Manmade global warming: a stormy meeting between sceptics and believers

14.12.2013 14:23

It was a summit of sorts, but
certainly not a meeting of minds: at
10am on 19 November, six of
Britain's most eminent climate
change scientists entered a wood-
panelled committee room in the
House of Lords to face the country's
most prominent climate change
sceptic, Lord Lawson.
The scientists had originally
understood the meeting to be a
private briefing for the former
chancellor, following a spat between
the peer and Professor Sir Paul Nurse,
the Nobel prize-winning biologist and
president of the UK's elite science
academy, the Royal Society .
But in the splendour of the Lords
committee room, where each of the
red leather chairs is embossed with a
golden portcullis, it emerged that
Lawson had brought nine
representatives of his Global
Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) ,
including five professors, a knight
and a viscount, the latter being the
science journalist Matt Ridley.
Over the past year, Nurse has
accused Lawson of cherrypicking
global temperature data to claim that
climate change has stopped over the
last 15 years. The peer called the
charge "a lie" .
Nurse then offered to put Lawson
in touch with "distinguished"
scientists who could provide the
"highest quality" climate science and
the meeting was arranged.
The meeting, or rather its
aftermath, did little to cool
temperatures: the row between the
sides surfaced again after Lawson
wrote about the "secret" meeting in
the Spectator , with Lawson now
talking of "disreputable accusations"
and Nurse of "extremist minorities".
In Lawson's article, he wrote:
"Nurse's team were able to tell me
little I did not already know. But
what did emerge was that, if anyone
needed educating, it was them … They
had no understanding of, or interest
in, the massive human and economic
costs involved in the policies they so
glibly endorse."
But despite the hostile rhetoric,
the meeting was rather more polite,
according to others present. Both
sides had agreed an agenda in
advance, covering the climate history
of the planet, changes at the poles,
computer modelling and climate
projections, and how science is used
to inform policy – though, crucially,
not the policies themselves.
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, of
Imperial College London, said: "There
was not any major disagreement on
the science we presented, which is an
interesting thing."
In particular, Hoskins debunked
the so-called warming "pause" ,
describing how excess heat has
continued to be trapped by
greenhouse gases for the past 15
years, showing that global warming is
He said air temperature alone is
a very limited view of climate
change, given that 93% of all trapped
heat enters the oceans.
"I can't remember any challenge
of that in the meeting," he said.
Hoskins, like his five colleagues,
is a fellow of the Royal Society, the
highest honour conferred on
scientists in the UK, and all are active
in climate change research.
The GWPF's 10 representatives
included only one climate scientist –
Professor Richard Lindzen, from
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
– who Lawson describes as "arguably
the world's most eminent climate
A recent peer-reviewed study
placed Lindzen's published work in
the 3% of climate studies from the
past 20 years that do not endorse
human activity as the cause of global
The consensus at the meeting, at
which the guests were offered no
refreshments, frayed rapidly as it
entered the last hour. "The discussion
moved to policy, in particular for the
developing world and for the UK,"
said Hoskins.
"But this was not the topic of the
meeting. If we had been discussing
policy, then we would have brought a
different group. It was not fruitful."
Hoskins, who is a member of the
Committee on Climate Change that
advises the UK government on policy,
said: "It upset me, the suggestion I
couldn't care less about the policy
implications. I am very concerned by
these issues."
Lawson told the Guardian he had
"betrayed no confidences" in writing
about the meeting and that the agenda
"explicitly included the connection
between science and policy".
Although the GWPF
representatives did not challenge the
climate scientists' explanation of the
"pause", the GWPF website has
continued to use as its masthead a
graph of global air temperature
covering only the period from 2001
to 2012, the "very limited" view
debunked by Hoskins.
Furthermore, despite the expert
briefing, the GWPF published a report
on 27 November that concluded:
"Global warming and extreme
weather pose no threat to humanity,
either at present or in the next 10 to
25 years."
The author, Madhav Khandekar,
is "a respected climate
authority",according to Lawson, who
said: "The views he expressed are of
course his own, as is the case with the
authors of all the excellent reports
published by the GWPF."
He is listed as an expert by the US
thinktank the Heartland Institute ,
which in 2012 was revealed as a
paymaster for prominent climate
change sceptics and ran a billboard
advertisement comparing those
accepting human-made climate
change to the Unabomber.
The GWPF's annual accounts
show the registered educational
charity has received over £1m in
anonymous donations since its
foundation in 2009.
In a letter to Lawson, Nurse
criticised the lack of transparency,
saying "it will be assumed that you
are acting primarily as a lobby
group, which diminishes your
credibility and ability to influence the
The GWPF says it refuses to
accept donations from anyone with a
significant interest in the energy
Lawson said: "It is
understandable that GWPF donors
prefer to remain anonymous, since
they know they would otherwise be
subjected to vilification from those
who wish to suppress reasoned
debate. The [lobbying] accusation is
both unfounded and thoroughly
In October 2012, Lawson told the
BBC his fundraising for the GWPF had
started with his friends: "They tend to
be richer than the average person and
much more intelligent than the
average person; that's why they can
see the flaws in the conventional
Lawson denied the meeting had
been used to create a publicity coup:
a meeting of equals between the
GWPF and expert fellows of the Royal
"Far from the meeting being a
GWPF propaganda stunt, it arose out
of an offer made by Sir Paul Nurse,
which I accepted," he said.
Reflecting on his exchanges with
Lawson, Nurse said: "Debate is
essential but it must be based on
scientific evidence and reasoning. In
dealing with issues like climate
change, society should not listen to
the extremist minorities – we should
listen to the majority of scientific
"The latter is what you would do
if you were sick and went to the
doctor. In the end it will be science
that wins out."