An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming

The following post is a speech done by Lord Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and former Secretary of State for Energy in the Margaret Thatcher government. He founded a think tank in the United Kingdom in 2009 called the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose stated aims are to challenge "extremely damaging and harmful policies" envisaged by governments to mitigate global warming. He also wrote a book called An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.

Lawson's speech was part of a three person panel along with Alex Epstein, author of the Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, and Patrick Moore, a sensible environmentalist, global warming skeptic, and author of Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist. The speech was performed at Moses Znaimer's 2015 Ideacity Conference in Toronto, Canada.

The entire speech can be found here:  

Moses Znaimer: So, we're going to bring this first important inquiry of the day to a close by welcoming Lord Nigel Lawson on stage. He is the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Maggie Thatcher government. that's no mean feat, and is arguably the most successful finance minister in the recent history of the United Kingdom. Thank you very much for coming here all the way from London. 

Lord Nigel Lawson: Well, good morning everybody, it's great to be in Canada again. Conrad Black assured us that Canada was a great nation, and everything Conrad says is right, and I'm delighted to second his notion. This is however my first at the court of King Moses, a very curious, but stimulating experience. 

We’ve just had two outstanding presentations in my mind, which to anybody, a fair minded person, I think you’ve made a completely compelling case that the conventional wisdom at the present time, the political correctness at the present time, political correctness is a blight, it’s the curse of this age. It prevents proper debate, it prevents the truth from getting out, anyhow you’ve had two compelling and politically incorrect presentations. I’m not sure I could add a great deal to that, but I can tell you a little bit about where I came from on this issue, and then towards the end, I will say a few things about the latest Papal encyclical, which Moses, with his customary cleverness, arranged to have published the day before this event. 

I have never been one who likes living in the past, I’ve always lived in the present and interested in the future. So, when I left government in 1989, and wrote my memoirs, that was to draw a line under the past. But I discovered there was one issue, it didn’t exist in those days, in the 1980’s it wasn’t a big issue, and that was the issue of global warming. And I thought, I better find out a little bit about it, this is something new, I don’t want to go on talking about the same old thing I’ve always been talking about. 

The first thing that I discovered, was that no proper economic analysis has been done of the cost effectiveness of the decarbonisation program that the politicians were talking about. That shocked me. When I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would never allow it, by the government of which I was a member, to do anything, to make any commitments about decarbonisation, or anything else for that matter, without there having been a thorough economic analysis. Because, very often, if you don’t have a proper economic analysis, what you do might actually do more harm, in terms of what you are trying to prevent.

So, at that time I just became a member of the economic affairs committee of the House of Lords. I said to my colleagues on the committee ‘Why don’t we do a study of the economics of climate change?’ And I knew nothing about the issue at the time, but it was and extremely educative process, we had all the top people come and give evidence to us, not only did we discover, but we produced at the end of the day a unanimous report, we had peers from all the different political parties, signed a unanimous report, which was extremely skeptical about the economics of climate change, or decarbonisation rather. But what is more, I learnt that the science, and Patrick Moore spoke brilliantly on the science today, but the science was extremely unsettled and supposedly true that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and there is a greenhouse effect to say that the concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere makes the planet warmer than we would otherwise be. 

But, what is extremely uncertain, is first, how much warmer? Secondly, this applies only if other things are equal, and we know that other things are not equal. And one of the problems we have with climate change, for example, it’s already been mentioned, one thousand years ago the world had the medieval warm period, which was an extremely warm period, and it was also an extremely beneficial period. During that baroque period we had very good music, but it was very bad for farming because we were in the middle of an ice age, and temperatures plummeted, and nobody knows why, that was a very harsh and difficult time. Nobody really knows about much, and I don’t blame the climate scientists for that, it’s extremely complex, the natural forces, both solar and the behaviour of the oceans. It’s extremely difficult to work out how that works, and how that effects climate, nobody knows. But, what I do blame them for is pretending to know when they don’t know, or rather, pretending because they don’t know, so this can be disregarded.

So, it is likely, in fact that they thought the carbon dioxide concentrations would raise the temperature enormously, and the computer models, which have substituted proper scientific evidence nowadays, the computer models projected if carbon dioxide concentrations and emissions rose faster, which they have done thanks largely to the remarkable growth of China, that the temperature would rise. 

We’ve seen in the last quarter of the 20th century, a recorded rise over that last quarter of about half a degree Celsius, That would accelerate. What has happened? The carbon dioxide has gone up faster, the temperature has stopped rising altogether, and the apologies for the current conventional wisdom has alternated between two different explanations. It’s rather likely, a prisoner in the dark who’s accused of murder and he says ‘In the first place, I wasn’t there at the time, and second place, even if I was there, it was an accident.’ If he presents both these, then you know probably neither of these things are true. And what they say first of all, the high eighties’ is what it’s called, doesn’t really exist, even though the British Met Office and all the comparable offices have shown the temperature has flatlined. Secondly, they say the missing heat has in fact gone into the deep, deep oceans, where nobody of course can measure it. Anyhow, the deep, deep oceans are incredibly cold. So, they don’t know why their theories haven’t worked out, but they haven’t worked out. 

The other thing is, even if there is a slight warming effect from carbon dioxide, does it matter? It’s clearly good for the planet in the sense that, as it’s already been pointed out by both Patrick and Alex, the fertilization effect. That is really well known. I did two things after the economic affairs committee report. I decided, that I must write a book about it, but I couldn’t get a publisher. It was so politically incorrect, that nobody’s publisher would touch it. And the only reason I got it published at all, was because my daughter, who’s a very successful author, had an agent and she asked her agent to find a publisher for my book, and he was very scared she would never speak to him again if he didn’t find a publisher. He managed to find a small American publisher, which had an even smaller British office, which it had rescued from the liquidator. They published the book, and it became a best seller. I called it An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, because reason was sadly missing, and I think it is particularly culpable that scientists should betray science in the way they have done. By going from reason to what is in effect, a quasi-religion. 

The book, which I’m glad to say is still in print, and I hope you will read it, it has the huge merit of being very short. It became a huge success. People say to me now ‘You should right another book,’ but I don’t really see the point in writing another book, so I decided instead, because I said most of what needed to be said, I thought I’d start a think tank. So, I founded a think tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is a registered educational charity, and it now has a campaign offshoot, the Global Warming Policy Forum, you can look at that website,, it’s well worth looking at, I have a brilliant director who runs it. 

One other thing we did, in order to make it quite clear that we were completely honest, we said right at the beginning, our very first board meeting, we will not accept a pennie of funds from the energy industry, or anyone with a significant interest in the energy industry, but of course, a lot of our donors choose to remain anonymous, and they choose to remain anonymous for a very good reason. You are vilified if you come out as a climate descender. I have never known anything in my life, when I was Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s government, we were pursuing extremely controversial economic policies, and I was used to being attacked all the time, but I never had anything remotely like what you get here with this issue. The vilification is quite remarkable, an attempt to repress and a refusal to debate. And I came across when I was writing this book, a large number, it may not have been a majority, but a very significant number of young climate scientists who had considerable doubts about the conventional wisdom, but they don’t speak out, because if they did speak out, that would be the end of their funding, they would never get any research funds of any kind if they spoke out about it. And the same with my political friends in the House of Commons, I have a lot of connections there, there are a lot who are descenders there, but they know that if they speak out, they will never get a promotion, and that is what it is like. And because I’m a very old man, I’m well into my 80’s, and I’ve got no career left, my career is all behind me, I thought I should speak out because I’ve got nothing to lose. But there’s a fear, and we use an expression that is well known to you among the youngsters, is really quite appalling. 

I produced this book, which was a bestseller, I started the think tank, which is doing very well, and I said we won’t take funding from the fossil fuel industry, but they said well if you’re not revealing your donors and the reason our donors remain anonymous, because they wanted to clear themselves, but more importantly, because they don’t want the vilification that would come. They would be vilified publicly, and they’re not used to that kind of thing. But, nevertheless, I have on my board, among others, former private secretary of the Queen, the former head of the British Civil Service, and Bishop of the church of England. So, what these people are actually saying, this seems to be a good test of paranoia, that all of us are engaged in a conspiracy and a lie. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the former head of the British Civil Service, the Bishop of the church of England, and the former private secretary of the Queen, if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

So, we are now faced with the fact that there is no warming to speak of that’s going on, going along, there might be. Is it going to do any harm, even the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has conceded that for the rest of this century it will do more good than harm. This is quite clear in many fields, human health for example. There are many, many more deaths in the world from cold related problems, than from heat related problems. This is established, and in general, the warming according to the IPCC, which I think exaggerates the so-called climate sensitivity, that is to the extent of which the temperature of the planet warms as a result of the increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. But even on the exaggerated expectations, they say it will actually be beneficial to mankind for the rest of this century. Even if there are problems, what do you do? If there are problems, you adapt to them, and that is what mankind has done throughout the ages and throughout the world. The temperatures varies enormously in different parts of the world as you all know. Take two very successful countries, which have a mean annual temperature of about 27 degrees Celsius apart. Finland, which is very cold, and Singapore, which is very hot, and yet people manage, and not only is adaptation sensible, because warming will bring benefits and it will bring disadvantages. If you pocket the benefits, but use resources and modern technology to reduce the disadvantages, then that is clearly the only sensible policy, and decrabonization is for the birds.

Finally, the Papal encyclical. The Papal encyclical is, sadly, an attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to jump on to this climate change. It is the most reactionary document I have ever read. It’s reactionary because it is fundamentally against progress, he has good intentions I’m sure, but we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. He says he’s concerned about the poor, the thing that the poor need is cheap energy. Cheap and reliable energy, and for the present time and for the foreseeable future, that can come only from carbon based energy. Let’s have all the research done, do plenty of research, see if you come up with something else, maybe one day you will, maybe one day you probably will. But for the foreseeable future, the only way of improving a lot of the poor is by cheap and reliable energy, which means fossil fuel energy. And the logic, if you call it that, the logic of the Pope, is that the industrial revolution should never have happened. We should still be living in the poverty and squalor that existed, for all except the rich, before the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution is a big mistake, and China’s growth, which has lifted so many people in China out of poverty, which is based entirely on a coal fired electricity generation program, that should never have happened. This is madness, but it’s not merely madness, it is also wicked. Thank you. 


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