Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Lawson’s unreasonable appeal

with 6 comments

In my post last week about the aptly-named Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), I said I would elaborate on both of its founders. This then, is the first of two such posts, on Nigel Lawson, who experienced considerable difficulty in finding a publisher for his manuscript for An Appeal to Reason: A cool look at global warming in 2008. However, praised by climate “sceptics”, it proved quite popular and, in 2009, was reprinted in paperback with a new Afterword (which is also discussed below) responding to its scientific critics.

However, taking Lawson’s work in the order it was published, the first thing to note is the list of those who helped review early drafts of the text: This includes 4 prominent authors associated with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) (i.e. Samuel Brittan, Ian Byatt, David Henderson, and Julian Morris); Australian geologist Bob Carter (Climate Realists); and prominent American “sceptic” Richard Lindzen (Cato and Heartland Institutes).

On the very first page of the Introduction to his book, despite admitting he is not a scientist, Lawson jumps straight in with criticism of scientists by equating current concern over AGW with that of the late 1960s and early 1970s regarding fears of mass global starvation, running out of natural resources, and of an approaching disaster of a new ice age. He then makes a very bold but completely unsubstantiated claim that:
…the great majority of those scientists who speak with such certainty and apparent authority about global warming and climate change, are not in fact climate scientists, or indeed earth scientists, of any kind, and thus have no special knowledge to contribute” (p. 1-2).

Referring to his time “in a not wholly unrelated field” as Energy Secretary in the early 1980s, Lawson states his view that politicians must balance the advice of scientists about “what is happening and why” with an understanding of economics to “tell us what governments should be doing about it”. With regard to the latter, he cites the need to consider economic growth forecasting (including energy intensity/demands); cost benefit analysis; global politics; and ethics (p. 2).

Chapter 1 is entitled ‘The Science – and the History’, but there is no mention of Svante Arrhenius or Charles Keeling, just another bold statement that “the science of global warming is far from settled” (p. 5). However, in support of this claim, Lawson cited the 2005-06 report of a House of Lords Select Committee (of which he was a member), which has, in light of accumulating evidence of accelerating change (e.g. summer melting of Arctic sea ice), already been shown to be wrong.

There then follows very selective use of global climate data (with no explanation of the complexity of measurements or complicating factors), from which it is clear that he disputes that the climate is still changing (p. 7-9). This is, of course, the first of the possible positions that “sceptics” adopt cited by Robert Henson in The Rough Guide to Climate Change (2008: 257 [see yesterday’s post]). Next , Lawson makes clear that he does not deny that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (GHG) but does dispute its importance as such (p. 10). However, to do so, it is necessary to ignore (or be ignorant of) the fact that logic alone would imply that the release into the atmosphere of 3 million years-worth of fossilised carbon per year is extremely likely to have a significant destabilising effect on the dynamic equilibrium of a carbon cycle that has maintained a relatively stable environment on Earth for tens of millions of years.

Citing the way in which the media tend to report the issue, Lawson then suggests that the IPCC has mutated from “a fact-finding and analytical exercise” into a “politically correct alarmist pressure group” (p. 12). Although the “alarmist” label is used frequently throughout the book, this use seems particularly unfair, given the fact that IPCC reports are the product of an extremely robust internal and external review process, which invariably results the least-alarming phraseology possible being retained (see Biello 2007).

The explanation for the inconsistent rise of global average temperatures despite consistent and accelerating anthropogenic GHG emissions given by the IPCC (e.g. the global cooling effect of atmospheric pollution between 1940 and 1975) is dismissed as “pure conjecture” (p. 14); and relying heavily upon the analysis of the IEA, Lawson is equally dismissive of the Stern Review in 2006 (i.e. as “essentially a propaganda exercise in support of the UK government’s predetermined policy”; and “neither its conclusions nor the arguments on which they are based possess much merit”). As such, Lawson equates it with the 2002 “dodgy dossier” on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, and warns of the danger of “being panicked into what could be disastrously damaging action” (p. 21).

Unsurprisingly perhaps, it is clear that Lawson’s guiding principle is the last of Henson’s propositions (i.e. that we “shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem”). However, this book is in fact an attempt to instil doubt in the minds of the reader regarding every facet of research into AGW. As such, it has inadvertently followed Henson’s caricature of denialism from start to finish. Furthermore, the method of argumentation used throughout is emotional rather than scientific (e.g. the repeated use of labels such as “alarmist” or “alarmism” for “proponents of” – or “adherents to” – “belief” in AGW). Therefore one thing it most certainly is not is a “cool look” at the subject. In addition, whilst Lawson is happy to accuse these “alarmists” of “cherry-picking” data, he is very careful to hide the one-sided nature of the sceptical cherry-picked analysis of the science (by non-scientists at the IEA) on which he generally relies. Given his opening remarks regarding the nature of the “debate”, this is deeply ironic.

With regard to the Afterword added to the 2009 paperback edition of the book, Lawson repeats that he is not competent to pronounce on the validity of the science; and states…“I explicitly make it clear that, to be on the safe side, it would be prudent to act as if [the view that AGW is real] were correct…”. However, in the very next paragraph, he then highlights the “three greatest lies” as being that (1) the science is certain and settled; (2) global warming is actually happening; and (3) carbon dioxide is a pollutant (p.107). These are all issues covered in the book but, again, it is the rhetorical language that is particularly telling: Despite his apparent humility over his non-scientific background, he attempts to discredit the science without acknowledging why the majority of scientists take a different view. For example, with regard the latter of these 3 “lies”, he fails to note that both the UK and European Environment Agencies treat excess atmospheric carbon dioxide as a pollutant because of its potential to cause acidification of seawater and to disrupt the dynamic equilibrium (between natural carbon sources and sinks); thereby causing AGW (e.g. see the Environment Agency website).

Therefore, despite his lack of scientific credentials, Lawson repeats his assertion that global warming “has stopped” (a favourite argument of “sceptics”). Moreover, he asserts that “true believers” in climate change are the ones “in denial”, guilty of “perverse behaviour”, and followers of a “new religion” (p. 109). However, this is just a re-statement of IEA propaganda. Therefore it seems clear to me that, having decided what he wants to believe, Lawson set out to find “evidence” to support his pre-determined position; as did the atheist Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means in 1938.

This is quite simply an ideologically-prejudiced refusal to accept the reality that what humanity is currently doing to the planet is not sustainable. It is a victory of short-termism over reason; and it will not end well.

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6 Responses

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  1. Lawson then suggests that the IPCC has mutated [...] into a “politically correct alarmist pressure group”

    Due, arguably, to the influence of political correctness, the one thing that the IPCC, up to now, has not been, is ‘alarmist’. Given the number of reports I’ve seen lately about how the predictions made by the IPCC have in fact seriously underestimated the potential impact of AGW, I wonder whether the next report, will contain some more realistic predictions. (Somehow I doubt it: as evidence builds, I suspect that political pressure will shift from “we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem” to something along the lines of “we don’t want to risk starting any panics that might wreck the economy…”.)

    “Alarmism”? “Belief”? Well, there’s one thing I do believe, and that is that you ain’t seen nothing yet…

    pendantry

    10 October 2011 at 18:26

    • Re: the conservative nature of IPCC reports, thanks for highlighting its importance but, this is exactly the point made by David Biello (2007) in his Scientific American article, entitled ‘Conservative Climate: Consensus document may understate the climate change problem‘ (see above link in my original text).

      Martin_Lack

      11 October 2011 at 09:32

  2. [...] Furthermore, in seeking to defend himself he also cites (non-scientist) Lawson’s Appeal to Reason as his excuse, as a layman unable “to reach a confident view”; for assuming that AGW is a [...]

  3. [...] being good examples: The Global Warming Policy Foundation The Institute of Economic Affairs Lord (Nigel) Lawson of Blaby Lord (Christopher) Monckton of Brenchley Benny Peiser Conservative Euro and Climate sceptics Graham [...]

  4. [...] I say more? Sadly, yes, because – with people like Lord Lawson and Benny Peiser influencing the policy of the current Chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne [...]


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