05 February 2017

How the climate has change

One of the delights of having a messy office is that you sometimes stumble upon an entertaining piece of paper. For example, on 8th November 1990, The Times published a piece by its science editor under the headline “Is this really a scientist speaking?”

It was about a speech that the then Prime Minister, a certain Margaret Thatcher, had given to the World Climate Conference. The Times piece quotes her as saying “We must not waste time and energy disputing the report of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climatic Change, or debating the right machinery for making progress.”

The science editor took issue with this, complaining that, for all her claims to have a background in science, “Somewhere along the way,” Mrs Thatcher “seems to have abandoned her scientific scepticism and adopted the simple clich├ęs of the environmental activists.” He then goes on to write “There are many things in the IPCC report that must be disputed, energetically. As a scientific hypothesis, man-made global warming is plausible but unproven.”

Even a quarter of a century ago, that was a pretty brave statement, although one that appeared more often than you might think. Today, it seems almost quaint.

The closing paragraph, after complaining that the whole scare was based on dodgy models, is chilling, though. “A couple of cold winters will take the froth off the debate, and allow us the time we need to discover whether or not the earth is really warming up. Meanwhile, the overheated rhetoric in Geneva is premature and potentially very damaging.”

We didn’t get those cold winters. Snow is a novelty for many young children living in southern parts of the UK. We did get a run of the hottest summers on record. So perhaps the problem was that the rhetoric in Geneva was not hot enough.