Let me clarify, I don’t “believe” in anthropogenic climate change, because it is not a religion. I simply accept that there is considerable scientific evidence that man-made climate change is happening, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help to mitigate against its effects.
So that’s my position clear then. And it seems that the UK Government agrees with this too. The evidence that climate change is accepted in parliament is manifold, for example…
- The government has had a Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) since 2008 – its mandate is to “ensure the UK has secure, clean, affordable energy supplies and promote international action to mitigate climate change”;
- It has accepted evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Lord Stern and others in policy statements;
- Just last week in The Telegraph, Prime Minister David Cameron publicly accepted climate change science by stating that man-made climate change poses one of the ‘greatest risks’ to the UK and the rest of the world;
- In response to the European Commission 2030 White Paper on climate change in January this year, Edward Davey, Secretary of State Energy and Climate Change said: “Today’s proposals are a step in the right direction towards an ambitious emissions reduction target for Europe.“
So this would suggest that there is a consensus within government that climate change exists, and that the debate has moved beyond the “Climate scientists – Yay! Climate sceptics – Nay!” But, no such luck… while the scientific evidence base grows, so too does the muscle of climate change deniers.
And in our recent floods we saw them come out in full force. There was Nigel Farage in his waders, smoking a fag and referring to the floods as “just weather”…
But leading the charge against the Met Office for making an “absurd” link between the floods and climate change, has been former chancellor Lord Lawson, noisily peddling his global warming scepticism on any media channel that will have him (including the BBC).
*** Across the land climate scientists collectively sigh… ****
Lawson’s climate change denial could be seen as an example of the unwelcome intrusion of politicians – even skilled politicians – into science, and his rhetoric has been described by climate scientists as ignorant and dangerous.
But while I agree that it is ignorant – and it may indeed be dangerous – I also think that it is arrogant for scientists to think that they can work in a vacuum, avoiding “unwelcome” intrusions from politicians.
Why so? Because it is the issue of what appropriate action to take to mitigate the effects of this climate change that is important now – and this is primarily a political problem. The debate in government has moved on to the best use of public funds (renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, nuclear, etc…), not the proof that climate change exists. And this is where it gets messy…
Even if there is clarity and consensus about the challenges of climate change within government (and I believe that there is), there is no such clarity on how to act to deal with it. There are multiple options, many of which become blindingly complex and present huge budgetary challenges. Everything proposed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change has to be approved by HM Treasury. And this is where Nigel Lawson does have legitimate expertise and influence on the current Treasury decision-making process.
So while he ain’t no scientist, nor is he a “nobody” in this debate. It is not just the scientists who matter in dealing with the evidence of climate change. Politicians’ interpretation of evidence is vitally important because it dictates how the public purse is spent. Nigel Lawson has very relevant experience of having to interpret scientific evidence and make budgetary decisions for where to deploy public funds (for good or for ill) as the former chancellor. What his polemic exposes is the inherent biases that he holds about climate change and the big issue is the powerful influence he wields within the treasury.
So, what I do “believe” is that scientists must learn about how politics works and that exposure to Lawson could be of vital interest to them if they are trying to influence government – exposing as it does the flaws and power dynamics in parliament, and the reasons why the use of public funds on climate change mitigation is always so hotly contested.