“The doomsters’ favorite subject today is climate change. This has a number of attractions for them. First, the science is extremely obscure so they cannot easily be proved wrong. Second, we all have ideas about the weather: traditionally, the English on first acquaintance talk of little else. Third, since clearly no plan to alter climate could be considered on anything but a global scale, it provides a marvelous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism.” – Margaret Thatcher (2002)
Margaret Thatcher changed her mind on climate alarmism–against. Current UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, responding to “populist sentiment,” is backtracking on his country’s aggressive climate policies, a long overdue, pragmatic mid-course correction.
One could tie the two events together to explain why public policies making energy more expensive and less reliable are anathema for a country that produces only one percent of global emissions. But in an article for Yale Environment 360, “Why Is Britain Retreating from Global Leadership on Climate Action?,” journalist Fred Pearce does the exact opposite.
Boo! Do read Pearce’s The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming (2010), a level-headed analysis of Climategate (review here). One longs for the old Fred Pearce, who has a scholarly side that seems to have eroded in the service of his sponsors.
Here is what Pearce stated last week about Thatcher:
In 1988, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became the first world leader to take a stand on fighting climate change. Last month, exactly a quarter-century later, her successor Rishi Sunak tore up a cross-party consensus on the issue that had survived the intervening eight general elections and replaced it with a populist assault on what had been his own government’s environmental policies.
Thatcher, who trained as a chemist before entering politics, took her stand at a packed meeting of the country’s most prestigious science body, the Royal Society, on September 27, 1988. She told the assembly that “we are creating a global heat trap which could lead to climate instability” and promised action to curb global warming and achieve “stable prosperity”.
That speech marked the start of 25 years during which Britain led the world in cutting its carbon dioxide emissions, which are today 47 percent below 1990 levels.
But Thatcher’s advocacy on climate change was genuine and had far-reaching consequences. In 1990, she established the Hadley Centre for Climate Research, an early hothouse for climate-change modeling, whose work subsequently underpinned the newly established UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC has twice been chaired by British scientists, most recently with the appointment of Jim Skea of Imperial College London in July.
The Rest of the Story
Margaret Thatcher set the story straight in her 2002 memoir, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (New York: HarperCollins). Thatcher, in fact, declared war against “the doomsters’ favorite subject … climate change.”
Here is her full reconsideration (pp. 449–50):
The doomsters’ favorite subject today is climate change. This has a number of attractions for them. First, the science is extremely obscure so they cannot easily be proved wrong. Second, we all have ideas about the weather: traditionally, the English on first acquaintance talk of little else.
Third, since clearly no plan to alter climate could be considered on anything but a global scale, it provides a marvelous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism. All this suggests a degree of calculation. Yet perhaps that is to miss half the point. Rather, as it was said of Hamlet that there was method in his madness, so one feels that in the case of some of the gloomier alarmists there is a large amount of madness in their method.
Indeed, the lack of any sense of proportion is what characterizes many pronouncements on the matter by otherwise sensible people. Thus President Clinton on a visit to China, which poses a serious strategic challenge to the US, confided to his host, President Jiang Zemin, that his greatest concern was the prospect that “your people may get rich like our people, and instead of riding bicycles, they will drive automobiles, and the increase in greenhouse gases will make the planet more dangerous for all.”
It would, though, be difficult to beat for apocalyptic hyperbole former Vice President Gore. Mr Gore believes: ‘The cleavage in the modern world between mind and body, man and nature, has created a new kind of addiction: I believe that our civilisation is, in effect, addicted to the consumption of the earth itself.’
And he warns: “Unless we find a way to dramatically change our civilisation and our way of thinking about the relationship between humankind and the earth, our children will inherit a wasteland.”
But why pick on the Americans? Britain’s then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has observed: “There is no greater national duty than the defense of our shoreline. But the most immediate threat to it today is the encroaching sea.” Britain has found, it seems, a worthy successor to King Canute.
The fact that seasoned politicians can say such ridiculous things – and get away with it – illustrates the degree to which the new dogma about climate change has swept through the left-of-centre governing classes….
What changed for Thatcher in less than a decade? First, she found climate science less alarming than before. Secondly, an “ugly … anti-growth, anti-capitalistic, anti-American” political agenda had emerged around the issue. Harking back to her free-market roots, Thatcher forwarded her own version of the precautionary principle (p. 453): “Government interventions are problematic, so intervene only when the case is fully proven.”
Fred Pearce and Yale Environment 360–please present the full story.