It’s greens, not Lord Lawson, who are anti-science
Did you hear Radio 4’s Today programme back on the 10 August? Do you remember hearing Lord Lawson say that ‘during this past 10 years, if anything, mean global temperature, average world temperature, has slightly declined’?
You probably don’t. Lawson was invited to respond to Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel – an equally boring sequel to An Inconvenient Truth. Lawson’s short interview covered many subjects, and touched on temperature only briefly – almost in passing.
However, this week, the BBC has been forced to apologise for presenter Justin Webb’s failure to challenge Lawson’s claim. According to complaints, the audience was misled by the interview. BBC science presenter Jim Al-Khalili said that hosting Lawson was ‘ignorant and irresponsible’. Physics popstar-professor Brian Cox added that it was ‘highly misleading to give the impression that there is a meaningful debate about the science [of climate change]’. The Green Party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, said that the interview was: ‘The modern day equivalent of giving the smoking lobby a platform to deny that lighting up has any link to cancer.’
But rather than shedding light on the facts of climate change, these complaints say much more about the strange, intolerant and censorious mindset of environmentalists.
If there is any logic to such livid demands for censure and censorship, it is based on a presupposition that the Today programme’s audience consists of feckless and impressionable morons. But even if this insult were true, the segment in question wasn’t biased. The interview with Lawson followed a discussion with Al Gore, later followed by an interview with Fisher Stevens. (Stevens’ campaigning documentary Before the Flood featured the private-jet-flying, yacht-cruising, carbon-guzzling Leonardo DiCaprio worrying about what everyone else’s CO2 emissions are doing to the planet.) The following morning, Today invited the Met Office’s Dr Peter Stott to respond to Lawson’s claim. The audience would have heard ample arguments from the orthodox side of the debate.
Greens seem to think that debate itself lends credibility to unauthorised opinion. Rather than crediting individuals with the sense to judge comments made by interviewees, environmentalists seem to believe that news programmes must spoon-feed audiences the ‘correct’ answers. This reflects environmentalism’s political schema. Where, in a democracy, authority is given by assent from below, greens prefer the authority of scientific institutions. To permit debate would be to undermine the authority of institutional science – and leave the listener with the bizarre impression that he was free to make up his own mind. In other words, Al-Khalili, Cox and Bartley do not need to know what Lawson said, how it contradicts science, or what the science says. They only need to know that he contradicts The Science, and that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak. ‘Shame on you’, screeched Al-Khalili, to the Today team.
But there’s more. Consider the reaction to one of Lawson’s previous appearances on the Today programme. Following the record-wet January and storms of the 2013-14 winter, Lawson appeared on the show with climate scientist Professor Brian Hoskins to discuss the role of climate change in that winter’s weather. ‘There’s no simple link – we can’t say “yes or no, this is climate change”’, said Hoskins. Lawson emphasised Hoskins’ own equivocation, and pointed to analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which claims that a link between global warming and extreme weather events has not emerged from the observational data. The Met Office, Lawson rightly pointed out, had predicted a continuation of the dry conditions for that winter, and got it badly wrong. The disagreement was mild, yet Lawson’s mere appearance alongside a climate scientist provoked outrage. By putting Lawson alongside a climate scientist, the BBC had, greens said, given the audience the impression that the two men were equally qualified to speak. Climate warriors do not even trust climate scientists to debate climate sceptics face-to-face.
Green hysteria about the expression of unauthorised opinion is a far more interesting – and dangerous – phenomenon than minute changes in atmospheric temperature. Patronising millions of listeners won’t lead to better understanding of the climate, nor will it help us figure out what to do about climate change if it ever does become a problem. The idea that certain scientific claims are beyond question is far more anti-science than anything a climate-change ‘denier’ might come up with.
Ben Pile blogs at Climate Resistance.