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« Geoffrey Boulton and the IPCC | Main | Keenan responds to Jones »

No, he did say it....

...or something very like it.

I'm referring to the recent kerfuffle over whether Sir John Houghton did actually say the controversial words that have been ascribed to him for many years. These words:

Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.

A few days ago, after years of this quotation doing the rounds of sceptic blogs, Sir John suddenly denied that these words had ever passed his lips, pointing out that they didn't actually appear in his book, to which early citations had pointed as the original source. Cue much gnashing of teeth and wailing about "deniers".

There has now been another development in this story, reported by Benny Peiser, who took a certain amount of stick for repeating the quotation over the years, including a demand from Sir John that he issue an apology. In a posting on the GWPF website today, Benny relates how Professor John Adams has unearthed from his archives an clipping from the Daily Telegraph, dating right back to 1995. In it, Sir John is quoted as follows:

“If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

Oh dear.

The story was originally broken on Professor Adams' blog here. More here.

[Update: Benny asks me to make absolutely clear that he is passing the story on and the credit is due to Professors Adams and Stott]

[PS: If you ever get the chance to read Professor Adams' Risk, it's well worth it. It's one of those books that makes you smile with its deliciously counter-intuitive thinking.]


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Reader Comments (60)

Houghton's influence on Richard Cizik was profound, leading to deep division within evangelicals in the USA on the subject. The US Senator James Inhofe being an obvious example of those that were far from happy:

A couple of years ago, when a small group of evangelicals took it upon themselves to speak for all the rest of us on global warming, I was, frankly, upset. I knew they didn't speak for me. Based on years of research, I also knew they didn't speak for sound science and economics. I was glad to see that some other evangelicals, like those with the Cornwall Alliance, were prepared to speak for Christians like me on solid Biblical, scientific, and economic grounds. Now the ‘We Get It!’ declaration also speaks for me, and I believe it speaks for the vast majority of evangelicals, who are as tired as I am of being misrepresented by people who don't bother to get their theology, their science, or their economics right. Consequently, they put millions of the world's poor at risk by promoting policies to fight the alleged problem of global warming that will slow economic development, and condemn the poor to more generations of grinding poverty and high rates of disease and early death.

That's from the excellent anti-AGW evangelical website We Get It. Well, I think it is. Your mileage may vary.

Feb 17, 2010 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

The idea that religion and science is so tightly knit together as with influencial people like Houghton sounds to me as quite alarming. His obvious disgust for "rich" people clearly shows his evangelical quest to spread the word for AGW and explains his and many other almost blind faith in the Temple of Tipping Points. Didn't he said in above article very specific that we had 7 years left to survive (isn't that a biblical number too?)

More of Houghton's biblical sublimations here: "Climate change, justice and faith"

Feb 17, 2010 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterHoi Polloi

Slightly o/t - Houghton is backing the 'Carbon Fast'

Feb 17, 2010 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Page

"Slightly o/t - Houghton is backing the 'Carbon Fast'"

Not really, under the trend of discussion here. Speaks to role of religion in society and the outrageous concept that 'Jesus was a community organizer' which couldnt be further from truth. For you who aren't conversant, Jesus always spoke to the individual, never advocated 'group action' even when he said 'join with'.
Mainstream Christianity seems to have switched to the concept that one should care for one's brother with other peoples involuntary charity. As if he might have said 'Let's Lobby Rome..."

The Anglicans' view that, unless we tax carbon heavily, the the poor of the world will suffer flies in the face of all common sense. The symbolic 'tithe' of turning off personal electronics for a day shows exactly how irrelevant they and their views have become.

Feb 17, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterpettyfog

John Page: I guess the carbon fast could be quite smelly, if you get really radical about not flushing your toilet for forty days. Anyone, just let me know and I'll try to get my Christian fellowship elsewhere for that season!

Hoi Polloi: I don't think, to be fair, that the seven years comes from barmy biblical interpretation from Sir John but from the scientific equivalent.

Either way, though, I think Pat Frank's right to compare it with religious nutcases. And that applies to the whole of the AGW scam - which is obviously is, at another level, with the cap and trade stuff. That's what the little carbon fasters in the pews aren't told, bless 'em, but the insiders at the Chicago Carbon Exchange, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs know all too well. Wake up, people, this is for the super-rich and will do enormous damage to the poorest on the earth. Is that what the Jesus you follow was really into?

I've held back from doing this but I now want to give an alternative view of the situation, from the only truly sane person I know:

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What this doesn't say is that all human beings are already perfect. What it also doesn't say is that anyone, however evil, can do much to stop the Father in heaven (the name Jesus never stopped using for God) bringing basic blessing - sun and rain - on the human race.

I always combine that in my mind these days with what the great Richard Lindzen - not a massive bible thumper that I've heard! - said about the debate on feedbacks to the worthy but not entirely scientifically literate eminences on the House of Lords Economics Select Committee, including Nigel Lawson, the week after Sir John Houghton was in, in January 2005:

Lord Kingsdown: You have already mentioned water vapour once or twice this afternoon, but I understand your position is you regard this as having probably a negative feedback effect, that is, that it calms warming down, whereas the scientific consensus, as we understand it, is that it has a positive feedback, that is, that it makes things worse?

Professor Lindzen: The IPCC chapter is agnostic. The models say it gets worse. The modellers acknowledge they do not have the physics appropriate to water vapour. That is the situation as it is now. In 1990 I wrote a paper in which I said global warming scenarios depend on this water vapour feedback; without it you do not get much and we do not know much about it, and they said "Can you imagine any way that would be negative?" I said, "Sure." It turns out, if you have a warmer world and clouds go higher, they detrain, let us say, they merge with the environment where it is colder and you have lower humidity and that could end up reducing water vapour. That has actually been confirmed by studies since then. In the meantime, we wrote a paper in '93 examining this and found that the physics of water vapour in the tropics was different from that. That would work near the top, but, in fact, the source of water vapour in the tropics was rainfall evaporating into the environment, in large measure. We pointed out that the amount raining into environment depended upon how much did or did not rain in these tall, cumulus towers. It is well-known that, when the temperature increases, more rains in the towers and less is available to the environment, so there still could be a negative feedback. Subsequently, we realised that change in the humidity of a region in a sort of continuous way is rather difficult, even by this mechanism, but what you saw was a short boundary between dry and moist regions, cloudy and clear regions, and the change in area could really be a more significant feedback. We have been working on that since and it looks very much like a negative feedback that would be large enough to swamp any of the positive feedbacks in the model. It is a research area, but it is politically incorrect these days to speak of the world, or the earth, as in some sense being engineered. If any of you have a background in engineering, I do not know, you never build anything with positive feedbacks unless you want to amplify something. You build everything so that the feedbacks hold it in place. The whole notion, I grant you, this is metaphysical, that the earth is a system on the border of instability that is kept from running away only by the gentle ministrations of bureaucrats; it seems to me, strange.

I love that last part, the politically incorrect bit about the earth being engineered, about the metaphysics that tells us, in our gut, that it's not on the border of instability the whole time. The gentle bureaucrats can take a break - Jesus and Lindzen have it, for me. If you ever want to thank the person that engineered it so, well that's another matter. I'm not here to bash you about that. Only to say that there has to be a different way to look at the metaphysics, that prevents us in a fit of self-loathing give up all our freedoms and do such terrible damage to those at the bottom of the pile in this world. God help us.

Feb 17, 2010 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

If you read his genuine quote in full, he is stating a well-known truth: that humans generally do not act until after a disaster has happened (as with the SE Asia tsunami).

Feb 17, 2010 at 6:55 PM | Unregistered Commentereveningperson

Did he say it? Well they said he did say, what they say that he said, but he said he didn’t say, what they say that he said, because he said he never would say, what they say that he said. But he did say, what he would have said, had he said what they say that he said, and they wondered why he didn’t say, that he didn’t say, what they say that he said, for so long? It is said that he didn’t say, that he didn’t say what they say that he said, for so long, because it couldn’t be said, that what they say that he said, was untrue. But now it could be said, that what they say that he said, could be true. So he has said that he didn’t say what they say that he said, though he did say, what he would have said, had he said what they say that he said.

And now it appears he did say what they say that he said. The only person who is sure he didnt say what they say what he said is Frank O'Dwyer, who has religiously followed him all these years hanging onto and remembering every word and claims he never said, not even in the privacy of his toilet or under the sheets of his master bedroom.

Feb 17, 2010 at 8:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

I'm having some problems with our common language, as I follow these comments. So let me return to the first (which is in the active sense) and the second (which is in the passive sense) quotations.
There's no hint of evil in the actual (second) quotation. Its only a passive expression of despair.
I pine for the old days, when skeptics had some creative science to argue. Now that it is reduced to 'he said' quotes, its no fun anymore.

Feb 18, 2010 at 2:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterGuillaume Tell

This is what comes of straying from the facts of the matter at hand, and into motivic speculation & gotcha quotes; it's why Steve Mc has a policy of almost-zero tolerance for it at Climate Audit.

That said, Houghton was mis-quoted. You can spin it & contextualise it till the end of time, but he was mis-quoted. So just apologise already and move on.

Sep 3, 2010 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaddikJ

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I pine for the old days, when skeptics had some creative science to argue. Now that it is reduced to 'he said' quotes, its no fun anymore.

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