Monday, 4 March 2013

A trick of the right

As today’s the start of Climate Week it’s a good time to explore how those doubting climate change operate and especially Nigel Lawson’s Global Warning Policy Foundation (GWPF).

There is now substantial consensus in the scientific community on both the facts of climate change, and man’s role in accelerating it.  Last year two American scientists sent a questionnaire to 10,000 scientists, all in disciplines related to climatology. (Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change - Doran - 2012 - Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union - Wiley Online Library). They received 3,000 replies, in answer to two basic questions, in summary: 
  1. Have global temperatures generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant since 1800?
  2. Is human activity a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
90% of participants answered “risen” to question 1 and 82% answered yes to question 2. And, ‘…as the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, so does agreement with the two primary questions.’ In other words, the more people actually understand about the climate, the more likely they are to think that global warming is still occurring, and at least partly man-made.

Yet a number of well-funded foundations and think tanks continue to provide platforms for those who dispute man’s contribution and/or deny that the climate’s even changing.  These foundations are understandably coy about where their funding comes from.  The GWPF, founded and chaired by former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson, claims that it is ‘…funded overwhelmingly by voluntary donations from a number of private individuals and charitable trusts’, and that it ‘…does not accept gifts from either energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company.’  But beyond that Lawson has refused to disclose the names of donors. 

The website claims that it ‘…does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming.’  Its main focus is on ‘…global warming policies and their economic and other implications.’  And there’s the real clue.  Of the foundation’s 20-strong academic advisory, eight have an economics background.   The rest come from a wide range of scientific disciplines but only three are actually in fields directly related to climatology.

One of its missions is to ensure the ‘…media become more balanced in its coverage of climate change,’ though it doesn’t feel the need to display any balance itself.  A search of its site only finds articles hostile to renewables, and nothing but uncritical acclaim for coal-fired power stations, shale gas and nuclear energy.  And despite the lack of an ‘official’ view about the science, the only ‘scientific’ material SIC could find on the website expressly denies not just man’s contribution, but the fact of global warming itself.  The foundation is promoting the idea of ‘global warming standstill’, since some have claimed that for the last few years global temperatures have stopped rising.  There’s not space here to deal with the complexities about that – but it’s an issue to which we’ll return. For those with an appetite for complex statistics look at Fake skeptic draws fake picture of Global Temperature | Open Mind

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, attacked Lawson in a lecture last year, among other things, for his ‘ideological’ approach to climate change (a charge Lawson strenuously denied).   Readers can judge for themselves about that, but it does seem a strange coincidence that the vast majority of climate change deniers come from the neo-liberal free market right.   And concern about interference in the market (for which read getting in the way of multi-national energy companies) seems more important to them than the facts of global warming itself.

And that of course is the real role played by bodies like GWPF (and many more like them in the US). By casting doubts on the reality of climate change, they create confusion in the public mind (assisted by the Telegraph, Mail and Express), and thereby give the government an alibi for backing off carbon savings policies (remember ‘the greenest government ever’?).   
It’s a trick of the right we’re seeing all the time at the moment: defining problems away so we don’t need to deal with them. The government is changing the definition of child poverty, conveniently disguising the fact it’s on the increase.  Fewer people will be classified as having disabilities thanks to the new Work Capability Assessments, which will justify reducing services for the disabled.  And if global temperatures aren’t rising, we don’t need to worry about carbon emissions, so who needs wind turbines?