The Corruption of the Public Debate on Climate Change

This week's issue ofopens up a new front in the magazine's war against climate science, but unwittingly reveals a campaign by 'sceptics' that is likely to be costing taxpayers thousands of pounds.

This week's issue of The Spectator opens up a new front in the magazine's war against climate science, but unwittingly reveals a campaign by 'sceptics' that is likely to be costing taxpayers thousands of pounds.

The magazine's editor, Fraser Nelson, long ago abandoned any pretence at covering climate change accurately and instead offers up his pages to the extreme anti-environmentalist views of James Delingpole, Conservative hereditary peer Matt Ridley, and others.

The latest polemic is provided by Rupert Darwall, author of The Age of Global Warming, which has been enthusiastically promoted by 'sceptics', such as Christopher Booker, veteran columnist for 'The Sunday Telegraph' and occasional book reviewer for The Spectator.

As is the hallmark of many British climate change 'sceptics', Mr Darwall has no science qualifications, but adheres steadfastly to a dogmatic right-wing ideology. According to his profile on the website of the Centre for Policy Studies, a lobby group set up by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph, his previous books have included Paralysis or Power: the centre right in the 21st century and A better way to help the low paid: US lessons for the UK tax credit system.

The launch of Mr Darwall's new book was organised by Global Warming Policy Foundation, where he revealed that his interest in climate change was fired by a lecture from Lord Lawson at the Centre for Policy Studies in 2006. Lord Lawson subsequently turned his lecture into a pamphlet in which he infamously compared environmentalists to Islamic fundamentalists, stating: "the new priests are scientists (well rewarded with research grants for their pains) rather than clerics of the established religions, and the new religion is eco-fundamentalism". This provided the basis for his book, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.

Mr Darwall's article in The Spectator includes the usual 'sceptic' claims that "global temperatures have been flat for 15 years" - in fact, global annual temperature recorded by Met Office HadCRUT4 dataset shows an upward trend of 0.041 centigrade degrees per decade. This is not statistically significant, but then again, no 15-year period of global temperature yields a statistically significant trend due to autocorrelation effects, a fact that Mr Darwall conveniently ignores.

However, he also draws attention to an even more bizarre 'sceptic' myth: that there has been no global warming since 1880! This was the contention of a series of Parliamentary Questions submitted to the Government over the past 18 months by Lord Donoughue, driven by 'sceptic' demands that temperature trends should be interpreted solely through statistics, and without reference to well-established understanding from physics that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm.

Needless to say, the Met Office pointed out to the Government that faulty reasoning lay behind the 'sceptic' demand to ignore the science. But the same Parliamentary Question was submitted over and over again by Lord Donoughue, much to the approval of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and its board of trustees, of which he is a member.

Indeed, Lord Donoughue has made great use of Parliamentary Questions to promote issues on which the Foundation campaigns. In the last six months alone, he has submitted 26 questions on climate science and policy, which, no doubt, have altogether cost taxpayers thousands of pounds when one takes into account the many hours of staff time required to deal with them at the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Met Office.

This is very reminiscent of the efforts of climate change 'sceptics' in 2009 who flooded the tiny Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia with requests under the Freedom of Information Act, including 60 in one week alone.

Using these tactics, climate change 'sceptics' are able to employ a kind of 'asymmetric warfare' against climate scientists at the Met Office and in universities, who have been bombarded with official requests for the disclosure of information.

Yet the main 'sceptic' campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, carries out many of its activities by stealth, funded by £1 million from secret donors, and free from any legal requirement to respond to requests for information. Two years ago, the Information Commissioner ruled that the Charity Commission did not have to reveal the identity of the Foundation's first donor.

Is it any wonder that the public debate about climate change has become so corrupted when 'sceptics' are apparently unaccountable and able to rely on their cheerleaders in Parliament and the mainstream media to promote their agenda?

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

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