CLIMATE CHANGE - Preparation for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

- Thursday, 5th November 2009

 

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Lazarowicz: In a second. If the leaders of the world community do not reflect those concerns at Copenhagen, they will have to answer to their electorates and constituents. Equally, the pressure from those constituents and communities will be a powerful force to concentrate the minds of world leaders in trying to get something decent out of Copenhagen.

Mr. Lilley: The hon. Gentleman seems extraordinarily complacent, like everyone else who has spoken so far, about the fact that the proportion of people concerned about climate change in this country is now lower than in any other country in the world and has fallen by one third over the past year. Why does he suppose that this is so, and why does he ignore it?

Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend, from a sedentary position, suggests that people such as the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) might have a role to play in that situation. The right hon. Gentleman’s observation is not my experience. I see in my constituency growing interest in such issues. Interestingly, even during an economic recession, when traditionally people are more interested in bread-and-butter issues of the economy than in saving the planet and climate change, I find that people are still as interested as they were a year or two ago. I believe that public concern is greater than ever before. That is the basis on which I proceed in Parliament and my constituency.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): May I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests? I wish to return to the theme of the £6 million advertising campaign on the television which shows a father reading bedtime fairy
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stories to his little girl. I do not know whether it was a Freudian slip on the part of Ministers to plant in viewers’ minds the suggestion that these alarmist stories that puppies would die, that baby rabbits would drown and that English towns would be swept away under water were fairy stories, but that is what they seem to have done. I say that because, although nobody in the House seems to wish to reflect on it, the fact is that fewer people in Britain than in any other country believe in the importance of global warming. That is despite the fact that our Government and our political class-predominantly-are more committed to it than their counterparts in any other country in the world. It is right and proper that we should reflect on that detachment between the people of this country and their leaders, and it is sad that those who have spoken in this debate so far have refused to do so.

The latest Pew survey-this survey is carried out across the world every year- shows that only 15 per cent. of people in this country take seriously, or are seriously concerned about, the prospect of climate change and almost half believe that nothing can be done. On the latter point, the corresponding figure worldwide is much lower-it is less than 40 per cent.-and on the former, the figure is much higher in most other countries, including the United States of America. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave his customary attack on the American people for their obscurantism, he ought to reflect, as we all ought to do, on the fact that the British people rate the issue of climate change less seriously than even the American people do.

The second bit of evidence to cite is the exhibition that has been going on at the Science museum, which purports to give people the facts about climate change. At the end, people are asked to sign up; they are asked-yes or no-whether having heard the facts, they want to send the message to the Government that they must take serious action about climate change. People were responding to that survey after they had been through the museum and seen the graphic evidence presented in the most persuasive way possible by the alarmists. By a ratio of almost 6:1, the noes, who said that they did not believe in climate change and did not want to warn the Government, outweighed the yeses. Surely that, too, is something on which this House should reflect; I am surprised that we do not. Above all, the Government should reflect on why they have been so singularly incapable of carrying the British public with them and why their arguments have cut such little ice-I hope that I may use that phrase.

Mr. Graham Stuart: I did not know about the Science museum numbers, which are truly shocking. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that illustrates that preaching at people, trying to be divisive and trying to pretend that anybody who disagrees or who has any doubts or scepticism should be treated as though they are fundamentally and obviously wrong, is counterproductive? We need to engage in constructive discussion and dialogue with everyone and not to preach. That will carry more people over to accept the risks, as I see it, of climate change, on which my right hon. Friend’s views might be slightly different from mine.


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Mr. Lilley: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The alarmism and the overstatement have caused the problem. As a group of scientists, including the former chief scientist, have recently warned, alarmist overstatement-a refusal to acknowledge the difficulties and uncertainties-is bad for getting the message over and has a counterproductive effect.

When I raised the matter with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), he said-as did other people who prompted him-that it was all because of people like me. I would love to believe that I and a handful of others had such silver-tongued eloquence that we were able, with the minimal exposure we are given, to have converted the British people to a degree of scepticism. I do not want to convert them to scepticism about the science. The science is not a fairy tale. The basic science is that if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is doubled, before the feedbacks are considered that will increase the surface temperature of the atmosphere by 1° C. That is the scientific analysis that any physicist will support. If that higher temperature were to result in more water vapour in the atmosphere, which it does not seem to have done, that would raise the temperature by another 2° C. A doubling of CO2 could have the direct greenhouse effect of raising the temperature by up to 2° C.

The Government and the alarmists have to concoct a lot of feedbacks that so far have not manifested themselves to predict that in future we will see far higher rises in temperature from a given increase in CO2 than we have in the past. I am neither a denier of the science nor an alarmist. I am a lukewarmist, if one likes-

Colin Challen: That makes a change.

Mr. Lilley: It does. It is unusual for me-

Frank Dobson: You are a global lukewarmist.

Mr. Lilley: I am a global lukewarmist, and I take seriously-

Mr. Gummer: A sort of sceptic, really.

Mr. Lilley: A sort of sceptic, yes. Unlike my right hon. Friend, who is simply credulous.

A lot of fairy stories are attached to and latched on to a genuine scientific concern. The first fairy tale, which the Government foster, is the idea that there is total consensus in science at the alarmist end of the spectrum. The key to the science of global warming and climate change is physics. One can study the physics of global warming without having much knowledge of meteorology, but one cannot study meteorology without studying physics, someone said-and I do not repeat that just because I happen to have studied physics at Cambridge.

A recent controversy in the American Physical Society proves pretty clearly that there is no consensus among physicists, at least, about extreme versions of the theories. It was sparked off when the committee of the APS was persuaded by the great and the good to sign up to a statement that the evidence for the more alarmist views of anthropogenic global warming was

    “incontrovertible...If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur.”

The committee issued that statement without consulting the society’s members, which sparked off a revolt, and 160 senior physicists-members of the American Physical

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Society-wrote a letter publicly disowning that statement and suggesting that it should be replaced with a more moderate statement, saying that:

    “while substantial concern has been expressed that emissions may cause significant climate change, measured or reconstructed temperature records indicate that 20th-21st century changes are neither exceptional nor persistent, and the historical and geological records show many periods warmer than today.”

It went on:

    “Current climate models appear insufficiently reliable to properly account for natural and anthropogenic contributions to past climate change, much less project”

climate change.

The statement was signed by a lot of serious scientists. I am going to take the House’s time and list some of them, but I shall read out only those who are professors of physics. They include the professor of physics at the university of North Carolina, the professor of physics at Rutgers university, the professor of physics at Princeton university, the professor and chair of the physics department at Bernidji state university, the professor of chemical physics at the university of Medina, the professor of physics at the university of California, the professor and chair of the physics department at the George Washington university, the professor of physics at the university of Rochester, the professor of engineering physics at the university of Virginia, the professor of physics at the university of Washington, the professor of physics at Santa Clara university, the professor of physics at Colorado state university, the professor of the physics of geological processes at the university of Oslo, the professor of the department of chemistry and physics at the William Patterson university, the professor of physics at the Ivar Giaever institute-who won the Nobel prize-and another professor in the university of Virginia’s department of physics.

The list goes on: the professor of physics at the university at Hatfield, Another professor of physics at Princeton university, the professor of physics at the university of Connecticut, another professor of physics from Washington and yet another from the university of Rochester, which seems to be a hotbed of scepticism. A professor of physics and astronomy-

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. This is taking quite a proportion of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. Perhaps it would be better to say to the House that the list will be available in Library.

Mr. Lilley: With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the list will be available in Hansard. I have only three more to go, but I want to point out to those hon. Members who say persistently that only a handful of mavericks disagree, that, in fact, a lot of serious professors at serious universities do so.

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall add the last few: the professor of physics at the university of California, the professor of physics, astronomy and geophysics at Connecticut college, the professor of physics at Tuft’s university, and the professor of physics at Midwestern university. There are rather more than I thought, I do apologise. The professor of physics-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the House has got the idea, given what the right hon. Gentleman said was the point that he was trying to make.

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Mr. Lilley: I shall pray you in aid, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when people say that there is only a handful of dissenters and that the science is settled. I am very grateful to you for giving me your authority to do so.

The simple fact is that the science is not resolved. A lot of serious scientists think that although there is a measure of impact-I agree with that-the alarmist views are not upheld by the science. A majority may well disagree with the scientists to whom I have referred-

Dr. Whitehead: More than a majority!

Mr. Lilley: More than a majority? You cannot have more than a majority, can you?

A majority may disagree, but my point is merely that there is dissent, that the science is not settled and that argument and debate go on. We should not pretend otherwise.

Dr. Whitehead: The right hon. Gentleman has read out a very short list, but does he accept that it would take several days to read out the list of people who have the opposite opinion about the science of climate change? Does he also accept that the whole idea of science is that it consists of hypotheses and disputes? There never is an absolute consensus, but is it not probably a good idea to take the advice of the large number of scientists who think certain things and have established a large amount of empirical evidence for, and understanding of, their hypotheses?

Mr. Lilley: When Einstein came out with his theory of relativity, the Nazi authorities in Germany did not like it because he was a Jew. They got 100 professors of physics-Germany’s entire physics establishment-to sign a statement that he was wrong. He replied that if he were wrong, it would only take one to prove it.

In this case, there is a majority on one side of the argument, and a minority on the other, but it is clear that the science remains uncertain and open. That is all that I ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) to accept, and he should not pretend that there is unanimity where it does not exist.

The proper debate that we need about the subject will require openness and those who doubt what is said by one side to have the opportunity to try to replicate that side’s arguments-that is normal in science. I hope that the Minister will tell us what is happening about the Met Office Hadley centre’s refusal to publish the basic figures it has received from around the world that it uses to calculate its estimates of the rise in surface temperatures throughout the world. It was disappointing that the scientists initially refused to publish that material-although they made it available to scientists who agreed with them, they refused to give it to those who disagreed. The centre then gave as an excuse the alleged fact that there were confidentiality agreements with some countries that had given information, saying that it was therefore not at liberty to publish, and then refused to publish the confidentiality agreements or the names of the countries with which it supposedly had those agreements, and said that the agreements had disappeared.

If we are to have a sensible and open debate, people must have the opportunity to examine the facts and data, reproduce what others have done, and show whether or not that is replicable, as the case may be. I hope that

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the Minister will respond to this point in her winding-up speech; I tabled a question on the matter a while ago, so the answer must be at her disposal.

There are plenty of other fairy stories around, and I want to touch on the idea that a rise of 2° C would constitute dangerous climate change that we should try to avoid by spending unlimited amounts. That is a 2° C rise not from now, but from before the industrial revolution. We have already had a rise of 0.7° C, so it is being said that a further 1.3° C rise in world temperature would be dangerous. One reason why the ordinary public are in disbelief is because they spend their time looking for places that are 10° C warmer than here, not 1° C. The Minister was frightfully upset when I pointed out that the average temperature in north-east England was more than 2° C higher than that in Cornwall and asked whether it was dangerous for people to go from Newcastle to Newquay. We cannot pretend that comparatively modest changes to the temperature of the Earth will lead to Armageddon-they will not.

I hope that we will listen to those scientists, many of whom are in Government employ, who have warned against alarmist views, and that we will take a more consensual view of the basic minimum science that is agreed and open that up to debate and discussion, without trying to silence those who disagree by calling them “deniers” and equating them with holocaust deniers. As I said, I am not a denier-I am a lukewarmer-but even those who deny the existence of anthropological global warning deserve to be heard, just as the alarmists do, and it is sad that we have heard only one or two such views expressed in the House today.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): ...The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) may pour scorn on public concern about climate change and support for action against climate change in the UK, but compared with America, that concern and support is pretty good.

Mr. Lilley: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s point is wrong. There is a lower support for, or belief in, action to curb climate change in this country than in the United States of America.

Gregory Barker:The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) spoke about the need to focus on carbon technologies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) struck a slightly discordant note, but he is always articulate and very well informed.
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Mr. Lilley: And usually right.

Gregory Barker: I am afraid I do not necessarily agree with my right hon. Friend. He described himself today as, I think, putting forward a lukewarm case for what I guess we would call climate scepticism.

Mr. Lilley: It was a case for lukewarmism.

Gregory Barker: I stand corrected. Let me make a serious point, however. I know that my right hon. Friend is very genuine in his beliefs, but if we were talking about the probability of our children or grandchildren suffering not from climate change, but from cancer, would he indulge in the same rhetoric about probabilities and ratios? If we were talking about a 60 per cent. probability of our kids contracting cancer in the 2020s or 2030s, or a 50 per cent. probability of our grandchildren contracting cancer in the 2050s, would he engage in that same academic rhetoric? I think not, but as sure as eggs is eggs, for so many people around the world climate change, if it goes unchecked, will result in death and destruction as surely as cancer would. That may be an inappropriate comparison, but for a lot of people, particularly in the developing world, checking climate change will be a matter of life or death, and we must remember that.

Mr. Lilley: My hon. Friend asks a question. May I respond in the form of a question? Does he not realise that most medical research is conducted on precisely that sort of statistical basis, in that a product that has only a small chance of causing cancer goes into the public domain, whereas we legislate against products that have a large chance of doing so? I think that global warming is likely to cause lukewarming, not serious problems. My hon. Friend asks whether I would raise concerns about cancer on a statistical basis in other spheres. Indeed, I have done so: I argued in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, because the chance of getting cancer from cannabis is negligible, while the chance of getting the disease from tobacco is very great.

Gregory Barker: I appreciate the points my right hon. Friend makes, but even if we are at the lukewarm end of the range of probabilities, that is still a very substantial problem. If I thought there was any chance of actions taken by myself or a Government of which I was a member leading to a 10, 20 or 30 per cent.-let alone a 60 or 70 per cent., or, as the IPCC believes, a 93 per cent.-probability of such an outcome, I would strain every sinew and not begrudge spending any money that I thought was necessary to avert that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) informed me that he would not be here now because he has another engagement to attend, but I should mention that he spoke with his usual passion and informed the debate with his particular expertise. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke about hydrofluorocarbons, and I agreed with a great deal of what he said on that subject. He only has to wait for a Conservative Government to see robust action on regulating HFCs out of the system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), who does a huge amount of work on this agenda in his role as the international vice-president of

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GLOBE International and as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, spoke at length about China. He is one of the more knowledgeable China-watchers in the House-

 

 

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