Tuesday 25th October 2016                 Change text size:

Owen Paterson should get with the conservation programme

Photo: policy exchange via flickr

Climate change is real and human activity is a significant contributor to it. Our unenvironmental secretary rejects this simple truth.

Just as the majority of people accept the scientific consensus on medicine for our health, and engineering for our built environment, the majority should accept the scientific consensus on climate change. Owen Paterson, the Conservative secretary of state for the environment, does not.

When Paterson detached a retina at the height of the flooding crisis, he didn’t deny the medical consensus that he urgently needed to get it fixed.

Every time Paterson travels by car or train or plane or ship, he doesn’t deny the engineering consensus that makes those forms of transport possible.

We wouldn’t expect him to deny these experts, as he’s a history graduate and former leather merchant. He’s neither a doctor, nor an engineer.

But when it comes to climate science, Paterson rejects outright the peer-reviewed consensus of subject matter experts and peers. His strongly held view is despite his not being a climate scientist, but the aforementioned historian and leather peddler.

A party that developed the Factories Act (1802 onwards, but mainly under Disraeli), the Clean Air Act (1956 under Eden) and Montreal Protocol (1987 under Thatcher) has every right to be seen as good stewards of our green and pleasant planet.

To have a Conservative environment secretary who does not accept the overwhelming consensus on climate change is therefore some sort of sick joke.

His tenure in that role undermines the work of more enlightened Tories who wish to support an environmental or conservationist agenda. One such example is the Conservative Environment Network (CEN).

In a five-page essay on natural capital in the otherwise excellent CEN pamphlet on responsibility and resilience, launched on Wednesday, Paterson fails to mention climate or climate change even once.

Paterson may well see himself as a “practical environmentalist” but he publicly remains a stubborn climate science denier, disinformation disseminator and doubt spreader, who sees the experts working tirelessly in this complex field as cultists.

Paterson’s scientifically illiterate and genuinely offensive stance on climate change and scientists in the field sabotages the right of Tories to assert their stewardship heritage.

Prime minister David Cameron accepts that manmade climate change is real, and sees it as “one of our most serious threats“. He needs to be stronger than that; it is our most serious threat.

If the Conservatives, especially Michael Gove, Greg Barker and Zac Goldsmith, who were all at the CEN pamphlet launch, genuinely wish to be seen as good stewards of our planet and its future, Paterson should publicly declare his firm support for the consensus on manmade climate change.

If he doesn’t, he should be shuffled out. Or be made to resign.

Further reading:

David Cameron: ‘climate change one of the most serious threats this world faces’

Environment secretary Owen Paterson says UK will benefit from global warming

Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg and senior conservatives rally for the environment

George Osborne: UK should tackle climate change in ‘cheapest’ way possible

Climate change aside, we’re harming our children with dirty energy

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