards to Dirk Hudig, a lobbyist for Imperial Chemical Industries. ‘I was on the eight ‘o clock news and got my point across well.’
Funding dries up
‘I have gradually reached the point at which, in my country, I am viewed as the opposition leader regarding the subject,’ Böttcher writes IISI’s Ian Christmas in early 1996. Nevertheless, his status proved no match for the Zeitgeist. By then, the chemistry professor has been hoping for months that Shell would recommence its support for the CO2 project. Shell no longer wanted to fund climate sceptics directly, ‘fearing public opinion,’ Böttcher writes.
Finally, in September 1996, Henny de Ruiter calls. De Ruiter is a member of Shell’s advisory board and, at that point in time, one of the most influential people in the Netherlands. He had bad news to impart, Böttcher writes ‘[De Ruiter] spoke to [John] Jennings [director of Shell Trading in London, eds.], who acknowledged that he hesitates to support me, because Shell has already made other mistakes such as the Brent Spar, and Nigeria.’
But there’s a sliver of hope. Böttcher – whose notes, incidentally, show no ire about the nefarious events with which his work is apparently lumped in – is given an opportunity. [Jennings] allowed himself to be persuaded,’ Böttcher writes. ‘I can come in and plead my case.’
Böttchers new strategy is revealed in his extensive notes on the conversation with Jennings at Shell’s London headquarters. If Shell is afraid to fund climate sceptics, the company should finance Böttcher’s new project instead: ‘energy and sustainable development’.
‘He was so enthusiastic about my new project “energy and sustainable development”, that he decided that Shell International would provide the entire sum required. He has given me free reign’
Böttcher explains his interlocutors that this new project is about the ‘dominant role of energy in society’ and will serve to ‘warn politicians and economists who are glib about the implementation of drastic energy taxes and comparable interventions’.
The subject is eminently important to Shell. The company knows that heads of state are about to take measures aimed at reducing CO2 emissions at the upcoming 1997 Kyoto summit. And the concept of a European energy or CO2 tax has already been raised by environment ministers such as Angela Merkel (Germany) and Margreeth de Boer (Netherlands).
Jennings is enthusiastic about Böttcher’s proposal: ‘[Jennings] basically decided on the spot,’ Böttcher writes, ‘and told me that Peter Langcake would take care of the agreement and the ensuing supervision.’
In a letter to Bovag director Joop Hoekzema, Böttcher later writes: ‘On the one hand, [Jennings] no longer felt up to supporting a project that runs contrary to popular opinion. On the other hand, he was so enthusiastic about my new project “energy and sustainable development”, that he decided within the hour that Shell International would provide the entire sum required for this project in 1997: f 80,000. He has given me free reign.’
Shell’s support for the ‘energy and sustainable development’ project would turn out to be relatively short-lived. In 1998, Shell pledged support one last time – Böttcher would receive a final 30,000 guilders for completing ‘activities with regard to CO2 and sustainable energy’ – and that would be the end of it.
Texaco and other CO2 project sponsors withdrew that year too. The preceding year, Böttcher had already noted that the American company seemed to be getting nervous: Texaco had asked him to ‘continue’ the CO2 project, but to ‘appear to be working on something else’. To this end, Böttcher renamed his ‘Conto Separato CO2’ into ‘SD’, for Sustainable Development.
DSM had a different reason to cease its funding: ‘[the decision] is based on our impression that the impact of your lobby is dwindling,’ the company informs him. The context isn’t stated in DSM’s letter: the Kyoto Protocol had amply demonstrated that the world paid more heed to the IPCC than it did to a handful of sceptics.
Böttcher, never one to be disparaged, persisted and right up until his death in 2008, he continued to lobby, to network and to provide environmental advice to his friends and contacts in the business community. Just a few months after the CO2 project was closed down, he told IISI’s Ian Christmas how happy he was with ‘the freedom’ he now had to elect his own subjects. From now on, he could disregard the matter of ‘sustainability’: ‘We will continue the battle that we’ve been fighting for years’.
Foundations of climate scepticism
So what did Böttcher achieve with his efforts? That’s where opinions differ. His main credit seems to be that he triggered a debate whether climate change exists, and if so, whether it was caused by human intervention. In September 1996, he told Clement Malin and Jaap Meinema of Texaco that, although ‘few reports and books are actually read,’ they do have an effect: ‘People realise that the opposition is growing.’
Moreover, Böttcher laid the foundations for Dutch climate scepticism, a movement that still garners plenty of attention via organisations such as Clintel and right-wing political parties such as the PVV and Forum voor Democratie, that are often bandying the same points that Böttcher harped on about in the 1990s.
Climate professor Pier Vellinga describes Böttcher as ‘instrumental’ in delaying climate policy in the Netherlands in the 1990s. ‘His publications reached all the way up to the Department of Economic Affairs and were used to contend that things weren’t that bad and that there were too many unanswered questions.’ Vellinga believes this to be one of the reasons why the Netherlands, other than Germany, never implemented any effective policy concerning CO2 reduction.
Margreeth de Boer (PvdA / Labour) was minister of Housing, Planning and Environment from 1994 to 1998. She negotiated the Kyoto Protocol on behalf of the Netherlands. When she presented the results – an intention to reduce CO2 emissions by 6 percent in 2012, relative to 1990 – she got the cold shoulder. In fact: ‘people were downright unhappy’. The target was never met: between 1990 and 2012 Dutch CO2 emissions managed to increase by 1.2 percent.
‘He was everywhere, everybody knew him’
According to De Boer, compulsory measures such as a CO2 tax were ‘on the table every now and then,’ but there was never enough support for them. When we spoke with her, she explained that it was mainly the Department of Economic Affairs that thwarted such measures: ‘Hans Wijers was definitely convinced that it would be bad for the economy and for businesses. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, he claimed, and that was also the VVD’s point of view.’
Wijers, currently on ING’s advisory board, qualifies De Boer’s statement: ‘My position was that we definitely had to take climate change seriously, but we also needed to ensure that we wouldn’t close the most efficient gas fuelled power plants in the Netherlands while Germany was still fuelling its power stations with lignite.’ Wijers claims that this didn’t rank high on De Boer’s department’s list of priorities: ‘They were a bit more visionary and thought: “we’ll figure out the rest later”.’
In retrospect, Wijers recognises that the Netherlands could and should have done more at the time. But support was lacking, he claims, both in society and in the cabinet. ‘Our country tends to cast itself in a visionary role, while it’s actually in the rearguard.’ Nowadays the Netherlands is dangling somewhere at the bottom when considering the share of sustainable energy in the total energy production.
But is that Böttcher’s ‘merit’? Former president of De Nederlandsche Bank Nout Wellink was a member of Böttcher’s De 8CHT and discussed climate with him there. According to Wellink, Böttcher was ‘a first-class scientist’, but when asked about the impact of his work on political policies, the answer is resolute: ‘None, at least not insofar as I observed. And he definitely was the type of man who would boast about that kind of thing.’
Hans Wiegel doesn’t agree. ‘Of course he was influential,’ the prominent member of the VVD and of De 8ACHT claims. ‘He was everywhere, everybody knew him. But he himself would never admit that. He wasn’t vain.’
Wiegel himself definitely seems to have been influenced by Böttcher’s ideas. In a 2015 opinion piece in NRC Handelsblad he wrote: ‘I am hesitant to write this, but years ago the only Dutch member of the Club of Rome, the late professor Frits Böttcher, said that all these alarming stories about climate change are unsubstantiated.’
The CO2 project was funded by the following companies and organisations: AkzoNobel, Amoco, ANWB, Bayer, Bovag, DSM, Fluor Daniel, Foundation BBMB, Gasunie, Hoogovens/Tata Steel, IISI, ING, KLM, Lions Club, Mabanaft, NAM, Pakhoed (Vopak), Schiphol, SEP, Shell, Texaco, ThyssenKrupp and VNA.
AkzoNobel stated it was ‘difficult’ to respond because it was ‘so long ago’. The company did inform us that its objective is to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% in 2030 in comparison to 2018.
The ANWB [Royal Dutch Touring Club] confirmed that the organisation funded Böttcher. At the time, according to spokesperson Ad Vonk, ANWB wanted objective scientific information about what the climate problem entailed and owing to Bottcher’s ‘excellent scientific reputation’ he was selected to this end. After internal criticism from the environment department of the lack of scientific substantiation for Böttcher’s contentions in his publication ‘Science or Fiction’, the department urged then director Nouwen to stop funding the latter. It is unclear whether this was actually done, says Vonk. The ANWB did underwrite the necessity of “turning around the increased CO2 emissions” as early as 1990 in a ‘draft standpoint’.
Bayer informed us that it was “hard” to answer the question whether they provided financial support to Böttcher because the people involved are no longer in the company’s employ. The German company could not find the name Böttcher or Global Institute in its archives. Bayer declared that it wishes to manufacture in a carbon-neutral manner in 2030.
Bovag admits it sponsored Böttcher.‘There is little to be found on the subject, but we have indications – and we assume – that these are right,’ stated a spokesperson. However: ‘BOVAG in the 1990s was a different organisation to BOVAG in 2020’. The company is a Formula E (electric car racing) member, says it supports the Paris climate objectives and is convinced that CO2 emissions must be reduced.
DSM says it is ‘unlikely’ that it supported research that set out to undermine scientific findings. The chemical company also stated that it had already concluded a covenant with the Dutch government in 1993 aimed at energy saving and that, as early as the 1990s, it explicitly stated the importance of reducing CO2 emissions.
Gasunie was split into GasTerra and Gasunie in 2005. The archive for the years before 2005 is lodged with GasTerra. When asked, the company indicated it had been unable to find anything about financing Böttcher.
ING stated: ‘Unfortunately, we can no longer ascertain whether this limited donation took place 25 years ago, nor why this would have been made or at whose request’. To the bank it is ‘abundantly clear’ that there is a climate crisis and it says it does its best to align its loan portfolio with the Paris climate agreement.
KLM states ‘there is no indication whatsoever’ that the airline company made a payment to Frits Bottcher 30 years ago. KLM strives ‘to create a sustainable future for air travel’ and points out that it started implementing sustainability measures in the 1990s.
NAM, which is owned by ExxonMobil and Shell, informed us that: ‘It is correct that during this period NAM provided a small financial contribution to Professor Böttcher’s work. We can no longer properly ascertain what kind of work this concerned exactly.’
Schiphol ‘Cannot confirm nor deny having availed itself of Mr Böttcher’s services in any way in the past.’
Shell’s press serviceresponded on behalf of CEO Marjan van Loon as follows:‘This was 25 - 30 years ago and we cannot speculate about what exactly happened and in which context. We are going to look into this. I think it is important to keep in mind that science has conducted a great deal of research into the climate issue, for decades. This made energy transition increasingly societally relevant. Shell has been very clear about its position on climate change and CO2’s role for a long time now. We have been reporting on this in our annual reports and sustainability reports for well over two decades.’ According to Van Loon it is important for society to focus on achieving the Paris Climate Agreement’s objectives. ‘Shell fully backs these objectives. We support the various initiatives that will accelerate energy transition including the Nederlandse Klimaatakkoord [National Climate Agreement] and the European Union’s target of no net CO2 emissions by 2050. This is what our strategy focuses on.’
Tata Steel,which absorbed the former Hoogovens, informed us that it took cognisance of ‘the fact that financial support was provided to the climate sceptical activities of the late Professor Böttcher during the 1990s’. Tata Steel’s current board of directors was unaware of this. Tata Steel says it underwrites the Paris Climate Agreement and has introduced initiatives aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption. For the record, the company wishes to point out that Böttcher was the co-founder of the Club of Rome and was a member of the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor Regeringsbeleid.
ThyssenKrupp responded as follows: ‘We cannot confirm that we ever had anything to do with Prof. Böttcher. You refer to matters which took place 25 years ago, far beyond the statutory archiving timeframe. We can however confirm that we do not support climate scepticism’. The head of media relations at ThyssenKrupp stated that the company has set itself the goal of operating in a climate neutral fashion in 2050.
Vopak, the legal successor of Pakhoed, stated that promoting climate scepticism does not align with its donation policy and that no information could be found in the company’s archive that confirms a donation to Böttcher. Vopak emphasises that it underwrites concerns about climate change and it has an ‘active policy’ to ‘play a facilitating role in the energy transition’.
SHV Energy has found proof that the company supported the ‘Energy and Sustainable Development’ project financially. ‘SHV, in all its facets, focuses on sustainability and contributing to improving the climate. Denial or scepticism is not part of that,’ according to their spokesperson.
Amoco, Texaco, Fluor Daniel, Foundation BBMB, IISI, Mabanaft and the Lions Club have - despite repeated efforts - not commented. SEP’s legal successor, the Nederlands Elektriciteits administratiekantoor, is permanently closed. VNA was dissolved.