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Helmer withdraws apology to Houghton

Roger Helmer MEP writes to the Telegraph today.

An apology withdrawn

SIR – Sir John Houghton (Letters, August 15), the former IPCC Chairman, challenges the use of the quote, widely attributed to him that: “Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.” He insists he said (and the record confirms this) that: “If we want a good environmental policy, we’ll have to have a disaster.”

This is a distinction without a difference. Either way, he is saying that the IPCC needs disasters to convince the public of the need for climate mitigation.

As someone who used the slightly incorrect quotation (in my Bruges Group book Cool Thinking on Climate Change), I now feel vindicated, and I withdraw an apology I made to Sir John for misquoting him.

Roger Helmer MEP (Con)
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

I think there is actually room for doubt over what precisely Houghton meant in his original statement. People's opinions will depend on whether they feel he deserves the benefit of that doubt.

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Reader Comments (34)

I agree that there's room for doubt over the INTENDED meaning of the original. But Houghton asserted that he never said what had been quoted, which was true, and that he'd never said anything LIKE it, which is patently false. Intent, of course, is distinct. He wrote what he wrote, and it was never unreasonable to raise concerns over the inference.

On balance, I think Helmer's apology withdrawal is fair. He acknowledges that he misquoted, but there's no reason to believe that Helmer purposely misrepresented Houghton given the genuine quote.

Aug 22, 2010 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimonH

The misquotation attributed to Houghton does imply that he would at least support lying for the cause.
The notorious quote by Steven Schneider goes one stage further of course which puts Houghton in the unenviable position of guilt by association since the two are effectively putting a similar argument about the same set of circumstances
Further than that the comment was at best badly phrased and certainly likely to be taken by the more muddle-headed of the eco-luddite brigade as carte blanche to misbehave "for the greater good".
On balance I side with Helmer.

Aug 22, 2010 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Simon's spot on.

Aug 22, 2010 at 12:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Of course, now we've got some disasters, the warmists are hoist by their own 'weather isn't climate' petard. It must be frustrating!

Aug 22, 2010 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"...but there's no reason to believe that Helmer purposely misrepresented Houghton given the genuine quote"

Totally correct, and there is a larger point in here. Houghton (and those like him) take a stance that they can infer intent in criticism directed at them, but none should infer intent in their own original pronouncements in the first place. Heh.

If you say something, and you are not a celebrity/socialite and you want your words to stand for something, you better be ready to stand behind all reasonable and truthful interpretations of what you said. This type of "quoted correctly, but interpreted wrong" BS wankery is very common in AGW debates

Aug 22, 2010 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

All this "he said"-"she said" chatter reminds me of kindergarten playground arguments. If people would focus on the science instead of the personalities, this climate issue would be much more illuminating. :-(

Aug 22, 2010 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

But it's not about the science, Jack; it's about the politics.
The scientific dispute, if you examine it closely enough, is only about marginal differences. Scientists agree about more than they disagree about. The real dispute is over interpretation and extent and the need or otherwise for a response.
Which is why you get the "playground arguments". One side claims to have the science on its side but refuses to offer any empirical evidence and refuses to countenance any departure from the paradigm; the other side demands proper science-based behaviour and some prrof that there is anything to worry about.
Every paper that is published is leapt on by both sides and filleted to produce a result which goes "their" way. My instinct tells me the warmists are over-stating their case; Houghton (and Schneider) have, at least implicitly, suggested that over-stating is acceptable because climate change is such a danger to mankind, which I see as the first stage of a circular argument. But I am not a scientist; my skills lie elsewhere.

Aug 22, 2010 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

further info...

and when the quote is looked at in the context of....

“God tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved; the effect will be the same.”

it's even worse!

Aug 22, 2010 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterpete

Sir John Houghton, still believes in the big oil/fossil fuel denial machine (June 2010)

I had a chance to speak with him, following a meeting (below) and no, he hasn't read the climategate emails.....

Didn't stop him saying nothing to them in front of a couple of hundred people..

audio - presentation
slideshow - God, Science and Global Warming - June 2010
audio - Audience Q/A session ( I ask about carbon trading)

Global Warming and Climate Change:
A Challenge to Scientists and Christians

On Thursday 17th June 2010
Professor Sir John Houghton FRS CBE
spoke to a full church at St. Mary's.

Co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's scientific assessment group and lead editor of their first 3 reports. Former Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Oxford University and Chief Executive of the Meteorological Office

Aug 22, 2010 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Because it's seemingly impossible to parse anyone in climate science, you should always pin them down before assigning context to their statements.

Aug 22, 2010 at 3:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRog

Forgot about Tim for a second (Tim Mitchell, the programmer from the Harry_read_me.txt file)

"Although I have yet to see any evidence that climate change is a sign of Christ's imminent return, human pollution is clearly another of the birth pangs of creation, as it eagerly awaits being delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans. 19-22).

Tim Mitchell works at the Climactic Research Unit, UEA, Norwich, and is a member of South Park Evangelical Church."

He left Climate Science in 2004, and is now a priest.

Aug 22, 2010 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

This was Sir John Houghton's letter of complaint in the Observer, as seen here


'Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, writing about my work as the chair of the first IPCC Scientific Assessment , quotes me as saying: "Unless we announce disasters no one will listen," thereby attributing to me and the IPCC an attitude of hype and exaggeration. That quote from me is without foundation. I have never said it or written it.

Although it has spread on the internet, I do not know its origin. In fact I have frequently argued the opposite, namely that those who make such statements are not only wrong but counterproductive. This quote is doing damage not only to me as a responsible scientist but also to the IPCC which in its main conclusions has always worked to avoid exaggeration. I demand from Dr Peiser an apology that he failed to check his sources and a public retraction of the use he made of the fabricated quotation.

Sir John Houghton

Hadley Centre

Meteorological Office, Exeter


That sounds like a complete denial of saying anything of the kind and substance, not just precise wordage, thus even more misleading. That seems the greater mischief to me.

Aug 22, 2010 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

It is a belief, in man's damaging God's creation, driving this for some...

Sir John Houghton said this 2 months ago.

"Pharoah & Joseph had 7 YEARS
So have we

Following on from his previous slide:

Joseph to his brothers
Genesis 45, 5-7
“For two years now
there has been famine in the land
and for the next five years
there will not be ploughing or reaping.
Do not be…angry with yourselves
for selling me here…
God sent me ahead of you…
to save lives by a great deliverance.”

So, God driving climate change - then, followed by Man - now....

Nothing to do with it being all natural, an alternative, non-belief, non human corruption/pollution viewpoint.... which a scientist would investiogate seriously, STRONG religious beliefs like Tim Mitchell and John Houghton, would at least subconciously (in my mind) stop them from taking a null hypothesis seriously....

All from, the slide show... link above...

Aug 22, 2010 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I'm willing to give Houghton an ounce of slack on the "disasters" quote but when you look at his Wikipedia page you can see he has said some bizarre things in his time. How about this knee-slapper:

"We do try, in the IPCC, to look very hard at alternative explanations, and spend, actually, probably more time than we should on some of them, because they get so much publicity. We actually spend more time, for instance, on the solar variations, about which we have very little real scientific evidence but which some people have exploited in the media a great deal..."

Aug 22, 2010 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered Commenter"Dr." Karl

"the Climactic Research Unit, UEA, Norwich"

The Ann Summers chair, presumably... No wonder they think things are hotter now!

Aug 22, 2010 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

The plot of Michael Crichton's 2004 novel State of Fear. Create disasters to convince the world of impending doom caused by global warming.

Aug 22, 2010 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBill

I feel that he was merely stating, in another way, the belief that we learn not best from our mistakes, but ONLY from our mistakes. Only when it all goes to hell have we both the confidence and the impetus to address the problem, evil or laziness that got us into our predicament. The Precautionary Principle is supposed to address this, or, as our mothers might have said, we are supposed to "think ahead". Still, should that cynical/observant view of what makes individuals, groups and governments act, as opposed to talk or posture, be used to direct an agenda-driven program, then it is reasonable to expect extremes to be presented, fears to be generated and hyperbole to be substituted for moderation. The AGW history shows hyperbole has been and continues to be used. People love drama in their lives, except those whose lives are filled with real drama as in war, famine, flood or the like. Global warming linked to the demise of the planet (not specifically tender lifeforms or human beings) is the best drama you could have. Hollywood thunder and lightning with evil corporations and angelic greens struggling mightily, one in suits and the other in Patagonia cotton shorts.

The difference in words is significant, but not in action.

Aug 22, 2010 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Proctor

I had not appreciated that Houghton's ( faintly perverted) religious beliefs were so significant, but if what Barry Woods and others say on this link is true, he is clearly at the very least careless with the truth.

This does not sit well with a figure of such seminal importance in the climate debate or with a devout Christian.

Perhaps it is just that his powers are waning and Sir John no longer remembers precisely what he may have said in the past.

He is an old man. Perhaps he should be cut a bit of slack.

Aug 22, 2010 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiggerjock

“If we want a good environmental policy, we’ll have to have a disaster.”

In a way, he's right. It all depends how you define "good environmental policy." My definition of the latter is one that doesn't destroy the economies of the developed nations and shove the undeveloped nations back into the dark ages. The requisite disaster? An Ice Age would do it. Two more years of the Obamanation, ditto.

Aug 22, 2010 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Houghton denied having said any such thing, as though the Telegraph interview had never happened. It wasn't to be found on the net, so he thought he was in the clear, but, luckily, someone kept a clipping. He said: " If we want a good environmental policy in the future we'll have to have a disaster. It's like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there's been an accident."

The most despicable thing is how Global Warming propagandist journos set about shooting down those who suggested Houghton had said such a thing, based on Houghton's denial. The Independent's Steve Connor launched a tirade using this as an example of how 'sceptics' just make things up.

Aug 22, 2010 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerBoy

I'm willing to go with Houghton on this one, in a narrow sense. His actual words were "If we want good environmental policy in future, we'll have to have a disaster. It's like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there's been an accident." This makes it clear that he's predicting that public/legislative support [of his "good" policy] will come only if there is a climatic disaster; support will not be mustered behind projections of future harm, without direct evidence that such harm is in fact occurring.

The other phrasing,“Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen," puts the emphasis on announcing disasters rather than experiencing them. While this may be an accurate reflection upon media coverage, the implication is that it's incumbent upon scientists to exaggerate their predictions, if they wish to be listened to. This is very much in line with Schneider's quote. [The link is to Schneider's web page, in which he argues -- unconvincingly in my view -- that the selective citation of his statement is misleading.]

I don't agree that the latter interpretation is a valid reading of that particular statement by Houghton. On the other hand, he has written an article in the Grauniad describing global warming as a "weapon of mass destruction," so it's clear that he has no trouble with exaggeration himself.

Aug 22, 2010 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

No 'IF' about it... he is also still 'active', so no slack (Transition Towns, Victoria Institute, John Ray Initiative)

Follow the link.
Listen to the AUDIO of Sir John speaking himself: and look at HIS presentation.. and the Q/A audio

Listen to the Q/A session where he talks about, fossil fuel organisation and tobacco PR links, and the climategate emails. (not read them, I asked)

Less than 2 months ago, supporting, making Henley an Wargrave, Transitions Towns.

Who will also go into local schools to help educate children about CO2.
Nice video, lots of use of children...............

Transition Towns - In Transition

I went to a local meeting, I was not popular...
(amongst people I know, am I the only deniar in the village ;) )

My questions after their video.... (sir John Houghton apears in it - 5min 40 sec)

Why do you have a graphic of a plant withering and dying, when co2 ppm levels get to 385 ppm. (6 mins 30 sec)

Why does it have a child saying co2 is one of the MAJOR greenhouse gases..

Why does the small child say, the weather is becoming more and more unpredictable, JUST because we are releasing carbon dioxide into the air! - (6mins o2 secs)

Big section on Education. Transition Trainers into schools
Local Government, section lobbying local government.
Lots of Children being used, seriously.
Watch the video.

My local Transition town public meeting has this to say:

"Even the most hardened climate change deniers have realised that they can no longer credibly deny its existence "

Aug 22, 2010 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods


Here in the US, liberal journalists routinely accept any statement by a liberal politician as absolute truth. Back during the contentious run-up to the healthcare vote, several Democratic congressmen blatantly attempted to provoke a reaction by walking into the middle of protesters. Some of the angry crowd shouted at them, but did not react with the kind of nastiness that the congressmen had hoped to elicit. No problem, they just made it up -- claiming that people were screaming the n-word at them. In fact, news stories saying that went out within minutes of their walk. Of course, that just showed that the journalists and politicians had worked out the story and written it up before the walk even took place.

Other journalists picked up the story and spread the lie. When those journalists were directed to videos showing no evidence to support the congressmen (and sworn statements by witnesses contradicting the congressmen), an investigative editor responded that he couldn't believe that the congressmen would make up something that wasn't true.

Amazing. Gullible much?! Incompetence seems to be heading for an epidemic.

Aug 22, 2010 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

Barry, my attention was caught by your reference to Transition Towns. The shame of it, this movement founded by such a likeable, charismatic permaculture teacher, showing a plant wilting in CO2 doses nowhere near as high as greenhouses use to grow tomatoes.

I was an active member of TT early on, and was about to start our local group when I started to suspect perversion of science which I realized was a problem that was calling me louder than peak oil. I tried and tried to get them to take an open stance on the science but to no avail... got banned in the end from even posting on their forum... just like CiF.

Aug 22, 2010 at 11:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterLucy Skywalker

Lucy, Barry --
Thanks for the reference to Transition Towns; I hadn't heard of them on this side of the pond.

I get the impression that they seem to be concerned with local voluntary organization, which to me seems quite acceptable. [Even if it's motivated by non-factual statements.] That is, if people wish to voluntarily insulate their homes, install home-based solar power, grow their own veggies, etc. without attempting to coerce others to pay for it (via subsidies for solar power, tax incentives), that's a good thing, right?

Or have I misread it, and their intent is to force public sponsorship of such initiatives, but at the local government level rather than national or international?

Aug 23, 2010 at 1:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW


I watched the video, it is one of the scariest videos I have watched and it is obviously done by people who know exactly how to press buttons and it is really well done.

Aug 23, 2010 at 5:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterDung

I would support half of transition towns intent, think locally, local produce, working together.. Ie I went along as a representative of my local business, that church is MY local church where all my children have gone to toddler group.....

BUT, they LOBBY local government, they lobby regional government, and ultimately the whole network, lobbies national governement...

An email i sent, following going to the Henley on Thames meeting
The organiser, said, NOT discussing the Science, we have decided that it is settled, would bot beginb to discess ANY questions, walked OFF:
These are local people, my wife has this chap as a long term patient/customer.

I went to the transitions town meeting..
let us just say i am very depressed about it...
Adolf Hitlers bnp son would have been treated better..

TT: 1000's of climate scientists say it is settled...

BW: I say that is not correct, let me show you.

TT: Who do you work for, what about your children.

BW, I'm local, don't bring my children into it.
I say, why do you have that temp graph on your website..

TT: We found it on the internet, it shows temps getting higher...

BW: In the video, why do you have a graphic of a plant withering and dying, when co2 ppm levels get to 385 and above.
Why does it have a child saying co2 is thone of the MAJOR greenhouse gas..

these are just wrong, oh it is just to convey a message... IT is not TRUE!

So.. look at thgis it shows no different rates of rise, for 4 other periods in the last 130 years...

TT: Totally dismissive..
BW: Why won't you look at it, BBC interviewing
Phil Jones saying temps not unprecented , here is the BBC article...
Not interetesd.

couldn't get away from me fast enough.. couple of people looked at me if I was deranged. I miagine in 10 tyears time, be saying, why is he allowed to have children in his care with views like that.

I was totall dismmised as a lunatic. by people who would walk away from me rather than listen.
I was polite.

I was not gatecrashing, this is MY local community, with people, councillors my wife knows, has to deal with, who lobby government (local and otherwise) and will go into schools..

Aug 23, 2010 at 7:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Folks, so many of you sound almost terminally discouraged. Don't be. This is not the moment to even think of giving up.
My own experience? Just about a year ago I was dreading the Copenhagen Conference. I know full well what the participants were planning, and as an old politico I knew that the results were almost certainly agreed upon well in advance. Gloom! Despair!
Then came Climategate. And then came Copenhagen Chaos. And then? Believe me, the fattest goose Ebeneezer Scrooge's 'boy' ever found would have been anorexic indeed compared with my mounting spirit.
So take heart, and take guidance from one of your own a few posts above -- Lucy Skywalker. I see her often fighting the good fight, most notably on WUWT. And when I see her, I think two things: (1) good on you, Lucy, and (2) I know, I still owe you an email. I haven't forgotten.
Things are getting brighter. Let your souls be lightened. Lucy would understand this: as an Aquarian I am never wrong about such things (despite the fact that we Aquarians do not believe in astrology).

Aug 23, 2010 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterWayne Richards

He's still peddling the same pernicious, dangerous drivel:-

“This new report from the Centre for Alternative Technology is much to be welcomed, coming as it does at the start of a new administration. The goal of peak emissions by 2016 is less than seven years away. Everything necessary to reach that first goal will have to be put in place by the next government – a challenge they must take up with unusual urgency. A year ago in May 2009, a Nobel Laureates Symposium on Climate Change hosted in London by the Prince of Wales had as its title,
The Fierce Urgency of Now.
One of the few positive outcomes of the Copenhagen Conference in December 2009 was the
near-global consensus for a goal of 2o C for the maximum rise of global average temperature from its pre-industrial value due to human activities. That is a necessary, but tough target for the world to meet. It will require, for instance, peak global emissions by about 2016. However it was very disappointing that little was accomplished at Copenhagen to set up the actions required for its realization.
Two reasons are often advanced to delay action on climate change. The first is to present climate change as a longer-term issue and argue that of more immediate concern are big issues like world poverty. That may appear to be the case until it is realised that the plight of the world’s poor will become enormously worse unless strong action to curb climate change is taken now. The second is to suggest the financial crisis must have top priority and action on climate change will have to wait. That again may seem good sense until it is realised that there is much to be gained if both crises are tackled together. Also, many studies, for instance those by the International Energy Agency1 (IEA, 2008), demonstrate that necessary action is affordable; increased investment in the short term is balanced by savings that accrue in the longer term.
This report presents detailed information and argument to demonstrate that zero emissions
by 2030 is within reach – given appropriate commitment, dedication and effort on the part of
government, industry, NGOs and the public at large. In calling for a common sense of purpose, not just nationally but internationally too, it points out the benefits to society – its health, social welfare and sustainability – that will result from the pursuit of such a goal. May I urge you to study carefully its arguments and its findings.”
Sir John Houghton, Former Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This report "Zero Carbon Britain 2030" pretends that it is possible to go to "zero emissions" by 2030 and that this is not only achievable but affordable. Anyone who pretends to believe this is SERIOUSLY dishonest or deluded. BigSnakeOil at its worst.

Houghton has absolutely zero credibility.

Aug 23, 2010 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Positive news.....
Imagine, if a sceptic had written this George Monbiot article, maybe he has given up, did not even write about his Own (he chaired it) Climategate debate with STeve Mcintyre, Doug Keenan:


Greens living in ivory towers now want to farm them too
The idea that you can feed Manhattan with crops grown in a skyscraper is the craziest of my allies' many miracle solutions

"But it pains me to report that I find myself at odds with other greens almost as often as I find myself fighting our common enemies. I've had bruising battles over a long series of miracle solutions supported by friends: liquid biofuels, hydrogen cars and planes, biochar plantations, solar electricity in the UK, scrappage payments, feed-in tariffs. But no green delusion is as crazy as the one I am about to explain. The idea itself might not interest you. But the insight it gives into the filtering techniques humans use is fascinating. So please bear with me while I spell out the latest madness."

George Monbiot writing about green madness!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Aug 23, 2010 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

TT is just another example of how grass roots movements, of mostly well meaning people with an ecological ethic, are co-opted by the BIgClimate/bankster/trader/hedge fund/corpgov agenda. I'm torn as I support the grass roots P.O. mitigation/resilience/localisation/local currency action, but detest the hyperbole re CAGW.

Course it's not just grass roots movements, greenpeas et al.... I just wondered if there are any eco movements who are NOT on the AGW bandwagon :/

Aug 23, 2010 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete

I think Rodger Helmer is a bit like me! We both want our "Hotspots"!

In other words, evidence that can/cannot be falsified!

By the way Bish...We do not like the word "Denier" etc but can we now ban the "Monbiot" word? Its seems to me it is now associated with religion! ;-)

Aug 23, 2010 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete Hayes

Thanks for the additional information on Transition Towns, Barry & Pete.

It would be admirable if their core principles would state that their actions are to be undertaken as the efforts of individuals voluntarily cooperating, and that they will not attempt to force others to join / underwrite their initiatives by involving local/regional/national authorities. But I suppose it's unavoidable that there will be activists who insist that one must convert the heathen, or at least force them to pay tribute to the "true god." As you say, Pete, it all starts out with good intentions, doesn't it?

Aug 23, 2010 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

My local Transition Towns guy, admirable in many other respects, is convinced that I am a wild 'creationist' because I had the temerity to mention the Climategate scandal to him and confessed to having read both them and the Bish's book.

Aug 25, 2010 at 1:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

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