Wednesday, 28 May 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE: THE TROUBLE WITH NIGEL LAWSON


So, yesterday the once Chancellor presents his latest ‘essay’ on the familiar subject, ‘Global Warming is Good for You’.
The summary, which is presented as an Article at the GWPF, drew the Old Man’s attention, and so, helpfully, he thought to provide a little annotation or two to help the ‘Lay Reader’ traverse the words…
Date: 27/05/14 Nigel Lawson, Global Warming Policy Foundation
Climate change alarmism is a belief system, and needs to be evaluated as such.
Grains of truth and undermining. It is probable that some people who are alarmed about climate change are inclined to accept the evidence provided partly on faith, since they lack the academic tools to evaluate the science. But Climate change itself is the target here, and the implication is that there is no scientific basis on which to work, which is, of course, false. Where the old Man agrees with Lawson is that extreme views tend towards the irrational. Ore on this below.
There is something odd about the global warming debate — or the climate change debate, as we are now expected to call it, since global warming has for the time being come to a halt.
Yes, there is; first, there is no ‘debate’ about Global Warming/climate change, within science, only at the Policy end. And global warming has not come to a halt, so the last statement is a simple falsehood.
I have never shied away from controversy, nor — for example, as Chancellor — worried about being unpopular if I believed that what I was saying and doing was in the public interest.
It is actually mildly plausible that L. believes that he works in the public interest, but only insofar as we may imagine any politician does the same; of course they do, but idealism is rapidly driven out by the survival instinct in politics, and generally, we remain suspicious of politicians claiming to act from some noble altruistic motive. This is less to do with belief than with experience; we do not all forget the lessons of history…
But I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I — along with other dissenters, of course — have received for my views on global warming and global warming policies.
So, now L. has, perhaps, had a small taste of the experience meted out by those whom he encourages, to those whom he opposes. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him?
For example, according to the Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, the global warming dissenters are, without exception, “wilfully ignorant” and in the view of the Prince of Wales we are “headless chickens”. Not that “dissenter” is a term they use. We are regularly referred to as “climate change deniers”, a phrase deliberately designed to echo “Holocaust denier” — as if questioning present policies and forecasts of the future is equivalent to casting malign doubt about a historical fact.
Putting aside the obvious point that these people are simply using the terminology generally in use, rather than specifically implying malignity, that final word choice is an interesting one, because in this respect there is something important to understand; many of Lawson’s detractors probably do attribute a malign intent in his words and actions, which may be wrong, and even unfair, but is not entirely incomprehensible, given the track record enjoyed by, for example, the Koch ‘people’.
The heir to the throne and the minister are senior public figures, who watch their language. The abuse I received after appearing on the BBC’s Today programme last February was far less restrained. Both the BBC and I received an orchestrated barrage of complaints to the effect that it was an outrage that I was allowed to discuss the issue on the programme at all. And even the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons shamefully joined the chorus of those who seek to suppress debate.
At the time, it seemed like most of the complaints were about ‘false balance’, and the fact that a political figure was chosen to ‘debate’ what was meant to be a scientific discussion. This is a strange reversal of history, and was not about ‘suppressing debate’, as L. suggests, but about a presenting a balanced view of the current state of scientific knowledge and the (very small) voice of dissent within that context. No – not ‘suppresses debate’, but ‘demanding honesty and fairness’…
In fact, despite having written a thoroughly documented book about global warming more than five years ago, which happily became something of a bestseller, and having founded a think tank on the subject — the Global Warming Policy Foundation — the following year, and despite frequently being invited on Today to discuss economic issues, this was the first time I had ever been asked to discuss climate change. I strongly suspect it will also be the last time.
(Let’s hope the Beeb has got it out of its system. Personally, I think it might be interesting to invite Benny Peiser to discuss ‘the global warming debate’, since the result might actually be informative)
The BBC received a well-organised deluge of complaints — some of them, inevitably, from those with a vested interest in renewable energy — accusing me, among other things, of being a geriatric retired politician and not a climate scientist, and so wholly unqualified to discuss the issue.
Another amusing reversal – and also extremely unlikely. Who does L. believe ‘orchestrated’ the deluge of complaints? Perhaps it was one of those Renewable Energy companies which despoil the planet for profit… as for that final point, it seems less of an accusing than a simple (if impolite) statement. This isn’t accusing, this is simply blunt speech.
Perhaps, in passing, I should address the frequent accusation from those who violently object to any challenge to any aspect of the prevailing climate change doctrine, that the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s non-disclosure of the names of our donors is proof that we are a thoroughly sinister organisation and a front for the fossil fuel industry.
Well, yes, there are people who say this, but they aren’t necessarily ‘those who violently object to any challenge to any aspect of the prevailing climate change doctrine’. And who are these people anyway? Do they actually exist? It seems as if L. is creating a dragon to slay, by constructing a frightening and irrational antagonist. Note also the insertion of the term ‘doctrine’, just to emphasise the primary claim of irrationality which is the supposed basis of the article.
As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees decided, from the outset, that it would neither solicit nor accept any money from the energy industry or from anyone with a significant interest in the energy industry. And to those who are not-regrettably-prepared to accept my word, I would point out that among our trustees are a bishop of the Church of England, a former private secretary to the Queen, and a former head of the Civil Service. Anyone who imagines that we are all engaged in a conspiracy to lie is clearly in an advanced stage of paranoia.
Perhaps such a person is less paranoid than cynical. And this particular idea ‘conspiracy to lie’, appears to be a strawman. Perhaps L. should be grateful to those who, rather than presume he is, on this subject, being dishonest, are more inclined to believe him an idiot or fool, on the basis that what is, to them, self evident, is, to him, false, and vice versa. Given the choice between believing the global warming opinions of an atmospheric physicist or those of a bishop, one might be forgiven for imagining that the former is more rational.
The reason why we do not reveal the names of our donors, who are private citizens of a philanthropic disposition, is in fact pretty obvious. Were we to do so, they, too, would be likely to be subject to the vilification and abuse I mentioned earlier. And that is something which, understandably, they can do without.
This is not the place to raise the issue of personal privacy rights, and the comparative protections which exist for the ‘privileged’ and the ‘common person’. Suffice to say that ganders and geese really should share their sauce.
That said, I must admit I am strongly tempted to agree that, since I am not a climate scientist, I should from now on remain silent on the subject — on the clear understanding, of course, that everyone else plays by the same rules. No more statements by Ed Davey, or indeed any other politician, including Ed Milliband, Lord Deben and Al Gore. Nothing more from the Prince of Wales, or from Lord Stern. What bliss!
But of course this is not going to happen. Nor should it; for at bottom this is not a scientific issue. That is to say, the issue is not climate change but climate change alarmism, and the hugely damaging policies that are advocated, and in some cases put in place, in its name. And alarmism is a feature not of the physical world, which is what climate scientists study, but of human behaviour; the province, in other words, of economists, historians, sociologists, psychologists and — dare I say it — politicians.
In the same way that a ‘dissenter’ might object to the implications of using the term ‘denier’, a scientist who sees which way the cookie is crumbling and provides observations of said cookie, might object to the implication that  such observations are ‘alarmist’, ie, irrational. But of course, this is not ablout the science, because the science contradicts L. consistently and irrevocably.
And en passant, the problem for dissenting politicians, and indeed for dissenting climate scientists for that matter, who certainly exist, is that dissent can be career-threatening. The advantage of being geriatric is that my career is behind me: there is nothing left to threaten.
Indeed, one who embraces the motley is likely to be imagined a jester.
But to return: the climate changes all the time, in different and unpredictable (certainly unpredicted) ways, and indeed often in different ways in different parts of the world. It always has done and no doubt it always will. The issue is whether that is a cause for alarm — and not just moderate alarm. According to the alarmists it is the greatest threat facing humankind today: far worse than any of the manifold evils we see around the globe which stem from what Pope called “man’s inhumanity to man”.
So let’s summarise the GWPF’s world view then: global warming is just natural (ho, hum). Is it a cause for alarm? On appropriate timescales, the inevitable collapse of the WAIS might be considered to be a bit worrying, for example, but really, the number and depth of the changes wrought by GW, and the uncertainties over the speed and severity of systemic step-changes (tipping points), are simply far too numerous to list. You’ll note the clever insertion of the word ‘today’. On its own, this one word reveals the basis of the GWPF’s arguments, and the fundamental misunderstanding of why global warming is a problem. It isn’t about today, never was.  It’s about tomorrow, on which subject, the GWPF is often relatively quiet.
Climate change alarmism is a belief system, and needs to be evaluated as such.
Some types of extreme alarmism seem to function in this way, but the kind of concerns reiterated over the past 20 years (50 years?) and more about where our actions and choices are leading us are derived from scientific observation and practice and provide an evidence base so large that ignoring it does, in the end, look like wilful ignorance after all.
The Old Man’s final thoughts on this, for now?

Global Warming dissent, being less based on science, and more on personal prejudice, has many more characteristics of a belief system than its converse, but this misses the point, as the GWPF does. Forget your dislike of wind farms, Mr Lawson, and your faith in the generation of wealth to bypass any ‘problems’ which might arise. Instead, ask yourself how genuinely rational you are being.

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