Margaret Thatcher: Climate Sceptic

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.

11 thoughts on “Margaret Thatcher: Climate Sceptic”

  1. James

    I know how you feel. When I discovered that my great hero, Churchill, was not only complicit (with Arthur Harris) of the mindless nighttime carpet bombing strategy over Germany during the war, but a prime mover, I was crushingly disappointed. Even to many contempoary observers it was a strategically useless strategy designed strictly to “terrorize” the civilian population by killing hundreds of thousands in firebombings. The US was much more effective using daylight strategic target bombing, and blasting the Luftwaffe from the skies during “Big Week” in Feb of ’44.
    Not to say Lemay and Roosevelt did not do the same damn thing to Japan in 1945. But then Roosevelt was never a hero of mine.
    JLK

  2. Well now Delingpole, didn’t that ‘defrocked’ hero of yours, Christopher Monckton, claim to be a Margaret Thatcher adviser. Perhaps it was he who “turned her around” with the piles of sheer nonsense has has become so well known for, disinformation and misinformation proven to be wrong time after time.
    As you sit in that foxhole with him, why not ask him what he advised Margaret Thatcher about?
    In the meantime the planet continues to warm and the ice continues to melt.

  3. JLK: Get over yourself.

    Around the clock bombing of Germany was hardly useless, as we have documentsfrom the OKW itself citing it as being devastating to the German war effort and being a crucial drain on resources. The Romanians felt the same way after continuous USAAF and RAF bombing runs had leveled much of their oil fields and the surrounding area. And this is before we start talking about the decrease in the ability of the Germans to use their manufacturing capacity to replace losses in the field and to carry out their other objectives (unbelievable as it may seem, most of the infrastructure used to support the concentration camp system was deeemd INSUFFICIENT by Berlin. Care to imagine how that system would have operated with enough resources to meet the criteria of its creators?).

    And frankly, you talk of “terrorizing” the German and later Japanese populace as though it was a BAD thing. While I know I am going to get a LOT of flack for this- and not all of it unjustly- do you honestly think the dead of “The War to End All Wars” who died trying to stamp out German imperial aggression who would later see their descendents fight and die to counter a Germany that had chosen the warpath AGAIN would say such a thing?

    Bluntly, the Germans elected Hitler, as they elected Von Bulow and Bismarck before them. They chose after the horror they inflicted upon Europe and much of the rest of the world to try again under the singular delusion that they were not beaten in large part because the costs for their aggression were barely felt at home, with the French, Belgians, Italians, Greeks, Serbs, Romanians, Montenegrins, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Russians instead bearing the cost for not merely starting the war, but for waging it in a manner blatantly illegal in accorance with international law.

    Was it THAT terrible to teach unto the Germans what they had been party to in doing to the Poles and the British and to give to the Japanese the same medicine they had dispersed by air in Shanghai and Harbin?

    You do not have to convince me that bombing was a horrific and deeply scarring measure. What I disagree with is that it was uncalled for. Given the devastation of German and Japanese military capacity- which doubtless shortened the war considerably- after they themselves had brought it upon themselves by opening the door in Spain, Poland, and China, I would call it justified. But, if in addition to that, the trauma inflicted upon the German people convinced them in some small measure that another war to try and achieve their “place in the sun” would exact too horrifying a cost to consider, than I would go further and say it was in fact a HUMANE measure.

    War cannot be waged with stainless white gloves or with one’s hands tied behind one’s back. We must doubtless be better than our enemies, but we should not shrink from actually doing our duty in achieving victory and thus preventing yet more tragedy. It was the traumas of WWII that reformed Japan from a feudal empire into what it is today, and it was the traumas of two world wars, partition, occupation, humiliation, and the ravaging of Germany itself that brought Germany out of the tyrannical Bismarckian Empire or the horrifying Nazi nightmare it was into what it is now today. To discount those facts of the past is to merely invite disaster in the future.

  4. A few points:-

    1) Monkcton has not been “de-frocked” no matter how much warmists would like to believe, and he was a science advisor to Thatcher. Monckton just presents data and facts in support of global climate realism. If the warmists have a problem with data and facts, well then it just shows what a pure fantasy the CAGW theory is. The truth is that Monkcton is very good at exposing the nonsense, misinformation and disinformation on the warmist side.

    2) The reason why Britain had to bomb germany by night was simply because we had no fighter plane that had the range to accompany the bombers. The Americans had the P51 Mustang that was both a match for the German Me109 and could reach the target areas and protect the bombers during the more accurate daylight raids. Yes, civillian deaths were apalling but the Germans also killed civillians and WWII was a total war. And war is hell!

  5. Just a few small corrections John of Kent. Monckton wasn’t a ‘science advisor’ to Thatcher; he was a special advisor on economic matters. Thatcher’s scientiic advisors all had science degrees. Your confusion is understandable though; Monckton likes to pretend he’s something he isn’t – like a member of the House of Lords for example.

    I’m sure Monckton occasionally stumbles across some facts in his scatter gun approach to information, but I think it’s stretching the bounds of credibility to declare that he ‘just’ presents data and facts. He present a lot of lies and bullshit as well. To witness his thourough ‘defrocking’ you can just look up ‘John Abraham’.

    It’s easy to be taken in by smooth talking men who promise you the world, but I think you’re better than that.

    Yours,

    George

  6. George, you are the one who is confused, and has been taken in by the “lies and bullshit” from John Abraham. As I said, monckton merely presents facts, and data. You can look this stuff up, and these facts and data show that AGW is not a problem.

    And he DID advise Maggie on scientific matters, doing then what he does now, digging up the actual data rather than listening to the activists. Yes, he may not have had that official title, but that is nit picking and basically nothing more than an ad-hominem attack.

    It is interesting that you alarmists hate Monckton so much, maybe because he expresses the case for non alarm so well that he is considered a danger. I have read Monkcton but saw the data previouslt from other sources- mostly climate and physical scientists and geologists that convinced me that there is no evidence for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Which smooth talking man convinced you of the alleged imminent catastrophie?? Al Gore and his terrible movie that is chock full of lies and bullshit, as you like to say.

    Come on George, you are much better that that!

  7. I will let Monckton answer your charges himself in his own words:-

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/06/16/margaret-thatcher-the-world%e2%80%99s-first-climate-realist/

    “Guest posting by Christopher Monckton of Brenchley

    Anthony Watts’ earlier posting about Margaret Thatcher’s sceptical approach to the climate question prompted some comments asking whether I could add anything to the story, since I gave her advice on science as well as other policy from 1982-1986, two years before the IPCC was founded.

    First, what on Earth was a layman with a degree in classical languages and architecture doing giving advice on science to the British Prime Minister, who was herself a scientist and a Fellow of the Royal Society?

    Truth is, British government is small (though still a lot bigger and more expensive than it need be). The Prime Minister’s policy unit had just six members, and, as a mathematician who was about to make a goodish fortune turning an obscure and hitherto-unnoticed wrinkle in the principles of probabilistic combinatorics into a pair of world best-selling puzzles, I was the only one who knew any science.

    So, faute de mieux, it was I who – on the Prime Minister’s behalf – kept a weather eye on the official science advisors to the Government, from the Chief Scientific Advisor downward. On my first day in the job, I tottered into Downing Street dragging with me one of the world’s first portable computers, the 18-lb Osborne 1, with a 5” screen, floppy disks that were still truly floppy, and a Z80 8-bit chip which I had learned to program in machine language as well as BASIC. ”

    read the link for more info.

  8. Probably best to let others judge the nature of the Abraham/Monckton exchange.

    Abraham’s defrocking here: http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/jpabraham/

    Monckton’s reply here: http://cfact.eu/2010/06/04/climate-the-extremists-join-the-debate-at-last/comment-page-1/#comment-455

    Abraham’s reply here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Abraham-reply-to-Monckton.html

    While I’d love to be able to take Monckton’s nostalgic anecdotes as gospel, the fact that he once made reference to himself as “a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature” in a letter to two American senators, despite the fact that he is no such thing, rather puts his credibility in doubt. At least in my eyes.

    Don’t worry, I don’t hate Monckton. Pity is the overwhelming emotion.

  9. John,

    Sorry for the delay but I’ve just come across this at the Grauniad, thought you might be interested…

    Viscount Christopher Monckton of Brenchley has posted, on the blog operated by former TV weatherman and prominent “sceptic” Anthony Watts, a personal account of his influence on Lady Thatcher’s views about climate change during the 1980s. Thatcher shocked the UN in 1989 with a call to action on man-made global warming, but has since made sceptical public statements about anthropogenic climate change.

    As we have come to expect, Viscount Monckton’s recollection of events makes for interesting reading.

    He begins with the claim that: “I gave her advice on science as well as other policy from 1982-1986, two years before the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] was founded”, pointing out that the prime minister’s policy unit at that time had just six members and that he was “the only one who knew any science”. Monckton then goes on to suggest that “it was I who – on the prime minister’s behalf – kept a weather eye on the official science advisers to the government, from the chief scientific adviser downward”.

    This revelation might be news to Lady Thatcher. On page 640 of her 1993 autobiography Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years, the former prime minister describes how she grappled with the issue of climate change, referring only to “George Guise, who advised me on science in the policy unit”. Indeed, given Monckton’s purportedly crucial role, it seems to be heartless ingratitude from the Iron Lady that she does not find room to mention him anywhere in the 914-page volume on her years as prime minister.

    Viscount Monckton also modestly notes that he was responsible for bringing in “the first computer they had ever seen in Downing Street”, on which he “did the first elementary radiative-transfer calculations that indicated climate scientists were right to say some ‘global warming’ would arise as CO2 concentration continued to climb”.

    It is perhaps surprising that this novel and important innovation by Viscount Monckton was not recognised by the current minister for science and universities, David Willetts, who was also a member of the prime minister’s policy unit between 1984 and 1986. In 1986, “Two Brains” wrote a prize-winning essay on the role of the unit, but mysteriously omitted to mention Monckton’s historic contribution.

  10. JLK repeats the (admittedly, received) wisdom about the futility of the RAF’s night bombing campaign. Much of this belongs to the “let’s make the world a safer place for war” school of thought. Much is simply wrong. As usual, the truth is far more nuanced, and includes:

    *It was conducted at a time when the USSR was the only one of the allies engaging the Germans at the borders of the territory they held. In doing so, they were losing life on a scale that dwarfed that endured by the British and Americans, and their continued willingness to do so was vital to Allied interests. They were demanding, as they had every right to, every possible effort by their Western allies to enfeeble the forces opposed to them, if not by territorial assault, then by diversion and impairment of resources. Churchill was right to try in any way possible to meet that demand, without holding the lives of his own soldiers as cheaply as Stalin did his.

    *The astonishing resilience of German industry under sustained bombardment is often cited as evidence that the campaign accomplished nothing. But this ignores the fact that the German economy entered the war operating well below capacity (no use was made of women, and single-shift operation was still common). Taking this into account, the campaign did impair German industry, although never as seriously as was predicted by its champions.

    *Simply by repeatedly entering German-controlled airspace, the RAF tied up thousands of 88mm guns and their crews, hundreds of night-fighters, etc etc, significantly impairing Germany’s ability to resist in the East.

    *The German people could have brought the whole thing to and end by simply leaving their cities and camping out in the countryside until their leaders brought the war to an end, as, deprived of their workforce, they surely must. Instead they repeatedly chose to re-enter their cities and resume production.

    So much for the defence of Churchill, Harris et al. Against them, it can be said:

    *That they entered the war excessively in thrall to the theories of Marshal Douhet, and were too slow to adapt their beliefs in the light of experience.

    *This led to an “idee fixe” as to the nature of a “bomber” – it was held to be a heavy, four-engined “bloody paralyser” that could never aspire to outpace or outclimb the fighters sent to destroy it, but wouldn’t need to because it could outgun them. When the DH Mosquito (first flight 1939) came along, able to fly to Berlin and back, it had a B17-ish bombload which it could deliver significantly more accurately than a “heavy”, because being higher and faster than almost anything opposed to it, it escaped much of the molestation they suffered. But it confuted the very idea of what a bomber “ought” to be, and very nearly didn’t make it into production. Had it been used instead of the Halifax and Lancaster as the main vehicle for the campaign, it would, (as the Pathfinder, Don Bennett VC has, from extensive experience of both categories, observed) have resulted in more accurate bombing, therefore more target damage and reduced collateral damage and injury, and in lower loss of RAF life machinery and, incidentally, fuel.

    *Long after everyone in the know knew that the idea of precision night bombing was all but nonsensical, RAF crews were made to follow procedures (e.g. flying straight and level for 30 seconds after release, to take a sequence of photographs of their target, instead of being allowed to “yank and bank” their way out of trouble as best they could) which were only really applicable to a genuinely precise attack. I find this hard to forgive.

    *Towards the end of the war, it seems clear that Harris needlessly risked a lot of life by bombing cities simply because they remained standing, and with no discernible strategic or tactical objective. Even here, however it is easy to neglect the extent to which a town of no previous strategic importance can suddenly acquire one when it becomes the only place within cooee able to handle road or rail traffic, all others having been destroyed.

    *Despite abundant evidence from the Spanish Civil War, their “bloody paralyser” preoccupation blinded commanders to the very notion of tactical air superiority and battlefield support, a role which the Mosquito (again!) was belatedly recruited to fill, with brilliant results, which tended to be either grudgingly acknowledged, or dismissed as anomalous, by the air power establishment.

    Commanders spend the entirety of any war learning how to fight it, and WW2 was no exception. Smug disparagement of their efforts is easy, but is unlikely to improve the conduct of future wars, since they, just like their predecessors, will have to be learned.

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