Archive for the ‘Lord Lawson’ Category
I would hereby like to draw together two separate pieces of research published last week:
Need 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 – reality seems no nearer to dawning on the people with the power to change the way things are done.
I have been very critical of the UK’s Coalition Government recently – and I am particularly concerned about the completely opposing views of Energy Secretary (John Hayes) and Climate Change Minister (Ed Davey). However, I am clearly not the only one who is concerned… As is made clear by this very significant article published on the website of The Independent newspaper on Monday:
The leaders of Britain’s nuclear, wind and tidal industries today put aside years of mutual suspicion and antipathy with an unprecedented joint appeal to ministers not to abandon their commitment to combat climate change…
John Hayes really needs to stop basing what he says on the completely discredited views of people like Lord Lawson and Christopher Monckton and start paying attention instead to what actual scientists say.
It is also good to see that Greenpeace may be willing to abandon its axiomatic rejection of nuclear power generation. However, I remain bemused as to why Dr Amory Lovins’ assertion (in Reinventing Fire) that we could survive on renewables alone is not taken seriously…
It is good to see unanimity in the face of Government duplicity. However, Carbon Capture ans Storage (CCS) is just fossil fuel industry propaganda to provide an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels. We may need the technology to help prevent an ecological catastrophe but, CCS should not be used as an excuse to perpetuate the insanity of burning all fossil fuels simply because they are there. Humanity must exercise some self-restraint and leave some fossil fuels in the ground. If we do not, our civilisation will go the same way as all those that have previously disappeared because they failed to respect the fact that their environment had a finite capacity to cope with the scale of their activities.
Since we now know this, failure to modify our behaviour will be the ultimate human folly.
(or is it the curse of Cassandra?)
Andrew Marr’s History of the World is the latest BBC programme featuring the eponymous presenter (although the word Human is clearly missing from the title somewhere). The second installment was broadcast in the UK on Sunday night and, I have to say, it was an improvement on the first. Some may ask, “If you thought the first was bad then why did you watch the second?” Well, the answer is that I was almost willing Andrew Marr to prove me wrong. You see, I suspect he is peddling a libertarian agenda; but I am hoping that he is not.
The first programme in the series covered the emergence of Homo sapiens from Africa 70,000 years ago – and their subsequent conquest of the entire planet (and the extinction of Neanderthals in the process) – up to the emergence of agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation 7,000 years ago. The worst thing about the programme was the repetitive – and almost subliminal – message that climate change is natural and we cannot stop it. Wheareas Marr emphasised the way in which Homo sapiens were almost wiped out by natural changes in climate; he appeared to gloss over a complementary truth: Modern civilisation only came about – and has only persisted – because of the relative stability of sea levels and temperature over that last 7,000 years. I suspect, therefore, that Marr has been having too many lunches with the likes of Lords Monckton and Lawson. Whatever the case may be, episode 1 does not seem to have impressed Tom Sutcliffe of The Independent newspaper either.
In the second programme, this ‘climate change is natural’ meme made a brief appearance at the start; only to be juxtaposed with the suggestion that, although nature has been a tough adversary, human beings are their own worst enemy. Even though I not misanthropic, I am much more content with this assertion than the one that says climate change is natural and/or we must adapt to it: This is an utterly fallacious argument that can only be sustained by ignoring the fact that the change now underway is much faster than all previous natural change because human activity is causing most of it.
Nevertheless, I think Andrew Marr redeemed himself somewhat in this second episode: With his usual amiable style of delivery, he talked the viewer through the history of human civilisation, visiting places like the Assyrian city of Nineveh, the Persian city of Babylon, the Lydian city of Sardis, and the Greek city of Athens. Also thrown into the mix were brief accounts of the rise and fall of the Phoenicians as a maritime trading empire; the emergence of Buddhism in India and of Confucism in China; and Alexander the Great’s admirable early attempts at cosmopolitanism and globalisation (nice ideas; shame about the outcome).
However, as indicated by the title of this post, the thing that grabbed my attention was the emergence of what we now call democracy in Greece (i.e. in Greek, Demos = people; and Cratos = power); and how contingent our concept of democracy is… If the Persians had not gone down to such a highly-implausible defeat in a battle 26 miles from Athens, we might be missing a lot more than just a name for the longest event on the athletics schedule at the Olympic games: Had the Persians beaten the Athenian army at Marathon, the course of human history would have been very different indeed!
So why have I focussed on the case of Socrates, who was effectively accused and convicted of being dangerously subversive in 399BC and, having been found guilty, was required to kill himself by drinking poison…? Well, leaving aside the bizarre method of “execution”, what exactly was his crime? According to Andrew Marr, Socrates merely raised questions regarding the limitations of democracy and/or how dissenters should be dealt with. According to Wikipedia (link above), Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of the city and of impious acts (namely “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities”). Socrates philosophical musings were clearly seen as subversive and anti-democratic. However, all Socrates appears to have been guilty of is being one of the first to recognise the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas. He basically challenged the notion that majority opinion will always be right; and championed the idea that expert opinions should carry more weight. He also held unusual religious views. He was, in essence, a free thinker, a non-conformist, and anti-Establishment.
Modern science has much for which it should be grateful to Socrates; and so have Environmentalists: In essence, environmentalism is the consequence of thinking outside the box; it arises from pursuing the consequences of science wherever they lead; and refusing to be prevented from reaching any particular conclusion simply because it may be politically inconvenient.
Nowadays, fortunately, those who challenge the received wisdom of our political leaders are not executed (by poisoning, hanging, beheading or any other unpleasant means). Unfortunately, however, we just seem to be ignored instead.
Therefore, even though all we are really doing is embracing the Newtonian reality that all actions have consequences (especially when it comes to issues surrounding waste, pollution, and recycling), we seem to have swapped the philosophical legacy of Socrates for the mythological curse of Cassandra (whom no-one would believe).
To mark the first anniversary of this blog, last Friday, I re-posted the first ever item on this blog, which summarised the inspiration for my MA dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK; and the results of my research into one of the groups studied – namely economists. At the end of the re-posted piece, I said that this (economics and/or “sceptical” economists) was a subject to which I would return this week. This is primarily because the last two of the six pillars of climate change denial are proving the hardest to demolish. For ease of reference, these six pillars are as follows (with their most common sound bytes in brackets):
1. Global warming is not happening (a.k.a. “global warming stopped in 1998”).
2. Global warming is not man-made (a.k.a. “the climate has always changed”).
3. Global warming is not significant (a.k.a. “less than 1oC after 250 years is no big deal”).
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad (a.k.a. “CO2 is plant food”).
5. Global warming is not a problem (a.k.a. “we will adapt” / “technology will save us”).
6. Global warming is not worth fixing (a.k.a. “we cannot afford to fix it” / “we cannot stop it”).
Most of the economists I researched for my MA were associated with the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA); with the most notable exception being co-Founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Lord Lawson. For those that are interested (and/or not familiar with the early days of this blog), I posted quite a bit in the latter months of 2011 about both the IEA and GWPF and, therefore, do not propose to re-post it all now. However, as intimated at the end of last Friday’s post, I would like to draw attention to the list of names on the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council:
Professor David Henderson (IEA economist)
Adrian Berry (Journalist – science)
Sir Samuel Brittan (Journalist – economics)
Sir Ian Byatt (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Robert Carter (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Vincent Courtillot (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Freeman Dyson (contrarian Physicist)
Christian Gerondeau (Economist)
Dr Indur Goklany (Economist)
Professor William Happer (contrarian Physicist)
Dr Terence Kealey (Biochemist)
Professor Anthony Kelly (Metallurgist)
Professor Deepak Lal (Economist)
Professor Richard Lindzen (contrarian Physicist)
Professor Ross McKitrick (Economist)
Professor Robert Mendelsohn (Economist)
Professor Sir Alan Peacock (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Ian Plimer (contrarian Geologist)
So, of these 18 advisors… 8 are economists, 3 are physicists, 3 are geologists, 2 are journalists, 1 is a biochemist and 1 is a metallurgist. Indeed, Lindzen is the only one who could claim to be anything close to a genuine climate scientist. Furthermore, in defence of my use of the term “contrarian”, I would defy anyone to prove that these individuals hold views that are anything other than those of an extreme minority within their respective professions.
Of course, this invites “sceptics” to claim that they are like Galileo but, fortunately, science has moved on from the Middle Ages; and it is no longer controlled by the Church of Rome. Furthermore, the only obscurantist and anti-intellectual entity today is the fossil fuel lobby – which now pays PR firms (such as Hill and Knowlton) to peddle misinformation and perpetuate doubt (just as it did for the tobacco industry).
As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, the GWPF was founded by economist Lord Lawson and social anthropologist Benny Peiser and – as is very clear from the above – it is focussed on economic arguments for inaction. However, along with the IEA, it is beginning to look increasingly anachronistic. Whist other similar think-tanks with an economic focus such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Taxpayers’ Alliance have conceded that climate change is happening, the IEA and GWPF continue to stick to the hardcore conspiracy theory that it is a politically-convenient false alarm.
Thankfully, I think the World is moving on and leaving dinosaurs like the IEA and GWPF behind. Most readers will probably be aware by now of the “we will adapt” position statement of Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobil). Clearly, Tillerson has conceded defeat on the demolition of Pillars 1 to 4 and, therefore, stands between Pillars 5 and 6 – like the Old Testament anti-hero Sampson – trying desperately to prevent the Temple of Denial from collapsing around him.
This is indeed encouraging but, all the same, I wish that someone like Tillerson could bring himself to see and/or admit that fossil fuels are history; renewable energy is the future and, as such, investment in it should be seen as affirmative action. Of course, as Bill McKibben recently highlighted in Rolling Stone magazine, there is one very good reason why Tillerson cannot do this: Fossil fuel companies are already trading on their future profits from burning all of the Earth’s fossil fuels. If they announced tomorrow that they were going to cease all exploration for unconventional sources (deep sea oil, shale gas, and tar sands), their share price would plummet even faster than that of a “rogue institution” such as Standard Chartered Bank.
I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and offer the World a definitive solution; but I can’t. All I can say is that I am not comfortable with the idea of gambling the future habitability of planet Earth on our ability to find a way to safely and permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere and artificially lock it away underground. This carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology may well prove essential but, it is simply not acceptable to use CCS as an excuse for not phasing out the use of fossil fuels in all forms of heating, cooling, power and transportation (with the reluctant exception of aviation where no obvious substitute exists).
The phase-out of fossil fuel use (wherever it can be substituted using existing technology) is something G20 Nations agreed to do 3 years ago (in Pittsburgh, PA) and, with every year that passes, the need to act becomes progressively more urgent. Despite the fanciful claims of the “sceptics”, it is no longer just supposed “alarmists” like James Hansen that say this: The International Energy Agency agrees; as do economists like Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus.
A transcript of my recent email to the Editors of the Daily Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspapers here in the UK…
Please don’t let your newspaper become anachronistic
Please forgive the unsolicited email, which I hope you will read and consider carefully as your future may depend upon it. I do not wish to alarm you but, with regard to climate change “scepticism”, I think it is fair to say that your newspaper is in danger of backing a loser.
I am therefore writing to you, as Editor of the [x] newspaper, because I value both the freedom and the balance of the British newspaper media. However, I believe that both these things will be in danger of being severely eroded by the increasingly self-evident ideological prejudice and selective blindness of leading commentators in our right-wing newspapers. I therefore fear that, if these people are not denied a platform soon, an entire section of our newspaper media is in danger of becoming anachronistic and irrelevant.
In these momentous times in which we live, I believe that we need newsprint journalism – and indeed all media – to hold our politicians to account; to highlight issues where special interests retain undue influence upon those politicians; to educate the general public on key subjects of common interest; and to campaign for a more representative and participatory form of democracy in this country. In your key role, I would hope that you share these aspirations. However, if you do, I would hereby wish to put it to you that such goals are not served by continuing to paint anthropogenic climate change as any or all of the following: a hoax, a new religion, a politically-motivated conspiracy, a scam, environmental alarmism, not a problem, not certain, not significant, and/or not worth fixing.
There is much I would like to say but in the interests of brevity, and in the hope that you will therefore read to the end of this letter, I will just say this: The temperature change over the last decade (or absence of it) is utterly irrelevant in the context of 7,000 years of stable climate and stable sea level. Similarly, the fact that the Earth has been much warmer than it is today in its distant past is utterly irrelevant in the context of the conditions to which all life on Earth is currently adapted. As I said on my blog recently: “There is simply no evidence for your left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).”
Therefore, if you do not change course, I believe that your newspaper – along with the Republican Party in the USA – will become an anti-scientific, anti-intellectual joke. I therefore hope that you will not let this happen; because we need a sensible alternative to unfettered socialism and/or a return to the financial irresponsibility of the last Labour government.
I should like to conclude by saying that I hope you will not see this letter as antagonistic but, rather, receive it as a piece of constructive criticism – and as an appeal to reason – from someone who would like you to join with me in being part of the solution to – rather than an obstacle to solving – some of humanity’s most pressing problems.
UPDATE 17 December 2011 (1500 hrs): For the record (i.e. Delingpole readers feel free to save this comment for posterity), it will be a bitter-sweet moment when I am proved right. However, any vestigial smugness will be completely eclipsed by annoyance over the consequences of climate change denial – the prevention of timely action to minimise the impact of AGW.
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.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is actually a very appropriately-named organisation; because it is advocating policies that will ensure global warming is maximised.
The GWPF was founded by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson (now formally known as Lord Lawson of Blaby) and social anthropologist Benny Peiser on 23 November 2009 (i.e. in the run-up to the UNFCCC COP15 summit in Copenhagen), declaring itself to be “…open-minded on the contested science of global warming [and] deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated…” (GWPF 2009). Therefore, as well as necessarily invoking conspiracy theory to dismiss most climate science as unreliable, this is also a very clear statement of what John Dryzek and others call Economic Rationalism.
Nigel Lawson published his Appeal to Reason in hardback (2008) and in paperback (2009) with an additional Afterword (but otherwise unchanged). The book contains a wide range of sceptical arguments but, in the 2009 Afterword (responding to his many critics) Lawson, despite acknowledging his own scientific illiteracy, still felt that it was legitimate to claim the “three greatest lies” to be that (1) the science is certain and settled; (2) global warming is actually happening; and (3) carbon dioxide is a pollutant (Lawson 2009, page 107).
In his former biographical entry on the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) website (http://www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis) Dr Benny Peiser was described as a social anthropologist with his research interests having been focused “…on the effects of environmental change and catastrophic events on contemporary thought and societal evolution”. Arguably, however, Peiser has become notorious (amongst climate scientists at least) for challenging research findings published by Naomi Oreskes and then having to retract his criticisms when they were shown to be invalid (De-Smog Blog). Despite this, he has continued to maintain that fears over global warming amount to “hysteria” subject to waning public concern due to so-called “issue fatigue”; and public cynicism regarding the motives of politicians espousing contentious policies (Peiser 2011).
There is much more to say about both Lawson and Peiser but I think it best to defer that to two separate future posts. However, I would like to conclude this sorry story by referring to the GWPF’s ludicrous decision to ask Chartered Accountant and Bishop Hill blogger Andrew Montford to produce a critique of the Climategate enquiries. (See my Category Index (above-right) for more detailed criticism of Andrew Montford and his totally fallacious Hockey Stick Illusion book.)
In the topsy-turvy sceptical world that people like Delingpole and Montford inhabit, it might not be that surprising that the GWPF would ask Montford to write a report into what they feel were 3 totally inadequate inquiries into the scientific research being undertaken by the UEA/CRU. However, unsurprisingly, Montford finds evidence of a state-sponsored conspiracy to provide excuse to tax people more heavily:
“With the government embarking upon a radical decarbonisation programme, global warming is one of the most important questions facing the people of the UK today… While attempts to hide the truth from the public might have worked in the past, they simply wilt under this kind of scrutiny” (page 6).
However, it would seem that, in reality, few people believed him. For example, Montford’s GWPF report was considered in a further review of the matter by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (The Reviews into the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit’s E-mails: First Report of Session 2010–11), which concluded (on 25 January 2011) that:
“The disclosure of data from CRU has been traumatic and challenging for all involved. While we have some reservations about the reviews which UEA commissioned, the key point is that they have made a number of constructive recommendations. In our view it is time to make the changes and improvements recommended and with greater openness and transparency move on” (page 4).
Anyone who doubts the legitimacy of these conclusions (upholding the original findings that found no reason to doubt the actual science) is, as conspiracy theorists always do, just widening the scope of the perceived cover-up to avoid dealing with reality. Furthermore, it would seem that this is still, even now, exactly what the GWPF is doing.
UPDATE (30 November 2011) – Despite repeated emails from me and a letter from Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, the GWPF has still not modified its position. Quite the opposite in fact; they are still content to cite the same discredited contrarian sources of prejudiced misinformation.