The Denial Lobby
By Bob May
27 January, 2005
the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded - through the so-called
Global Climate Coalition (GCC) - a lobby of professional sceptics who
opposed action to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The GCC was "deactivated" in 2001, once President Bush made
it clear he intended to reject the Kyoto protocol. But the denial lobby
is still active, and today it arrives in London.
The UK has become
a target because the government has made climate change a focus of its
G8 presidency this year. A key player in this decision is chief scientific
adviser Sir David King, who became public enemy number one for the denial
lobby when he described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism.
In December, a UK-based
group, the Scientific Alliance, teamed up with the George C Marshall
Institute, a body headed by the chairman emeritus of the GCC, William
O'Keefe, to publish a document with the innocuous title Climate Issues
& Questions. It plays up the uncertainties surrounding climate change
science, playing down the likely impact that it will have.
It contrasts starkly
with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
the world's most reliable source of information on the effects of greenhouse
gas emissions. In its last major report in 2001, the IPCC adopted an
evidence-based approach to climate change and considered uncertainties
on impact. It concluded that "overall, climate change is projected
to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations,
predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries", and that
"the projected rate and magnitude of warming and sea-level rise
can be lessened by reducing greenhouse gas emissions". More than
2,000 of the world's leading climate experts were involved in compiling
the report - the most authoritative scientific assessment to date.
But today, the
Scientific Alliance is holding a forum for members of the US and UK
denial lobby to challenge the case for acting on the findings of the
IPCC. The intention appears to be to get its retaliation in first before
a meeting of climate change experts next week at the Hadley Centre,
at which Sir David King will take part.
Possibly more worrying
is how much prominence their views are receiving in the UK media. The
Daily Telegraph bizarrely used an anonymous leader on the tsunami in
Asia to question the value of cutting emissions: "Whether or not
this would have the effects claimed by ecologists - and the science
is inconclusive - any gain would be insignificant next to the changes
in temperature caused by forces outside our control."
But the Daily Mail
seems keenest to board the well-oiled bandwagon. Fresh from its now
discredited campaign against MMR, it has run six opinion pieces over
the last year questioning the science of climate change. David Bellamy
and columnist Melanie Phillips have perhaps predictably joined in, but
more surprising has been the conversion of Michael Hanlon, the paper's
Last week, Hanlon
cited Michael Crichton's research for his new novel as a further indication
that climate change science is a con. The theme of Crichton's story
is that environmentalists exaggerate the threat from climate change
and eventually trigger its extreme effects themselves.
the flakiness of the Hanlon case that he should need to rely on a sci-fi
writer who has previously warned of the dangers of bringing dinosaurs
back to life and of nano-robots turning the world into grey goo. All
entertaining scare stories, all complete nonsense.
So there we have
it. On one hand we have the IPCC, the rest of the world's major scientific
organisations, and the government's chief scientific adviser, all pointing
to the need to cut emissions. On the other we have a small band of sceptics,
including lobbyists funded by the US oil industry, a sci-fi writer,
and the Daily Mail, who deny the scientists are right. It is reminiscent
of the tobacco lobby's attempts to persuade us that smoking does not
cause lung cancer. There is no danger this lobby will influence the
scientists. But they don't need to. It is the influence on the media
that is so poisonous.
In a lecture at
the Royal Society last week, Jared Diamond drew attention to populations,
such as those on Easter Island, who denied they were having a catastrophic
impact on the environment and were eventually wiped out, a phenomenon
he called "ecocide". It's time for those living in denial
of the evidence about the impacts of climate change to take note.
· Lord May
of Oxford is president of the Royal Society and was chief scientific
adviser to the government 1995-2000
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005