Sammy Wilson MP – an ex-Environment Minister
Apart from Graham Stinger (a former chemist) – and Classics graduate Lord Monckton (who has turned climate change scepticism into an art form) – all sceptical UK politicians have a background in economics and/or business. As it is the economic arguments against taking action to address ongoing climate change that seem most resistant to being repeatedly debunked by people like Sir Nicholas Stern, I suspect this is not a coincidence. Furthermore, apart from Graham Stringer, all but one of the openly-sceptical MPs in the UK is a Conservative Euro-sceptic as well (more on this tomorrow).
The only other non-Conservative is the Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson MP, who is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since Wilson is clearly very intelligent, and a very dedicated and successful politician, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his sceptical views on climate change have been prejudiced by his acceptance of these economic arguments. Indeed, his faith in the rightness of his own judgement is clearly very strong but, just as we cannot all be better-than-average car drivers (Ben Goldacre), so at least 49% of us must have worse-than-average ability to be objective. Here is his story:
Sammy Wilson’s autobiographical entry on his website makes it clear that he has an economics background; and entered Parliament after a short but very successful career in the Education sector (and first entering public service as a Belfast City Councillor in 1981).
In June 2008, Wilson became Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister and, right from the start, was not afraid to make it clear he was “sceptical that all climate change is caused by CO2 emissions” (BBC News, 10 June 2008). Within months, not surprisingly perhaps, he was in trouble with green campaigners for describing their view on climate change as a “hysterical pseudo-religion“; adding that he believed it occurred naturally and was not man-made. However, he also said he believed that resources “should be used to adapt to the consequences of climate change, rather than King Canute-style vainly trying to stop it” (BBC News, 5 September 2008). On New Year’s Eve that year, despite ongoing criticism, he was still adamant that: “Spending billions on trying to reduce carbon emissions is one giant con that is depriving third world countries of vital funds to tackle famine, HIV and other diseases… I think in 20 years’ time we will look back at this whole climate change debate and ask ourselves how on earth were we ever conned into spending the billions of pounds which are going into this without any kind of rigorous examination of the background, the science, the implications of it all” (as reported in the Belfast Telegraph [emphasis mine]). Wilson, is clearly a believer in the UN/WMO/IPCC conspiracy theory of Fred Singer, Andrew Montford, and many others…
As evidence of how the Internet enables comments by public figures in local government to be seized upon as legitimising propaganda by those with vested interests anywhere in the world, within a week, this interview was reproduced in full on an American website (i.e. the West Virginia Coal Association). However, within weeks, Wilson was also facing a vote of no confidence in the Northern Ireland assembly (BBC News, 12 Feb 2009); although the DUP leadership declared their continuing support for him. However, within months, Wilson had been moved to the Ministry of Finance and Personnel (BBC News, 22 June 2009).
One could be forgiven for thinking that Wilson just likes being controversial but, if so, surely he would have at least toned-down the rhetoric after being removed from his post as Environment Minister? However, quite the reverse is true. For example, in a New Year’s message to readers of his blog in 2011, he began by confusing weather and climate (as many others like Christopher Booker have also done); claimed that global warming has stopped (as trumpeted by numerous sceptical organisations in the US); and claimed that this “has caused the Global warming fanatics to hide, change and make up data to back their increasing threadbare theories of world climate”. Furthermore, his website retains a very full and frank summary of his views on the subject:
“Our climate is changing; there is little doubt that global warming had taken place in the last 30 years of the 20th century. However actual evidence (not forecasted computer models) now shows us that the earth has actually been cooling since 1998. I dispute the theory, and it is only a theory, that the world is warming due to CO2 emissions and other human activity. Throughout the history of the earth temperatures have fluctuated, and we know this due to records which state that grapes used to be able to be grown in Scotland during Roman times and ice skaters could be seen on the Thames during the Victorian era. We have witnessed a period of global warming towards the end of the 20th century and we are now entering into a cooler period. These have occurred due to the natural variations in the temperature of the planet, not because of human activity.”
This is almost a verbatim repetition of the views of Dr S Fred Singer in Unstoppable Global Warming but, it does not matter how many times they are repeated, they are still wrong: What is now happening is not like anything that has happened before; because we humans are pumping at least 100 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s volcanoes combined.
I think the main thing we can learn from all of this is that Wilson – and many others like him – is imprisoned by his own ideology; his adherence to Adam Smith’s free market economics (despite the fact that we do not live on the frontier to a New World of boundless opportunity) prejudices him against accepting that Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is unfolding in front of our eyes (because, in the absence of a New World frontier, the utopian fantasy of pursuing perpetual growth cannot have a happy ending).