Yesterday afternoon: I’m fresh out of a very interesting session with the Environmental Audit Committee talking about carbon budgets with representatives from the Met Office Hadley Centre and several eminent climate change scientists. We’ve discussed contraction and convergence to meet the 2 degrees ceiling on surface warming; how much of the overall carbon “budget” available for future emissions has already been spent; whether fossil fuel use will need automatic sequestration as a condition of use over a future period; and the continuing and increasingly gloomy development of the science on arctic ice melting. When it’s posted as an oral evidence transcript on the Environmental Audit Committee site, it will certainly be worth a read.
And then, sitting in my office trawling through newsfeed, I come across this: ‘UK environment secretary Paterson: climate change isn’t real’. A US blog rather disbelievingly recording Paterson’s astonishing performance on BBC ”any questions” on Friday last (here). Maybe we’ve rather discounted all this on this side of the pond and it takes someone over the other side to remind us just how strange this is. Here’s the passage in all its weirdness:
Q: Are those concerned about climate change talking anti-scientific green ideological nonsense? What is your answer to that question?
Paterson: I have to take practical decisions. The climate’s always been changing. Peter mentioned the Arctic. I think in the [unintelligible] you can see there were beaches there. [Audience begins to murmur] When Greenland was occupied, you had people growing crops. We then had a little ice age, then we have middle age warming. The climate’s been going up and down.
The real question, which I think everyone’s trying to address, is ‘is this influenced by man-made activity in recent years.’ And James is actually correct, the climate has not changed, the temperature hasn’t changed in the last 17 years. What I think we ought to be careful of is that there is almost certainly, bound to be, some influence by man-made activity, but I think we just got to be rational [laughter from audience] and make sure the measures that we take to counter it don’t actually cause more damage.
And the comment from the US blog:
“This is the face of climate change denialism, and it’s occupying the most important seat in Britain on the matter”
It’s true. It does have all the hallmarks of classic “denialism”: confusing weather with climate, insisting that “it’s always been like this” etc. etc. And I know that we’ve always thought that our Environment Secretary was, how best to put it, a little flaky on the subject, but until now, it’s all been obfuscated in a fog of spin. Here’s the Guardian’s Damian Carrington putting the question to DEFRA just after Paterson’s appointment:
Damian Carrington: “What’s the Secretary of State’s view on climate change? Will he deny he’s a climate change sceptic?”
DEFRA press office: “DEFRA is responsible for a range of issues affecting the environment and the rural economy. One of these issues is the impact of climate change and the Secretary of State is committed to exploring and developing the response required by Government, business and communities”.
Well, not quite, as it turns out. Paterson it transpires is not just a little unsure of it all, but is in fact a signed-up, first eleven, James Delingpole-fan-club denial fundamentalist. So now we know, and of course that makes it a little difficult for our Secretary of State to “explore and develop the response required by Government” if he doesn’t think there should be one. Or for him to uphold the key aim of DEFRA ”to support a strong and sustainable green economy, resilient to climate change”(Cabinet Office department responsibilities document) if he doesn’t think any resilience is needed.
Of course there is a place in Government for you if you hold these kind of views. Minister for Defence Procurement perhaps? I can’t see Paterson being too conflicted there – but the Department of Environment? In another world the Minister would be considering his position. But we’re in this one, unfortunately, and I imagine the Department will just have to do its best to work around him for the time being.