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British MP: Majority of my colleagues don’t understand climate science

By Ed King

The UK’s cross party consensus on climate change cannot be taken for granted according to a member of Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

Currently the three leaders of Britain’s major parties all agree that rising carbon emissions need to be tackled as a matter of urgency – a unity that helped the progression of the 2008 Climate Change Act.

But while UK Chancellor George Osborne spoke of his support for ‘clean energy’ and ‘renewables’ during Wednesday’s 2012 Budget speech, many commentators feel he failed to deliver policies that would incentivise green growth and clamp down on rising emissions.

And speaking to RTCC, Dr Phillip Lee, Conservative MP for Bracknell and Select Committee member since 2010, said there is a “healthy ignorance” of science in Parliament that is leaving many concerned with the potential effects of climate change frustrated.

“The problem is that the majority of colleagues don’t really understand the science, to be blunt” he said.

“As a consequence, particularly at times of economic recession and difficulties throughout the globe, it’s rather difficult to sell policies which actually add costs to business and consumers.

“This is a frustration for me. There is a particular problem with the British Parliament – that I think less than 3% have science degrees, so it’s not just in climate change – you will it find in other issues as well – there seems to be a pretty healthy ignorance of scientific principles.

“Consequently I’m not so sure enough has been done to sell the science to the wider populace of this institution here in Westminster – but also the wider public.

“I do think there is work to be done in persuading political colleagues across the spectrum – mainly I would suggest within my own party, that it is happening and we need to do something about it.”

Perhaps the key to winning the low-carbon argument is to present a compelling economic case for green energy, something Chris Huhne attempted on a regular basis while Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Yet many remain unconvinced. In February 100 of Lee’s Conservative colleagues wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron  calling for him to slash subsidies for wind power.

This followed a decision in December by DECC to cut subsidies for certain solar PV installations – and comes as the clamour of natural and shale gas as a cheap alternative to coal and renewables grow increasingly louder.

Dr Lee was not a signatory to the wind letter, but he does believe that at a time when the economy is struggling – and when various lobbies are claiming climate change should be taken off the agenda – government has to choose carefully who and what it backs financially.

“It has to be realistic how you implement policies, particularly at a time of economic distress,” he said.

“That’s personally why I get somewhat frustrated with subsidies on solar panels and things like this because it does give the whole area of climate change a bad name.

“Government intervention has got to be economically realistic, and actually, its got to work. And I’m not sure all of the policies that have been implemented in the past qualify in those two ways.”


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  • John Shade

    I suspect that if more members had a decent familiarity with climate science, the aburd Climate Change Act would have had proportionately more opposition. In my own experience, I find that people are very badly informed about climate who have merely relied on such as the BBC and The Guardian for their information about it, or who think that bodies such as the IPCC and the Royal Society are to be trusted. That is probably a large chunk of MPs and of the political class in general. The case for alarm about rising CO2 levels is so very frail that it does not take a great deal of digging to find flaws in it. Let us therefore agree that more should be done to explain the science ‘to the wider populace of this institution here in Westminster – but also to the wider public.’

    • Steve Easterbrook

      @John Shade: I think your reaction is exactly what Dr Lee is complaining about. The problem is that if you don’t do “a great deal of digging” all you’ll get are the opinions of equally uninformed people across the internet.
      I’ve interviewed dozens of climate scientists, and studied how they develop and test climate simulation models. If you actually take the time to learn the science, you’ll find that not only is it robust, but that it’s based on some very basic physics that has been well understood within the scientific community for nearly 200 years. Plenty of people have tried to find alternative explanations for the mounting evidence, and all have failed, although you wouldn’t know that if you rely on uninformed opinion found on the internet and in the media. You have to actually go and study the science, and read the primary literature.
      But of course, on the internet everyone thinks they’re entitled to their own opinion about the science, and most of them don’t feel any obligation to study the original science. As my colleagues put it “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”. If you think that the IPCC and Royal Society can’t be trusted, it’s incumbent upon you to read their reports and explain what’s wrong with them, rather than to rely on misinformation you read on someone’s blog. And no, you don’t get to claim that one incorrect sentence in a 3000 page report invalidates the entire thing. That’s just cheap posturing. You have to build an alternative theory, demonstrate it fits *all* the evidence better than the current one, and then convince the appropriate experts that your analysis is sound. Go ahead and try. I’ll be the first to applaud you if you succeed.

      • John Shade

        There’s some good advice in their Steve, and I thank you for it. I have actually been trying to follow it for some time, and I’d like to very briefly summarise my conclusions.

        First, the IPCC. My main interest is in the causes of climate variations, and so I was disappointed to discover that the vast majority of the contributors to the work of the IPCC were and are concerned with the effects of climate variation. That is worthwhile work, and will always be with us since the climate has never stopped changing and presumably never will as long as the atmosphere etc exists. So while thousands worked on effects, I think only a few dozen worked on causes. And here I do have a problem since they seem to be obsessed with CO2, a trace gas with no known history as a driver of climate change, and for which there is no evidence that I have come across that justifies concluding that its role has suddenly changed over the past 30 years or so. Over this period of rising levels of ambient CO2, the weather, the ice, the sea levels, have all been behaving as if the additional CO2 was of little consequence to them. There is another thing peculiar about the IPCC and computer models. All the models they report seem to include CO2 as a driver, and they all as a result include a tropospheric hotspot which has proven troublesome to find. Their owners and operators, and the IPCC itself, are so concerned about their performance that they declare they are not fit for making climate predictions, and have suggested the word ‘projections’ to describe what I think could also be accurately called their ‘speculations’. I note from various investigations, that the IPCC has not been following its own procedures nor complying with the claims of probity and ‘best scientists’ status claimed by its leader. In fact, it looks more like a vehicle for the promotion of the superficial, emotive, and politically loaded views of multinational corporations such as the WWF and Greenpeace and FOE whose finances benefit greatly from alarming the public, government, and institutional donors.

        Second, the Royal Society. I have not been impressed by their behaviour on climate. Suffice it to say, they have contradicted their noble motto, Nullius in Verga, by feebly taking the IPCC’s words at face value.

        My studies, modest though they may be, suggest to me that one of the most distinguished atmospheric scientists in the world is Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, and he has consistently and cogently explained why he sees the additional CO2 as likely to have a very modest effect, and not one worthy of causing alarm. So far, all the observational evidence supports his basic position.

        As for my having to build an ‘alternative theory’, I think your advice falls down somewhat. The burden lies on those who claim that more CO2 will have a dramatic effect to make their case convincing I remain unconvinced that they have, and I remain dismayed that despite that they have had such a political effect.

      • rtj1211

        I”m afraid you must be very skeptical about scientists whose livelihood requires them to raise grants to ‘study global warming’. All you have to do to get 97% scientist agreement on something is to provide 95%+ of funds to produce the outcome you want. You don’t get a grant if your proposal doesn’t fit the parameters of the funding round.

        Science isn’t done in a vacuum, it’s done in a climate of funding politics.

        That is what you need to study and you need to look very, very carefully at where anyone can get funding to study climate science dispassionately.

        Hint: the IPCC is not dispassionate, it represents a hanging judge who has already decided to convict.

        Let us list a few sources of science you should examine:

        1. The satellite temperature record co-ordinated by Roy Spencer. It shows no evidence of dangerous global warming since 1979, when the satellites went live. Please read the testimony to Congress that Dr Spencer gave in the past couple of years.
        2. The sunspot cycle data since around 1800, where solar quietening correlates with temperature decreases and high solar activity associates with warming. The current cycle is showing the first major quietening for almost a century and a body of scientists predict that the next cycle will be quieter still. Please read the work of L. Svalgaard and others on this matter.
        3. The correlations between PDO and AMO indices and temperature in the 20th century (put together by J. D’Aleo). The correlation is far stronger than that of carbon dioxide and temperature.

        One hopes that you are open to considering this evidence by scientists who dissent.

        If you can’t, you may not be the best judge of the arguments……

  • Paul Hannah

    What nonsense. Science, science, science. The whole debacle wasn’t borne of science!
    It’s nothing but a protection racket.

    • J Bowers

      The core science is older than relativity and quantum mechanics (Arrhenius, Tyndall, Fourier). Today’s anti-AGW movement is directly comparable to the anti-relativity movement of the 1920s when relativity was seen as a Jewish conspiracy. Today, AGW is seen as a liberal/lefty conspiracy.

  • jdey123

    Antarctic Sea Ice is more extensive today than it has been since records began:-

    IPCC prediction is 0.2C per decade. Actual global trend since 1998 is -0.001C per decade. Actual global trend since 1880 is 0.4—0.4/131=0.06C per decade. Whether you pick a near or long term trend, it’s way below IPCC’s best estimate.

    On a country level, UK’s national temperature record dates back to 1910. Annual mean temperature trend is 9.2-8.3/(2012-1910)=0.09C per decade.

    The world’s longest reliable temperature record (Central England Temperature) shows a naturally variable climate within a very tight temperature range (+/- 1C) since 1772. We’re currently 0.5C above average but on a downward trend. Trend since 1772 is 0.5—0.25/(2012-1772)=0.03C per decade. Going further back in the accompanying dataset to 1659, we get a long term trend of 0.02C per decade. 1/10th of that projected by the IPCC in their 2007 report.

    There is no correlation between CO2 emissions and global mean temperature over the entire global temperature record. There have only been 2 warming periods (1910-1940 and 1978 to 1998) in that record :-

    Global sea level rise is only 2mm per year:-

    James E. Hansen’s predictions are wildly inaccurate (scenario B is the light blue line and closest to actual CO2 emissions, black line represents actual temperature’s recorded. Scenario B predicted 0.97C temperature anomaly for 2011, actual observed 0.52c:-

    I remember seeing a magician convince a gullible audience that he’d successfully predicted the winners of 6 horses. The proof being a film showing him making the predictions. How could this be? The trick was that he filmed himself selecting each horse in each race to be the winner, and then selected the appropriate clip to show the audience.
    When I read the IPCC report in to how they work out which climate models to include in their reports, this trick immediately sprang to mind.
    “Compared to CMIP3, the number of models and model
    versions may increase in CMIP5. Some groups may submit
    multiple models or versions of the same model with
    different parameter settings and with different model
    components included.”

    “The reliabilit¬y of projection¬s might be improved if models
    are weighted according to some measure of skill and if
    their interdepen¬dencies are taken into account, or if only
    subsets of models are considered¬.”

    “Defining a set of criteria for a model to be ‘credible’
    or agreeing on a quality metric is therefore difficult.
    However, it should be noted that there have been de
    facto model selections for a long time, in that simulation¬s
    from earlier model versions are largely discarded
    when new versions are developed. For example, results
    produced for the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC
    were not directly included in the projection¬s chapters of
    the Fourth Assessment Report unless an older model
    was used again in CMIP3″

    Climate model predictions which the IPCC claim are reliable cover a range of 0.7C for just a 10 year period in the AR4 report. Considering that this is the amount of increase we had in the last century, most people without access to a computer could have done better than that.

    The only thing the anthropogenic global warming protagonists appear to agree on is it’s mankind’s fault. There is no agreement on basic science.
    Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster, J.A. Curry and P.A. Webster, December 2011
    Paper neatly summarises the state of climate science, the uncertainties and the way in which the science needs to progress in order to slay the uncertainty monster.

    Given that the scientific basis for this hypothesis is based purely on the reliability of climate models, those climate scientists who believe in this hypothesis have been engaged in campaigns to try to silence their critics:-

    Meteorologists have become targets:-

    Climate scientists who don’t believe the hypothesis have become targets:-

    Politicians have become targets:-

    British peers have become targets:-

    I don’t recall hearing of Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein launching political campaigns to promote their hypothesis. Probably because they provided scientific proof.

    Global warming has slumped in the minds of the public:-

    Governments support the global warming hypothesis for tax generation reasons:-

    Climate change is a bandwagon for other left wing agendas

  • Tony Day

    The previous comments ignore the conclusion of Dr. Lee’s article:”Government intervention has got to be economically realistic”. A Utilitarian definition of a rational energy policy is one which achieves “the greatest reasonable degree of decarbonisation at least reasonable cost”. What is happening now is the polciy debate which should have occurred before the 2003 Energy White Paper, but did not. The breakdown of the bi-partisan consensus is probably a good thing. As Harold MacMillan said “when both sides of the house agree, they are usually wrong”.

    The 2003 Energy White Paper set a pattern for policies supporting electrification of UK energy supplies based nuclear, wind and coal with CCS. The background documents issued by DTI at the time stated that the net cost of electrification and decarbonisation would be zero as it was an internal economic transfer and would create employment. This statement can ONLY BE TRUE IF the long-run output cost of energy produced by the new low Carbon technologies is lower than the incumbent technologies which they replace. This economic condition clearly does not exist, hence the current hectic environment versus economics debate.

    There were two underlying assumptions in the 2003 Energy White Paper’s focus on electrification:

    1 Gas cannot be decarbonised.
    2 Gas would ‘run out’.

    Both these assumptions are untrue. In fact decarbonised Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) or Carbon Neutral SNG as it is called in USA is both technically and economically viable. In 1986 British Gas Corporation pre-privatisation planned to supply the whole of UK gas demand using highly efficient SNG technology, which was Carbon Capture Ready.

    Combining the British Gas SNG technology with the Carbon Neutral SNG concept is a technically proven and highly economic means of
    reducing fossil CO2 emissions to near zero. Because of the high efficiency of decarbonised SNG with CCS, in excess of 76% excluding potential CHP, which is roughly double the efficiency of coal with post-combustion CCS, the output cost of energy is half the price, and emissions are halved, all other things being equal.

    The second argument that gas will run out is clearly untrue. If we make SNG using indigenous fuels, then import dependency can be avoided. Becuase SNG fired CCGT’s will suffer no economic loss, or loss of flexibility, when producing low Carbon electricity ,they can provide economic back-up for intermittent renewables without increasing emissions again, thus completing a virtuous circle.

    Gas is a storable primary energy resource, whereas electricity is an instantaneous secondary energy vector. 3 times more energy flows through the gas grid on average than through the electricity grid, increasing to 4 times more at the Winter heating peak. Decarbonising gas at source will decarbonise downstream electricity generation, industry, heating and transport at zero cost.

    The bottom line is money. Gasifying waste, biomass and coal at high pressure with CCS can produce ‘dispatchable’ near zero electricity for £45/MWh attracting ROC’s worth £60/MWh, decarbonised SNG for 45p/therm attracting RHI worth 100p/therm, and capture Carbon for £17.5/tonne. As the current wholesale price of ‘peak’ electricity id around £60/MWh, wholesale gas is around 60p/therm and the Carbon floor price will shortly be £30/tonne, it cna be seen that is is both profitable and clean to deliver energy at lower than to-day’s open market prices.

    This meets Dr. Lee’s requirements to protect both the economy, and the environment at the same time. The reason decarbonising gas is so economical and clean is fundamental: the high energy density of the conversion process: 70 bar 1600degC, achieves higher energy density and efficiency than combustion processes, and far higher energy density and efficiency than wind and tidal power. Using chemical engineering technology enables the biogenic fraction of the input fuel to be converted to more useful energy than small scale bio-technologies.

    Best wishes,

    Tony Day


  • J Bowers

    Another aspect to this not just the lack of understanding of science amongst UK politicians, but also their actively being courted by climate science contrarians. Instead of seeking the most learned opinion on a subject, we find MEP Roger Helmer accompanying SPPI’s Bob Fergusson to a climate conference, and Liam Fox’s pal, Adam Werrity, actually operating from Fox’s office while acting in his role as head of ALEC’s UK operation, Atlantic Bridge: ALEC being notable for their anti-climate change legislation stance and now headed up by Heartland’s very own Joseph Bast.

    George Osborne is has told us that the ex-Chancellor he listens to most is Nigel Lawson of GWPF fame, where I find it difficult to believe that Lawson would restrict his conversations to issues of the economy alone, especially as Lawson believes that environmental and, specifically, climate change legislation is anathema to a sound economy. Just look at Osborne’s recent comments on environmental regulations.

    How many MPs have actually visited CRU to talk to the scientists themselves, or spoken to scientists who drill ice cores as an example? I dare say very few, if not none at all. It’s one thing to pull scientists before official inquiries to explain themselves after the GWPF help promote a manufactroversy (nine? inquiries so far, with the science wholly vindicated in all cases), but does not allow for the same nuances that the likes of Helmer allow themselves to be exposed to from the opposing side of the debate’s fence.

    A recent Lords Committee found that government’s own scientific advisors and civil servants have been sidelined and even ignored, and recommended they be given more voice and executive roles in policy decision making. Whether they will be is another matter. But the fact that this has happened at all is cause for great concern. The laws of physics are not legislated for, and physical reality cannot be debated into changing. The framing of any issue that involves science is strictly defined by the limits of the physical universe, not by economics or legalistic argument.

    This all reminds me of the case of Dr Smith Dharmasaroja who was vilified and sidelined by his government and the commercial sector, even described as a mad dog and physically threatened for his warnings after looking deeper into the paleo record than anyone previously, but the warnings had short term consequences for large populations and commerce. Do Google him.

  • DCollins

    It’s unfortunate that Dr Lee lectures others on not fully understanding issues when he offers this:

    > “…I get somewhat frustrated with subsidies on solar panels and things like this because it does give the whole area of climate change a bad name.”

    This suggests that he is fundamentally ignorant of the plummeting costs of solar energy and the *net* economic benefit that investment in solar energy will bring.

    In this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrPbfz3XF0c – he seems to believe that all we need is investment in energy efficiency. That is a crucial part of the solution, but no amount of efficiency measures will *produce* electricity.

    Sadly, opposition to renewable energy has become an ideological belief for conservatives and rightwingers – even the ones who accept the scientific reality of climate change.