Monday, 19 May 2014

The continuing politicisation of the climate change debate

It seems your political viewpoint determines your viewpoint on climate change:
Futures Forum: Climate Change: the film
Futures Forum: The national press and the IPCC report... and Climate Change

Last week, the Telegraph highlighted the case of climate scientist Lennart Bengtsson who "was forced to leave his position on the advisory board of a think-tank after he was subjected to "McCarthy" style pressure from other scientists" - having "challenged the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)"  because "a paper was rejected on the basis it might advance the argument of climate sceptics."

The Times has also covered the story, reporting that "Mike Hulme, professor of climate and culture at King’s College London, condemned fellow scientists for “harassing” Prof Bengtsson, and gave warning that climate science had become too political." In fact, the Times ran a leader last week condemning "the bullying of climate change sceptics." As the editor noted: "His decision two weeks ago to join the academic advisory board (on which I also sit, unremunerated) of Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation was greeted with fury by many fellow climate scientists."

It seems, therefore, that: "According to the Mail and The Times, a paper submitted by Bengtsson to Environmental Research Letters, was rejected by the journal not because it was bad science, but because of political "intolerance of dissenting views on climate science" among climate scientists." The Guardian journalist Nafeez Ahmed followed these allegations up: "I asked Prof Bengtsson to substantiate his allegations by clarifying the number of scientists who had allegedly been pressurising him to the point that he feared for his safety. I also requested to see the full text of the reports of the scientists who had peer-reviewed his rejected study due its scientific "errors." He did not respond to my request for comment. Thankfully, IOP Publishing has decided to make the full reviewer reports publicly available so that we can all see why Bengtsson's paper was really rejected."

And the Guardian has been very critical of the GWPF, suggesting the "Global Warming Policy Foundation campaigning move is deeply cynical". It asks, rather if "science has finally won the debate" even though the "IPCC reports [were] 'diluted' under 'political pressure' to protect fossil fuel interests". This weekend, meanwhile, it carried a big piece: "Global warming: it's a point of no return in West Antarctica. What happens next?"

However, not everyone is convinced. Clive James recently made a plea to "spare me TV's climate change experts" in his column in the Telegraph: "In Australia, climate change experts are not hard to find. Indeed it is very hard to keep them out of your car: unless you wind the window all the way up, one of them will climb in. This climate change expert was called Tim. Armed with his ability to read the future, Tim predicted that any dry area of the Murray-Darling system was 'an indication of what’s coming', and that 'what Australia is experiencing here now' would eventually be experienced by 'hundreds of millions of people around the world'."

Which brings us to perceptions of climate change Down Under. The Guardian is no fan of the Murdoch press, with the above article entitled: "Murdoch-owned media hypes lone metereologist's climate junk science". And there was a rather droll analysis of "The Australian quantum theory of climate denial" in the Guardian earlier this month: "Murdoch's [newspaper] The Australian is a prime example, having in recent months run stories claiming that global warming isn't happening, is happening but isn't due to carbon dioxide emissions, and is happening, is due to carbon dioxide, but isn't anything to worry about. Two of those articles were written by Bjorn Lomborg, a favorite of The Australian. Just a few days ago, the newspaper published another Lomborg piece, this one blaming virtually all of the world's problems on renewable energy. Fossil fuels are lovely – status quo it is!"

Last month, the Guardian attacked the US media network Breitbart, which is coming to Britain: "What climate denial, oil addiction and xenophobia have in common: Neocons". On the other hand, the Spectator's James Delingpole ("officially the world’s best political blogger") has asked "Why are journalists so scared of giving people what they want?" 

Breitbart, has meanwhile been challenging the Guardian's reporting with recent articles such as UK Guardian: 'Climate Change' to Blame for Boko Haram and Nigerian Girls' KidnappingClimate Change 'as Certain as Auschwitz,' Claims Guardian and Lying About Climate Change To Advance The Green Agenda Is Good, Says Peer-Reviewed Paper.

And yet these same organs are willing to countenance the 'other' viewpoint. 
On the one hand: Bjørn Lomborg: the climate-centric agenda is squeezing out other issues (Guardian). 
And on the other: Al Gore: 'There's an Enforced Orthodoxy' in the GOP over Climate Change (Breitbart); Winter deluges may become the norm for Britain (Telegraph); Australian coal bonanza may provoke a climate catastrophe (Times).

More importantly, perhaps, is that non-media organistions with no particular 'political stance' are addressing climate change and the perceived threats. 

For example: How to manage floods in the coming years:


> Exeter City Council has in place several measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

> Devon County Council's Strategic Flood Risk Assessment starts from the basis that "National planning policy highlights the primacy of sustainability and, in particular, protection from climate change. This stresses that authorities need to mitigate and adapt to projected impacts, including the likelihood of increased flood risk."

> Southampton University has looked at the changing geology of Chesil Beach.

> From Exeter University, Professor Tim Lenton’s Climate Change MOOC Blog is quite open about the current debates: "Hence some experts have started to talk about ‘adaptation tipping points’ – points at which under a steadily changing climate it becomes no longer feasible (or affordable) to keep pursuing the same adaptation strategy – like building ever higher sea defences. At such tipping points, a major change of strategy is needed, and the damages due to climate change and their human and monetary costs may abruptly increase. As some of you have spotted, there are already whispers of “managed retreat” from certain flooded parts of the UK. Lest you think I am just a dispassionate academic commenting on this, picture the scene as I sat in my sister’s kitchen last Sunday afternoon watching the waves on a sea of inland water that has been covering my brother-in-law’s farmland in the Severn flood plain since Christmas Eve. Managed retreat has human consequences."

> The River Otter Restoration Project in its Pebblebed Heaths study notes the increase in flooding: "There is now a distinct chance that in a severe flooding and/or tidal surge event, the embankments might collapse altogether, allowing the sea to pour unchecked into the previously reclaimed part of the floodplain. This could have severe environmental and social impact through, for example, the erosion of an old dump site sited within the floodplain. Rather than for this to happen in a potentially catastrophic manner there is a strong argument for the process to be managed for wildlife and public benefit through a ‘controlled retreat’ This could build natural resilience to future climate change, increase the area of high quality coastal habitats and improve the ecological health of the estuary."


> The Met Office has analysed the Winter storms, December 2013 to January 2014;

> The RSPB makes these points: "While no-one can say for sure that these particular floods are caused by climate change, milder, wetter winters have been predicted for some time (see here) and the frequency of extreme weather events is increasing. The risk of flooding is here to stay. This knowledge should guide future investment in flood risk management (there is no bottomless pit of public money as Professor Dieter Helm pointed out this weekend see here) and should influence the type of farming and land use we (and wildlife) need in the future."

> The UK water and wastewater industry Water Briefing website carries very straight-forward pieces on Flooding and Flood Defence - including insurance risk, news on flood defences and resilience to flooding, and the latest in enhanced flood modelling techniques

> Network Rail has been busy with a Climate Change Adaptation Report: It is considered likely that all the predicted incremental changes in the climate as well as increased frequency of extreme weather events will impact on the components of the rail system. Consequently, most of Network Rail‟s roles, responsibilities and functions will be affected


When it comes to political standpoints, how you view Margaret Thatcher is particularly fraught. 

"On November 8th 1989, she addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations about the need for nations to join together in tackling climate change.
It was a groundbreaking speech where she eloquently set out the case for international action and argued for an ongoing role for the IPCC. Indeed, some would argue that the IPCC owes its existence to the support that Thatcher gave it at that time."
How Margaret Thatcher led the way on climate change – Opinion – ABC Environment (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Here is the Prime Minister raising the issue of climate change:

Climate Change History - Margaret Thatcher - Speech on Global Environment to UN (1989) - YouTube

The last word, however, goes to Christopher Brooker of the Telegraph:

Was Margaret Thatcher the first climate sceptic?

Margaret Thatcher was the first leader to warn of global warming - but also the first to see the flaws in the climate change orthodoxy

A persistent claim made by believers in man-made global warming – they were at it again last week – is that no politician was more influential in launching the worldwide alarm over climate change than Margaret Thatcher. David Cameron, so the argument runs, is simply following in her footsteps by committing the Tory party to its present belief in the dangers of global warming, and thus showing himself in this respect, if few others, to be a loyal Thatcherite.

The truth behind this story is much more interesting than is generally realised, not least because it has a fascinating twist. Certainly, Mrs Thatcher was the first world leader to voice alarm over global warming, back in 1988, With her scientific background, she had fallen under the spell of Sir Crispin Tickell, then our man at the UN. In the 1970s, he had written a book warning that the world was cooling, but he had since become an ardent convert to the belief that it was warming, Under his influence, as she recorded in her memoirs, she made a series of speeches, in Britain and to world bodies, calling for urgent international action, and citing evidence given to the US Senate by the arch-alarmist Jim Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

She found equally persuasive the views of a third prominent convert to the cause, Dr John Houghton, then head of the UK Met Office. She backed him in the setting up of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, and promised the Met Office lavish funding for its Hadley Centre, which she opened in 1990, as a world authority on "human-induced climate change".

Hadley then linked up with East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to become custodians of the most prestigious of the world's surface temperature records (alongside another compiled by Dr Hansen). This became the central nexus of influence driving a worldwide scare over global warming; and so it remains to this day – not least thanks to the key role of Houghton (now Sir John) in shaping the first three mammoth reports which established the IPCC's unequalled authority on the subject.

In bringing this about, Mrs Thatcher played an important part. It is not widely appreciated, however, that there was a dramatic twist to her story. In 2003, towards the end of her last book, Statecraft, in a passage headed "Hot Air and Global Warming", she issued what amounts to an almost complete recantation of her earlier views.

She voiced precisely the fundamental doubts about the warming scare that have since become familiar to us. Pouring scorn on the "doomsters", she questioned the main scientific assumptions used to drive the scare, from the conviction that the chief force shaping world climate is CO2, rather than natural factors such as solar activity, to exaggerated claims about rising sea levels. She mocked Al Gore and the futility of "costly and economically damaging" schemes to reduce CO2 emissions. She cited the 2.5C rise in temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period as having had almost entirely beneficial effects. She pointed out that the dangers of a world getting colder are far worse than those of a CO2-enriched world growing warmer. She recognised how distortions of the science had been used to mask an anti-capitalist, Left-wing political agenda which posed a serious threat to the progress and prosperity of mankind.

In other words, long before it became fashionable, Lady Thatcher was converted to the view of those who, on both scientific and political grounds, are profoundly sceptical of the climate change ideology. Alas, what she set in train earlier continues to exercise its baleful influence to this day. But the fact that she became one of the first and most prominent of "climate sceptics" has been almost entirely buried from view.

Was Margaret Thatcher the first climate sceptic? - Telegraph

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