There’s nothing a left-liberal enjoys more than invoking a great right wing name in support of his dubious cause. Eurotards – as Richard North notes – love to cite Winston Churchill in favour of closer European union (which he was, so long as it didn’t involve Britain); greenies, meanwhile, love to gloat that Margaret Thatcher was the first world leader to take the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming seriously.
Unfortunately, as Christopher Booker reminds us in his Sunday Telegraph column, there is an awful lot of truth in this story. Here is what she said in a landmark speech to the Royal Society, given at Fishmongers Hall in the City of London on September 27 1988:
“For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world’s systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.”
And if you think that sounds like deep-green alarmist eco-lunacy, wait till you read what she said next:
“Recently three changes in atmospheric chemistry have become familiar subjects of concern. The first is the increase in the greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons—which has led some to fear that we are creating a global heat trap which could lead to climatic instability. We are told that a warming effect of 1°C per decade would greatly exceed the capacity of our natural habitat to cope. Such warming could cause accelerated melting of glacial ice and a consequent increase in the sea level of several feet over the next century. This was brought home to me at the Commonwealth Conference in Vancouver last year when the President of the Maldive Islands reminded us that the highest part of the Maldives is only six feet above sea level. The population is 177,000. It is noteworthy that the five warmest years in a century of records have all been in the 1980s—though we may not have seen much evidence in Britain!”
Does that sound like something which could have come straight out of the Dr James Hansen Big Bumper Booker of Implausible Climate Disaster Scenarios? That’s probably because it did. Most uncharacteristically, Margaret Thatcher had allowed her judgement to be clouded by one of her advisers, in this case the career diplomat and early-adopter of AGW – Sir Crispin Tickell – who in turn would have got his “facts” straight from the likes of Hansen.
A string of disasters followed. It was at Margaret Thatcher’s personal instigation that the UK Met Office set up its Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, which – in one of her final acts as Prime Minister – she opened in 1990. The Hadley Centre, in turn, was appointed by the newly founded IPCC to provide ‘its primary data set to assess observed global warming.’ Under the leadership of committed Warmist Sir John Houghton, Hadley was also responsible for selecting the lead authors for the IPCC’s scientific working group (Working Group 1) – authors who, in need hardly be said, could be relied on to push the IPCC’s reports in the ‘correct’ alarmist direction.
So yes, up to a point, AGW really was all Thatcher’s fault.
However, as Booker goes on to point out, Lady Thatcher has since very much repented her foolish ways.
In 2003, towards the end of her last book, Statecraft, in a passage headed “Hot Air and Global Warming”, she issued what amounts to an almost complete recantation of her earlier views.
She voiced precisely the fundamental doubts about the warming scare that have since become familiar to us. Pouring scorn on the “doomsters”, she questioned the main scientific assumptions used to drive the scare, from the conviction that the chief force shaping world climate is CO2, rather than natural factors such as solar activity, to exaggerated claims about rising sea levels. She mocked Al Gore and the futility of “costly and economically damaging” schemes to reduce CO2 emissions. She cited the 2.5C rise in temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period as having had almost entirely beneficial effects. She pointed out that the dangers of a world getting colder are far worse than those of a CO2-enriched world growing warmer. She recognised how distortions of the science had been used to mask an anti-capitalist, Left-wing political agenda which posed a serious threat to the progress and prosperity of mankind.
In other words, long before it became fashionable, Lady Thatcher was converted to the view of those who, on both scientific and political grounds, are profoundly sceptical of the climate change ideology.
Of course, as a huge fan of Margaret Thatcher and her mighty achievements, I find this reasonably consoling. But not, I should say, quite consoling enough. Sweet God in heaven, what was the woman thinking in 1988? Was Sir Crispin Tickell really that silver-tongued? Did it not occur to her that being an ambassador to the UN, he might be ever so slightly unsound? Did no one tell her that before he took up global warming as a cause he was a great advocate of global cooling? Was it really just a cynical ploy to use AGW as a means to help crush Britain’s coal miners while bigging up the nuclear power industry in order to bolster her Trident programme? Perhaps we shall never know. But by golly is it a blot on her copybook.