Lord Lawson: not entitled to his own facts
- 18 Oct 2011, 16:35
- Tim Holmes
Nigel Lawson's climate skeptic lobby group the Global Warming
Policy Foundation have been getting a fair bit of air-time
recently. This morning, for example, its founder Nigel Lawson was
page four of the Daily Mail labeling green targets "absurd
commitments" and calling on the government to abandon them. He was
also featured in a
prominent slot on the Today Programme arguing for investment in
This last appearance was somewhat ironic, given that just two
days ago Lawson penned a lengthy opinion piece
in the Sunday Times in which he attacked the BBC's position on
climate change and complained that invitations for the
"authoritative" GWPF or "its excellent director, Dr Benny Peiser"
to appear on the BBC are "almost as rare as hen's teeth".
Apparently hen's teeth are more common than previously thought.
A Google search of the BBC website (including the terms "climate
change" or "warming") reveals about 83 results for "
Benny Peiser"; 214 results for the "
Global Warming Policy Foundation"; and around 527 results for "
Nigel Lawson". The latter includes a lengthy Newsnight
feature on Lawson's thoughts, after which he is pitched
against Director of the Science Museum and former director of the
British Antarctic Survey Chris Rapley; a Daily Politics segment
during which Lawson is placed alongside Defra's scientific advisor
Bob Watson; and (via Youtube) another interview
alongside former shadow Environment Minister and leader of the
opposition Ed Miliband. Not bad for an organization that was
founded a year and a half ago.
Such is Lawson's prominence that the BBC Trust's recent
review of the Corporation's science coverage, published in
June, specifically name-checked the GWPF, criticizing the BBC for
"false balance" in according significant time to climate skeptics
alongside mainstream scientific opinion. The report drew on a
content analysis by the Science Communication Group of Imperial
College London, whose study period included the release of the Muir
Russell report. They found not only that one third of total airtime
discussing climate change was accorded to 'skeptics', but that:
"With the exception of Radio 4's PM, all
news outlets included comment from climate sceptics -in most cases
either former Conservative Chancellor, Lord Lawson, or Dr Benny
Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University
who is Director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think
tank founded by Lawson."
The analysis also drew attention to presenters' introductions
that are "somewhat misleading in failing to elaborate the precise
nature of Peiser's expertise and his connection with a think tank
with an established agenda." This point was exemplified in the
Today Programme segment this morning, where Lawson described his
position as "not at all" ideologically driven. On BBC
North-West a couple of weeks ago, the GWPF was described as an
"independent charitable think-tank".
But why does this all matter? The question is whether the media
debate is a fair representation of the scientific debate on climate
science. The BBC Trust review suggests that it is not. Its original version
discussed "prominent individuals such as Lord Monckton and Lord
Lawson" who make statements that are "not supported by the facts".
The report implied that Lawson had made specific statements which
he had not, and following a complaint by Lawson was withdrawn by
the BBC. However, Lord Lawson is angry because the author of the
BBC report Professor Steve Jones still maintains that he
"promotes the impression of active
scientific debate on the issue of global warming when in fact there
is clear consensus to the contrary".
Lord Lawson defends himself and the GWPF against this
accusation, writing that
"We are, of course, interested in the
views of well-qualified scientists. It was for this reason that we
The Truth about Greenhouse Gases, a briefing paper by William
Happer, an eminent professor of physics at Princeton
William Happer, a Professor of Physics, is chair of the board
of directors at the US-based Marshall Institute, which lobbies
against climate legislation. The Institute in the past has
been funded by Exxon.
Lawson cites Happer's guess that temperature rise is likely to
be "something like 1C over the next 200 years", ignoring evidence
which shows average global temperature could increase by
as much as 4°C over the next century. Such increases are
projected for atmospheric concentrations roughly equivalent to
around 650 parts per million (ppm) of CO2. Yet extraordinarily, "to
avoid harming people" Happer recommends an upper limit of 5,000ppm
- calling climate change a "supposed threat".
Happer also refers to the IPCC as the "organization charged with
producing scientific support for the climate crusade" (though in
fact it is "charged" only with providing evidence for Government
that is "
policy relevant but policy-neutral") and suggests that "the
models have failed the simple scientific test of prediction"
(relying on the same "meaningless" comparison for which John
Beddington took Nigel Lawson to task:
a single decade is too short to provide a reliable test, as the
global climate system is riddled with short-term fluctuations).
Reading this material, the question arises as to whether the
GWPF really are "interested in the views of well-qualified
scientists" or genuinely "authoritative" on this issue. In May, the
GWPF published a report by Lord Turnbull, The Real Inconvenient
Truth, or "It Ain't Necessarily So". The report was
demonstrated, among other things, to have repeatedly
misrepresented mainstream scientific opinion; misrepresented the
contents of the IPCC reports; and espoused a fabricated conspiracy
And just last month, the Daily Mail printed a correction after
reporting a GWPF claim
that green measures would add 15-20% to energy bills. The
correction recognized that "According to Ofgem, the correct figure
for environmental costs is currently no more than 9%" of energy
Lawson describes the BBC's position as "characterised chiefly by
ignorance and intolerance" and calls on the broadcaster to ensure
that "adequate airtime is given to informed dissent". As Jones puts
it in his review however,
"All of us involved in this debate need
to remember that we are entitled to our own opinions but none of us
are entitled to our own facts."
UPDATE: 21st Oct 9am: some minor revisions were made to the
paragraph about Ofgem's figures above in response to comments made