John Howard on climate change

You may read a full text in Spectator.

We are all aware of the climate enthusiasts, who advocate quite substantial, and costly, responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe. By employing a sanctimonious tone against people who do not share their view, they show their true colours: to them the cause has become a substitute religion.

Increasingly offensive language is used. The most egregious example has been the term “denier”. We are all aware of the particular meaning that word has acquired in contemporary parlance. It has been employed in this debate with some malice aforethought.

An overriding feature of the debate is the constant attempt to intimidate policy makers, in some cases successfully, with the mantras of “follow the science” and “the science is truly settled”.The purpose is to create the impression that there is really no room for argument; this is not really a public policy issue; it is one on which the experts have spoken, and we would all be quite daft to do other than follow the prescriptions, it is asserted, which flow automatically from the scientific findings…

I have always been something of an agnostic on global warming. I have never rejected, totally, the multiple expressions of concern from many eminent scientists, but the history of mankind has told me of his infinite capacity to adapt to the changing circumstances of the environment in which he lives. Most in this room with recall the apocalyptic warnings of the Club of Rome, more than 40 years ago. They were experts; they predicted that the world would run out of resources to sustain itself. They were wrong. Tragically food shortages still occur but sadly many, although not all of them, result from tyrants using starvation as a political weapon.

Australia is a resource rich country. Just as two years ago Canadians gave majority government to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who were pledged to a sensible use of its resources, so Australians have now elected a government with a pragmatic attitude on global warming, and a determination to treat our great mining industry as a prized asset. The high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed. My suspicion is that most people in countries like ours have settled into a state of sustained agnosticism on the issue. Of course the climate is changing. It always has. There are mixed views not only about how sustained that warming is – seemingly it has not warmed for the last 15 years, and also the relative contributions of mankind and natural causes. The views are anything but mixed about the soaring cost of electricity bills, with a growing consciousness that large subsidies are being paid for the production of renewable energy, with this having an increasingly heavy burden on low income earners…

Where are we left in this debate? From this agnostic’s viewpoint some broad conclusions can be drawn.

1. First principles tell us never to accept that all of the science is in on any proposition; always remain open to the relevance of new research.

2. Keep a sense of proportion, especially when it comes to generational burden-sharing. Nigel Lawson’s compelling point in his book An Appeal to Reason, that the present generation should not carry too heavy a burden so that future generations are only 8.4 times better off rather than 9.4 times wealthier, should be heeded by all policy makers. Even the IPCC estimates that global GDP per capita will increase 14 fold over this century, and 24 fold in the developing world.

3. Renewable energy sources should always be used when it makes economic sense to do so. The less that governments intervene the more likely it is that this will happen.

4. Nuclear energy must be part of the long term response. It is a clean energy source, has the capacity to provide base load power as an alternative to fossil fuel, and modern nuclear power stations have a sophisticated level of safety.

5. Always bear in mind that technology will continue to surprise us. I doubt that the expression “fracking” was widely known, let alone used five years ago…

Do compare what John Howard accepts in his speech with Australian Museum Eureka Award winner John Cook’s There is no such thing as climate change denial. In particular see Human activity continues to warm the planet over the past 16 years and Mark R’s How we discovered the 97% scientific consensus on man-made global warming.

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On Nigel Lawson: “Mr Howard spoke before the audience of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an organisation created by one of the UK’s known climate change sceptic, Nigel Lawson. Mr Lawson also served as a chancellor in the Thatcher government.”  George Pell has written for the GWPF!

One who was also involved in the Thatcher government but as a scientific adviser is Sir John Houghton, an evangelical Christian too, by the way.  Houghton reviewed Nigel Lawson’s Appeal to Reason in Nature in 2008.

Lawson, with rhetorical flourishes, addresses those of us who see more than a ‘grain of truth’ in global warming and wish to take responsible action towards its mitigation. He lumps us together with a motley mixture of those he labels as eco-fundamentalists or anti-globalization lobbyists. All of us are connected with what he calls a “mountain of nonsense” for which it appears the IPCC is responsible. May I urge Lord Lawson to espouse the cool reason and rigour for which he appears to be campaigning and respectfully suggest that he might begin with a course of reading of the IPCC reports.

There is also a PDF longer version of that review.

I found Nigel Lawson’s book neither cool nor rational. It possesses little of the ‘rare breath of intellectual rigour’ or the ‘hard headed examination of the realities’ as promised by Anthony Jay on the back cover. Let me explain why.
 
Early in the book, showing a surprising ignorance of elementary statistical analysis, much is made of the record of global average temperature in the first seven years of  this century. Taken by themselves they show no significant increase. Therefore, it is  argued the scientists must have it wrong. But even a casual inspection of the global  average temperature record from 1970 shows two things: first a clear increasing trend  of about 0.5 ºC over the whole period and secondly, a substantial year to year variability of the kind that is well known to climatologists. The latest years are not
unusual compared with the rest of the period. In fact, the seven 21st century years to 2007 are on average warmer by 0.09 ºC than the last seven years of the 20th century –  even though 1998 holds the overall record. Further, recent scientific understanding  connects a good proportion of the interannual variability to phases of the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon, a regular feature of the Pacific climatei

There are three particularly misleading messages emerging from Lawson’s book…

This, we are told, is really the only book John Howard read on the subject.

Mr Howard revealed that Mr Lawson’s book, An Appeal to Reason:  a Cool Look at Global Warming, was the only book he read about the topic. He said he read the book published in 2008 twice while he was writing his autobiography and when he used it to support his arguments against climate change.

What a damaging admission that is!

Another account of the Book of Nigel is from  Andrew Basden,  Professor of Human Factors and Philosophy in Information Systems at the Salford Business School, at the University of Salford in the UK. Of course he is no more a climate scientist than I am, or John Howard, or indeed Nigel Lawson.

Chapter 8. ‘Summary and Conclusion: A Convenient Religion’.

Message: Concern for climate change is a religion, which some politicians use to bolster their power and status.

After summarising his chapters, he suggests investment in new technologies that might counter global warming if it occurs, and a carbon tax that is optional. Climate concern is a religion. Politicians use it to get power and deference.

 

Response: Is not climate-skepticism just as much a religion as climate-concern? Are they not both ideological commitments? Is not Lawson enjoying the power and deference by his leadership position in the climate-skeptic movement that he accuses the politicians of?

Overall Response: Human beings are inescapably religious (or ideological) beings, always believing something and committing to something. The conflict between climate-concern and climate-skepticism is not primarily logical or scientific: it is religious, ideological. Our deepest beliefs and commitments determine how we respond to data and its uncertainties, and how we apply scientific findings. Lawson’s book should be read in the light of his religious-ideological commitment against climate concern. Only then can we understand why, for example, he employs deficient arguments (see the ‘Major Problems’ below) in a book entitled ‘An Appeal to Reason’.

My own religious commitment is to Jesus Christ and this leads me to responsibility to his world and to desire truth, love and humility.

Read on …

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