The once chancellor to Thatcher and father of Nigella Lawson stages a remarkable political resurrection by making climate denial his personal crusade. The first of three parts in our inaugural series, An Honourable Man.
Nigel Lawson is an honourable man. The one-time British chancellor interrupted his idyllic retirement in the South of France to take part in what he described as a “distinctly surreal” debate on global warming held by the Institute of Economic Affairs in London on the evening of Monday, November 23, 2009. It would turn out to be portentous day in the history of British and American climate denial.
The shrewd rhetorician admitted that he was “not competent to pronounce on the science” and that he simply did not know whether climate change was taking place: “Within these four walls,” he said, “I have to confess to this ignorance”.
He accused the government of producing “mendacious” propaganda to “frighten the public,” before presenting a harrowing picture of how any limits to economic growth from reducing our dependence on fossil fuels would impact the world's poor.
“If you slow down the rate at which these countries can develop, what you are doing is condemning tens of millions of people in the developing world to unnecessary poverty, unnecessary malnutrition, unnecessary premature death and unnecessary diseases,” he concluded. “I think that's possibly immoral.”
Dr. S. Fred Singer spoke alongside the seasoned politician that night. The silver-haired US-based scientist was among the first to question the emerging science of global warming. Singer sang from the same hymn-sheet. “I'm not worried about climate change. Not at all. We know how to adapt to climate change better than our ancestors: we don't have to live in caves any more,” he smiled.
“What worries me - the only thing I'm scared of - are politicians: when the zeal to control the climate, to save the climate, will introduce policies that will ruin the economy.”
The politician and the scientist were warmly applauded by the assembly of blazer-wearing pensioners that filled the small room.
This presentation took place at the Institute of Directors' imposing classical building on London's prestigious Pall Mall during a perfect storm that would severely damage the public's trust in climate science. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, Barack Obama, the American President, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, and the rest of the world's most powerful leaders were preparing for the fifteenth Conference of the Parties, taking place that December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The gathering was being hyped by environmentalists as the last real chance to prevent runaway catastrophic global warming and therefore save humanity from itself.
The climate deniers in Britain and America, on the other hand, were at this time marginalised from the debate after their leading proponents had become tainted with the lingering, acrid smell of oil and tobacco money.
A Miracle Just Happened
But shortly before Lawson’s talk a comment was posted on a popular sceptic blog: “A miracle just happened,” it said.
The cryptic message linked to a file on a Russian server which contained hundreds of thousands of private emails between professors Michael Mann, Phil Jones and dozens of the world's leading climate scientists which had been hacked and stolen from the servers of a British university.
The hack was quickly dubbed “Climategate” by James Delingpole, an eccentric denier then blogging for The Telegraph, and newspapers and broadcasters from London to New York published the sensational claim that these emails contained “smoking gun” proof that global warming was in fact an elaborate hoax.
The farce threatened to undermine the public's trust in climate science just when the world's governments were about to introduce legally binding restrictions on carbon emissions. Lawson appeared in The Times demanding a “high-level, independent inquiry” into Jones and his work.
“The integrity of the scientific evidence” on which “far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions” are based “has been called into question,” he wrote, “and the reputation of British science seriously tarnished.” The article hit the streets as he travelled to Committee Room G of the House of Commons to launch his charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, before an invited audience of Conservative MPs, lobbyists and well-wishers.
Lawson's remarkable luck would continue late into the evening. After the formal proceedings at Pall Mall drew to a close, Mark Littlewood, the chain-smoking director general of the IEA, invited the speakers to dinner. They were joined by a third man, who had made millions in currency speculation, and had given the IEA a generous £36,000 to host the discussion - Lawson commands a speaking fee of up to £12,000.
During the meal, the third man discussed Lawson’s recent book, An Appeal to Reason, A Cool Look at Global Warming with the author himself and accepted an invitation to pay a visit to his small charity. Some time after, he turned up at the GWPF offices just off Trafalgar Square where he met Dr Benny Peiser, the social anthropologist who somehow has become Lawson's indispensable side-kick. The multi-millionaire was seemingly impressed and agreed to donate a large sum to Lawson's foundation.
This was the beginning of a new offensive against climate science, and the end of a political consensus in Britain supporting policies to reduce emissions to prevent the worst horrors of runaway global warming.
Wednesday: part two of our three part prologue and introduction to the first definitive, unauthorised history of climate denial in Britain and the United States. Share on Twitter and Facebook so your friends are not forced to play catch-up!