The works of Lord Deben
Mar 12, 2014
Bishop Hill in Deben, Matt Ridley

This is a guest post by Matt Ridley.

Lord Deben is chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, a body funded by the British taxpayer. He draws a salary of more than £35,000 from you and me. On the masthead of its website the committee claims to give “a balanced response to the risks of climate change” and “independent, evidence-based advice to the UK government and Parliament”.

Yet the committee consists entirely of people who think climate change will be dangerous; no sceptics or lukewarmers are on it, even though most hold views that are well within the “consensus” of climate science. Under Deben’s chairmanship since 2012 its pronouncements have become increasingly one-sided. Deben himself is frequently highly critical of any sceptics, often mischaracterizing them as “deniers” or “dismissers”, but has never to my knowledge been heard to criticize anybody for exaggerating climate alarm and the harm it can do to disadvantaged people. These are not the actions of an impartial chairman.

In the past year, as I shall detail, Lord Deben has three times launched sharp criticisms of me for arguing that some climate change projections are exaggerated. In each case, I have replied with detailed rebuttals based on peer-reviewed scientific literature to show that his criticisms were wrong, but my replies have been dismissed or ignored by Lord Deben. I suppose I should be flattered that this vendetta against me indicates that he clearly feels that my arguments threaten some part of his agenda. But on this third occasion he has sunk to a new low.

On 28 October 2013, I made a speech in the House of Lords in which I gave “nine separate examples of ways in which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has retreated to a slightly less alarming and less certain position than six years ago”. Notice first that this was a very mild claim. I was not saying there was no cause for alarm in the new report of the IPCC. I was not even saying that overall the document was less alarming (though in my judgment, it is). I was merely saying that in nine instances, it was “slightly” less alarming than in the previous report.

In other words, I was not adopting a position of denial, or even of skepticism. I was adopting, as I usually do, a “lukewarm” position: that there is a strong chance that climate change will happen but will be comparatively mild and slow and may well do less harm than the policies promoted in its name. The IPCC is slowly coming closer to this position in its main reports. My nine examples show this clearly. AR5 has acknowledged:

All in all, it is not unreasonable for an intelligent reader of the AR5 report to conclude that in these nine respects, the IPCC is reflecting the fact that scientists are slightly less alarmed or certain than they were six years before. I am not the only person to have reached this conclusion. Professor Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, testifying to the Senate recently went considerably further than I did:

Multiple lines of evidence presented in the IPCC AR5 WG1 report suggest that the case for anthropogenic warming is weaker than the previous assessment AR4 in 2007.

A chairman of a Committee on Climate Change and who read my speech might decide to argue with me, and might even commission a report from an expert to assess my claims. He would however (1) tell me he was doing so; (2) seek my response; (3) tell me he was publishing the report on my speech; (4) publish the name of the author(s) of the report on my speech. He may not be under any legal obligation to do these things; but he would be under a moral one.

Lord Deben chose to do none of these four things. He did not have the courtesy to tell me he was commissioning a report, despite seeing me regularly in the House of Lords. He did not have the caution to ask for a response in case his report had missed an important source I had used. He did not have the manners to tell me the report had been published. He did not have the courage to put the report’s author’s name on it.

I came across the report by accident one day, when checking something else on the Committee’s website. I immediately wrote to Lord Deben (letter here) asking him a set of specific questions and giving a detailed response to his report. I pointed out that his report had several errors. The most striking was that in quoting the IPCC AR5 report they had cut some words and numbers out of a sentence. Those words and numbers were the very ones that proved me right, by showing no warming during the past 15 years. The only reason for excising these words and numbers was plainly to alter the sense of the sentence to mean something other than what it plainly said.

...the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to +0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Nino, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951.

The words in bold were omitted.

In more than 30 years of science reporting I have never come across such a deceitful trick, let alone in an official government document. It is the sort of thing I might have expected to find coming from some of the more rabid and intolerant activist green groups, yet I do not think even they would stoop this low. Yet this was only one way in which the anonymous author of the report on my speech had cherry-picked, omitted, mined and distorted the words of the IPCC to try to imply that I was wrong in my moderate and careful assessment that in nine respects there is “slightly” less alarm in AR5 than there was in AR4.

I received a reply from Lord Deben that was dismissive and empty (see attached). He answered none of my questions, addressed none of my points and merely reasserted his right to commission such reports – a point I had not challenged. Having given him the opportunity to respond to my questions, which he has spurned, I am now prepared to go public.

So I am now publishing this account of the sorry saga, so that readers can decide for themselves whether my original speech was fair, whether the criticisms made by Lord Deben’s anonymous report were fair, and whether this is an appropriate way for a public servant to have behaved. I am putting it in the public domain so that, if others share my concerns about the bias of the Committee on Climate Change they can raise them with the committee themselves.

It would be interesting to ask: Who wrote this document? Why was it published without informing me? Why were key words omitted from key sentences in quotations? Why does the committee never challenge exaggerations in the same way as it challenges those arguing that climate change is moderate? How much did the preparation of this report cost? Why was I given no right of reply? Why did Lord Deben refuse to post my response to his report on his website? If you do raise these questions, please be polite, be factually accurate and be brief. And, as always, please quote exactly the words I or others used, not some paraphrase of them.

My recent experience, of being smeared in an inaccurate way about this topic of climate change policy by somebody employed in a public body is not unique. The same thing has happened to Roger Pielke Jr recently at the hands of Dr John Holdren, to Nic Lewis, Donna Laframboise and Dick Lindzen recently at the hands of Bob Ward, and to Bjorn Lomborg and Richard Tol also at the hands of Bob Ward. Not forgetting Ward’s attacks on Bishop Hill.

As I mentioned above, this is not the first time I have been attacked by Lord Deben. About a year ago, in a lecture in Oxford he mocked me for having a doctorate in biology (he has an English degree), and falsely charged – on the basis of a blog post written by a novelist (!) – that I had not cited the mainstream scientific literature when writing about ocean acidification. In fact in the relevant passage I had included direct quotations from 17 papers in the mainstream scientific literature, including a major meta-analysis of 372 peer-reviewed papers. Despite being requested twice to do so, Lord Deben declined to write to the organisers of the lecture to correct his mistake.

Later he wrote to fellow peers following a debate in the House of Lords saying that the “facts that were presented [by me in a speech] would be denied by almost every climatologist in the world”. I replied with direct quotations to show that I was citing mainstream scientific publications in every item of my speech. He ignored my letter.

In taking part in the debate on climate change over more than 25 years I have always tried to act with good manners, despite severe provocation. When I first covered this topic, I accepted alarming projections on trust. Since becoming more sceptical of exaggerated claims, I am used to being abused, ridiculed, smeared and inaccurately misquoted not only by amateur bloggers but by senior scientists and politicians and their spin doctors. I try never to respond in kind. The rudeness of the climate establishment towards anybody who argues for moderation is quite extraordinary, but I do not believe in emulating it. On Twitter Lord Deben has recently criticised sceptics for their rudeness. He should look in the mirror.

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