RIP Lord Lawson: One of the Great Sceptics of Net Zero and Climate Science Insanity

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From The Daily Sceptic


Many of the obituaries of Nigel Lawson, Lord Lawson of Blaby, have glossed over the work that dominated the last 20 years of his life. This was warning of the dangers and unrealistic costs of removing fossil fuel and the dire economic and social consequences of what has come to be known as Net Zero. The Daily Telegraph spent a page detailing the significant events in his life, but three brief mentions of his Net Zero and climate science concerns didn’t even coalesce into a single sentence. Of course, the Guardian didn’t go out of its way to discuss his concerns, but it did provide a short obituary paragraph that gave a summary of the work that dominated his later years (presumably to discredit him).

His main interest, however, was a campaign to counter the case for global warming. He set up a think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, designed to challenge international attempts to mitigate the impacts of global heating. Lawson claimed that economic growth should not be slowed down to prevent a possible eventuality, but that policy should be made pragmatically in response to what had already happened.

Lawson came to politics relatively late in life after a successful career as a financial and political journalist. After the near-collapse of a Britain dominated by hard Left statism in the late 1970s, the Thatcher governments of the following decade helped boost free markets, entrepreneurship and living standards. Lawson was the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983-1989, and is credited with introducing many of the successful tax and economic reforms that transformed the British economy at the time. His success is often attributed to a combination of careful planning, thinking the unthinkable (whoever thought telephones shouldn’t be run as a state monopoly by the Post Office?) and a practical approach to the art of possible politics.

His later work on climate science and the gathering moves towards Net Zero undoubtedly appealed to his considerable intellectual abilities. The Guardian correctly noted that he didn’t wish economic growth to be slowed for a possible eventuality. Writing an essay for a climate compilation book in 2015, he noted that hundreds of millions of people suffered in dire poverty in the developing world. Asking these countries to abandon the cheapest available sources of energy is, at the very least, he said, asking them to delay the conquest of malnutrition, to perpetuate the incidence of preventable disease and to increase the numbers of premature deaths. “Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked,” he added.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour warmed the planet, accepted Lawson, but he raised serious scientific questions about any danger this posed. In particular, he noted that scientists had not agreed on the sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 and how much temperature would rise. In fact, since Lawson wrote his essay, these estimates have been generally lowered in most scientific circles. He stated that temperatures had been much higher in the past, without any human involvement. And he queried whether any rise in temperature would actually be a bad thing. “It would, after all, be surprising if the planet were on a happy but precarious temperature knife-edge, from which any change in either direction would be a major disaster,” he suggested.

Lawson had an elegant riposte to the so-called precautionary principle which is often used to justify the expenditure of vast amounts of money just in case there is some dramatic change in the climate. To him the most important use of the precautionary principle was against the precautionary principle. There are only so many things one can take precautions against, particularly since there are many scientists who fear the Earth is heading for a new ice age. “It would be difficult, to say the least, to devote unlimited sums to both cooling and warming the planet at the same time,” he dryly observed.

On the balance of probabilities, noting all the suggested advantages and disadvantages, Lawson concluded that in a nutshell, “global warming is good for you”. Short shrift was given to what a few years ago was the burgeoning pseudoscientific practice of claiming bad or ‘extreme’ weather was “consistent with what we would expect from climate change”. Noting these “weasel words”, he asked, so what? “It is also consistent with the theory that it is a punishment from the Almighty for our sins – the prevailing explanation of extreme weather events throughout most of human history.”

The fact remains, reported Lawson, that empirical studies show there has been no perceptible increase, globally, in either the number or the severity of extreme weather events. To this day, similar studies confirm this view.

It seems this last analysis led to his cancellation in most mainstream media, particularly at the BBC. In a recent World Weather Attribution (WWA) guide for journalists titled ‘Reporting extreme weather and climate change’, the former BBC Today Editor Sarah Sands bemoaned the time when Lawson managed to suggest there had been no increase in extreme weather. I wish we had this guide to help us mount a more effective challenge to his claim, wrote Sands. These days, she said, attribution studies have given us significant insight into the horsemen of the climate apocalypse. We have evidence and we have facts, and they are a secure foundation for news, she added.

Imperial College-led World Weather Attribution specialises in near-instant weather attributions. It does this by modelling two imaginary climates, one without and one with humans producing CO2. Any weather event supposedly magnified in the latter is said to be due to human-caused climate change. Roger Pielke, a noted science writer and a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, is unimpressed: “I can think of no other area of research where the relaxing of rigour and standards has been encouraged by researchers in order to generate claims more friendly to headlines, political advocacy and even lawsuits.”

If the Telegraph obituary writer failed to pick up the importance of Lawson’s climate work, no such error was made by the newspaper’s columnist Allison Pearson. Commenting on his founding of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2009, she said it pushed back against the complacent, settled wisdom on climate change. “Amid growing alarm about the cost to the U.K. of a Gadarene rush towards Net Zero, his scepticism feels more vindicated by the day,” she added.

Nigel Lawson was an old school, inquiring journalist, and a great, game-changing politician. Your own correspondent owes him a debt of gratitude since the reforms of the Thatcher Government opened up the City of London with greater opportunities in financial journalism, broke the sclerotic power of print unions to control the manufacturing process, and provided genuine tax incentives for entrepreneurship – in my own case, the publishing business.

Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor. He is the former owner of Evandale Publishing Ltd.