The odd thing about the great debate on global warming is that there never really was a debate. As soon as the global warming scare exploded on the world in 1988, to its promoters there could be no argument about it. The scientists who that year set up the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were already convinced beyond doubt that ‘human-induced climate change’ was a reality. Al Gore was soon already pronouncing ‘the science is settled’. In 1992 Dr Richard Lindzen of MIT, the eminent atmospheric physicist who has been a prominent ‘sceptic’ ever since, wrote a paper discussing the peculiar need of the ‘climate establishment’ to insist that their new orthodoxy was supported by a ‘consensus’ of the world’s scientists, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
A corollary of this, as Lindzen showed, was the extraordinary intolerance they displayed towards anyone questioning the orthodoxy. When one respected professor of economics told a US Senate Committee that the issue was still ‘controversial’, Senator Gore expostulated that anyone who said such a thing clearly didn’t know what he was talking about, and the professor was asked to leave the room.
Thus, right from the start, this remarkable hostility towards anyone daring to question the orthodoxy became established as a central feature of the story, Those who dissented, such as Professor Fred Singer, who wrote a sceptical paper with Dr Roger Revelle, the eminent oceanographer who had first alerted Gore to the possibility that rising CO2 levels might lead to rising temperatures, were publicly vilified, with claims that they could only hold such views because they were being paid by Big Oil.
For more than a decade, as CO2 levels rose and temperatures seemed to be following suit, the orthodoxy carried all before it, In 2001, Michael Mann’s famous ‘hockey stick’ graph, completely rewriting climate history by purporting to eliminate the Medieval Warm Period and showing that temperatures had soared in the late 20th century to their highest level in 1,000 years, was the centrepiece of the IPCC’s third report. But in 2003, serious questions began to be asked about the ‘hockey stick’, first by two Harvard astrophysicists, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, then, quite devastatingly, by two Canadians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who expertly demonstrated that the graph was no more than a product of computer trickery.
Instead of attempting to engage with these criticisms, the response of the ‘climate establishment’ — as we see confirmed by the recent ‘Climategate 2.0’ emails — was just to dismiss them as ‘tosh’, heaping the critics with abuse, even trying to get the editor of the journal which published Soon and Baliunas removed from his post, So, in essence, the ‘non-debate’ between the two sides has remained ever since. In recent years, the orthodoxy has increasingly come under every kind of fire, from the failure of its computer models to predict what has actually been happening to global temperatures to revelations that nearly a third of the citations on which the IPCC’s latest 2007 report were based were not to proper scientific papers but simply to claims made by environmental activists. The response of the orthodoxy’s defenders has too often been simply to step up their intolerance even further, dismissing the critics as ‘deniers’, ‘flat-earthers’, ‘idiots’ and of course ‘shills for the fossil-fuel industry’.
Not the least interesting revelation of the latest Climategate emails, exchanged between the small group of scientists at the heart of the IPCC establishment, has been to see how uncertain some of them have privately been about the strength of their own case. Perhaps the Medieval Warm Period did exist? Why have temperatures not continued to rise as their models predicted? But, publicly, what they tellingly called ‘the cause’ had to be defended at all costs. Similarly at all costs, the ‘deniers’ had to be rubbished, painted as ‘cranks’ and ‘loonies’ talking ‘drivel’. No one has reflected this attitude better than the BBC which in 2006, as I describe in a report just published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, held a ‘high-level seminar’ at which Lord May, as ex-President of the Royal Society, persuaded the BBC’s top policymakers that ‘the debate on climate change was over’ and that they must ‘stop reporting the views of climate sceptics’.
In 2007 considerable attention was drawn to a Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle precisely because it featured many of those eminent scientists who dissented from the orthodoxy. Typically, the establishment’s response was to shower Ofcom with complaints, furious that such a programme could have been allowed (scarcely any were upheld). Among the organisers of those complaints was Bob Ward, a tireless advocate for the orthodoxy, who inevitably was at the forefront of those leading a howl of outrage against last week’s Spectator for its cover story by Nils-Axel Mörner, the admittedly slightly eccentric expert who, on the basis of studying the physical evidence, has long questioned the computer models the IPCC uses to promote alarm over rising sea levels.
In 2009, an article of my own about Mörner provoked Ward to take me to the Press Complaints Commission (he has more than once called on the Sunday Telegraph to fire me). I cited a peer-reviewed 2001 paper based on satellite data, which quite independently confirmed Mörner’s finding that sea levels were not rising around Tuvalu. Ward sent the PCC a black-and-white version of the paper’s colour chart, claiming that this disproved my case. I replied with the original colour version, which clearly showed by its colour coding that sea levels around Tuvalu had actually fallen. Quite unabashed, Ward told the PCC that the authors of the 2001 paper had in 2006 published another withdrawing their earlier finding. The 2006 paper made no mention of Tuvalu. As I say, so little are the orthodoxy’s defenders interested in serious debate that they will stop at nothing to discredit any dissent — even as their ‘cause’ continues to crumble around them.
Christopher Booker’s ‘The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal’ is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 10, 2011