The annoying perils of climate change scepticism


Alex Blackburne writes about how we must ensure recent instances of wind power opposition and climate change scepticism are anomalies and not trends. It’s not all that easy, though.

Part of being a scientist means to be sceptical about everything. Children would be learning in science class about how an omnipotent, omniscient deity planted a fully formed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to set the human race on its way if it wasn’t for scientific questioning.

Evolution and the Big Bang would certainly not be on the curriculum.

The same goes for climate change. We know global temperatures are rising, causing the polar ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise. This is known because of scientific scepticism. And it’s predicted that the future will bring water wars, devastated major cities, widespread illness and an increase in natural disasters.

And the evidence for all of this leads to us humans, because climate change is caused by human activity: Fact.

Or is it? One UK-based think-tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, chaired by Lord Lawson, irrefutably deny that global warming is human created. It seeks to question and challenge governmental climate change mitigation policies.

The think-tank receives significant scrutiny from climate scientists on a regular basis, and faces an Information Rights Tribunal later this week. This is over the rejection of a Freedom of Information request that sought to reveal the identity of its seed donor, who allegedly donated £50,000 when it launched in 2009.

“Lord Lawson’s think-tank, which has been bankrolled by shadowy funders, is lobbying government for a change in climate policy that would affect the lives of millions of people”, Brendan Montague, director of the Request Initiative told the Guardian.

“The privacy of wealth has so far been valued above public accountability, even by our own civic institutions.

“The democratic principle of transparency is breached when a former chancellor can sit in the House of Lords influencing government policy on matters as important as climate change while accepting funding for his think-tank from secret supporters.”

Another climate sceptic think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre faces an uncertain future after the government in its native Denmark cut its funding.

Bjorn Lomborg, the self-styled ‘sceptical environmentalist’ is the think-tank’s founder. He has been widely criticised by climate scientists for his outlandish views on global prioritisation, in which he continually places climate change at the bottom of the world’s agenda. He explains his theory in this video on TED.

Whilst the overall issue of climate change is a hot topic for sceptics to discuss, the technologies needed to mitigate it have also come under scrutiny of late.

A paper by the Policy Exchange called The Full Cost to Households of Renewable Energy Policies labelled offshore wind power – one of the most readily available forms of renewable energy for the UK – as “hugely expensive”.

The think-tank, though, simply claims that the Government’s targets are too high for the current market’s need.

“We aren’t arguing never ever to build offshore wind”, a spokesperson said. “We aren’t even arguing that we should be building zero offshore wind now.

“What we are arguing is that the amount of offshore wind we should be building is enough to sustain those research development and demonstration learning improvements.

“This is not the same as the huge amount above that envisaged by current government deployment targets for offshore wind and the strategy for meeting the renewable energy target.”

Adam Bell, communications manager at RenewableUK, the trade and professional body for the UK wind and marine renewables industries, brushed off Policy Exchange’s report.

“Energy policy is an area vital to Britain’s economy”, he said.

“While we welcome debate, Policy Exchange’s note relies on a range of unwarranted assumptions, as the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has demonstrated.

“As such, we do not believe it moves the debate forward.”

In addition, Nick Molho, head of energy policy at WWF-UK said, “Policy Exchange has used some pretty dubious maths and has ignored significant research by authoritative sources.

“Detailed modelling by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Ofgem and DECC shows the impacts on energy bills will be far lower in 2020 and confirms that bills are sky-high right now because of our over-reliance on fossil fuels – specifically, gas.

“Reports like this mislead the public and erode investor confidence in the sector at precisely the time when we need to attract investment.

“If we want to revitalise the UK’s economy we need to concentrate on building a new industry based on renewable energy and encourage investment through stable policies, not repeated chopping and changing.”

The Policy Exchange’s paper comes just as Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative MP, has set up an All Party Parliamentary Group to halt the expansion of the wind power sector.

Writing on his blog, Heaton-Harris said, “My main aim was to try and get the Government to stop for a few weeks and fundamentally review its massive support (through subsidy) for a renewable technology that I believe does more harm than good.

“Whilst we are unable to store the energy turbines produce, by pressing on with this policy, we are disrupting the grid and doing precious little to stop emitting carbon.”

Heaton-Harris went on to state his belief that nuclear power was in fact the way forward, and emphasised that he was by no means against renewables. He simply objected to the way DECC had gone about aiming to meet its renewable targets.

“DECC officials seem to only have eyes for wind energy”, he said.

“Fair enough, it was the only game in town for a number of years and it has a massive and powerful lobby behind it (unlike all the newer and better renewable technologies); but policy in this area needs to be constantly evaluated, so that the taxpayers’ subsidy gets the most value.”

The DECC’s apparent over-prioritisation of wind energy, though, is entirely necessary.

The UK’s incredible natural geography makes it the perfect place to harness power from the wind, not forgetting the vast seas surrounding it – the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy” as it’s been dubbed.

Sadly, climate change will always have deniers and sceptics. And equally, there will always be a better way of doing things in some people’s eyes.

Democracy inevitably brings this kind of opposition. Not everyone can be pleased.

The most important point in all of this is that climate change is most certainly happening, and we have to do something about it. The clean-up work begins with individuals and communities.

Investment in clean technology – like wind power – is imperative if we are to do this.

Ask your financial adviser, or fill in our online form if you don’t have one, and your money can start making a real difference.

To read more about climate change scepticism, visit Skeptical Science – a brilliant blog set up by John Cook to tackle the doubters.