Financial Times - Flickr: Lord Nigel Lawson CC BY 2.0

RIP Lord Lawson: One of the Great Sceptics of Net Zero and Climate Science Insanity

From the Daily Sceptic


Many of the obituaries of Nigel Lawson, Lord Lawson of Blaby, have glossed over the work that dominated the last 20 years of his life. This was warning of the dangers and unrealistic costs of removing fossil fuel and the dire economic and social consequences of what has come to be known as Net Zero. The Daily Telegraph spent a page detailing the significant events in his life, but three brief mentions of his Net Zero and climate science concerns didn’t even coalesce into a single sentence. Of course, the Guardian didn’t go out of its way to discuss his concerns, but it did provide a short obituary paragraph that gave a summary of the work that dominated his later years (presumably to discredit him).

His main interest, however, was a campaign to counter the case for global warming. He set up a think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, designed to challenge international attempts to mitigate the impacts of global heating. Lawson claimed that economic growth should not be slowed down to prevent a possible eventuality, but that policy should be made pragmatically in response to what had already happened.

Lawson came to politics relatively late in life after a successful career as a financial and political journalist. After the near-collapse of a Britain dominated by hard Left statism in the late 1970s, the Thatcher governments of the following decade helped boost free markets, entrepreneurship and living standards. Lawson was the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983-1989, and is credited with introducing many of the successful tax and economic reforms that transformed the British economy at the time. His success is often attributed to a combination of careful planning, thinking the unthinkable (whoever thought telephones shouldn’t be run as a state monopoly by the Post Office?) and a practical approach to the art of possible politics.

His later work on climate science and the gathering moves towards Net Zero undoubtedly appealed to his considerable intellectual abilities. The Guardian correctly noted that he didn’t wish economic growth to be slowed for a possible eventuality. Writing an essay for a climate compilation book in 2015, he noted that hundreds of millions of people suffered in dire poverty in the developing world. Asking these countries to abandon the cheapest available sources of energy is, at the very least, he said, asking them to delay the conquest of malnutrition, to perpetuate the incidence of preventable disease and to increase the numbers of premature deaths. “Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked,” he added.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour warmed the planet, accepted Lawson, but he raised serious scientific questions about any danger this posed. In particular, he noted that scientists had not agreed on the sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 and how much temperature would rise. In fact, since Lawson wrote his essay, these estimates have been generally lowered in most scientific circles. He stated that temperatures had been much higher in the past, without any human involvement. And he queried whether any rise in temperature would actually be a bad thing. “It would, after all, be surprising if the planet were on a happy but precarious temperature knife-edge, from which any change in either direction would be a major disaster,” he suggested.

Lawson had an elegant riposte to the so-called precautionary principle which is often used to justify the expenditure of vast amounts of money just in case there is some dramatic change in the climate. To him the most important use of the precautionary principle was against the precautionary principle. There are only so many things one can take precautions against, particularly since there are many scientists who fear the Earth is heading for a new ice age. “It would be difficult, to say the least, to devote unlimited sums to both cooling and warming the planet at the same time,” he dryly observed.

On the balance of probabilities, noting all the suggested advantages and disadvantages, Lawson concluded that in a nutshell, “global warming is good for you”. Short shrift was given to what a few years ago was the burgeoning pseudoscientific practice of claiming bad or ‘extreme’ weather was “consistent with what we would expect from climate change”. Noting these “weasel words”, he asked, so what? “It is also consistent with the theory that it is a punishment from the Almighty for our sins – the prevailing explanation of extreme weather events throughout most of human history.”

The fact remains, reported Lawson, that empirical studies show there has been no perceptible increase, globally, in either the number or the severity of extreme weather events. To this day, similar studies confirm this view.

It seems this last analysis led to his cancellation in most mainstream media, particularly at the BBC. In a recent World Weather Attribution (WWA) guide for journalists titled ‘Reporting extreme weather and climate change’, the former BBC Today Editor Sarah Sands bemoaned the time when Lawson managed to suggest there had been no increase in extreme weather. I wish we had this guide to help us mount a more effective challenge to his claim, wrote Sands. These days, she said, attribution studies have given us significant insight into the horsemen of the climate apocalypse. We have evidence and we have facts, and they are a secure foundation for news, she added.

Imperial College-led World Weather Attribution specialises in near-instant weather attributions. It does this by modelling two imaginary climates, one without and one with humans producing CO2. Any weather event supposedly magnified in the latter is said to be due to human-caused climate change. Roger Pielke, a noted science writer and a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, is unimpressed: “I can think of no other area of research where the relaxing of rigour and standards has been encouraged by researchers in order to generate claims more friendly to headlines, political advocacy and even lawsuits.”

If the Telegraph obituary writer failed to pick up the importance of Lawson’s climate work, no such error was made by the newspaper’s columnist Allison Pearson. Commenting on his founding of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2009, she said it pushed back against the complacent, settled wisdom on climate change. “Amid growing alarm about the cost to the U.K. of a Gadarene rush towards Net Zero, his scepticism feels more vindicated by the day,” she added.

Nigel Lawson was an old school, inquiring journalist, and a great, game-changing politician. Your own correspondent owes him a debt of gratitude since the reforms of the Thatcher Government opened up the City of London with greater opportunities in financial journalism, broke the sclerotic power of print unions to control the manufacturing process, and provided genuine tax incentives for entrepreneurship – in my own case, the publishing business.

Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor. He is the former owner of Evandale Publishing Ltd.

Feature image:

Lord Nigel Lawson at the Financial Times 125th Anniversary Party, London
Source Flickr: Lord Nigel Lawson
Author: Financial Times
License  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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Steve Case
April 9, 2023 6:18 am

“Proper scientists, scientists with integrity, wish to reveal their data and all their methods. They do not require freedom of information requests.” – Lord Lawson.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Steve Case
April 9, 2023 8:08 am

How do guys like Mickey Mann justify not giving their data? I should think that unless the research is military oriented- not giving data should mean such research should not be publishable.

Steve Case
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
April 9, 2023 8:33 am

NASA’s GISTEMP adjusts the data every month all the way back to the 19th century and they don’t save the files anywhere. Unless you save them to your personal files or the Way Back Machine the record of corrections is lost.

Reply to  Steve Case
April 9, 2023 7:12 pm

Exactly. Hundreds of books, UN reports, and half-baked ‘journalism’ fall to that one sentence

April 9, 2023 7:07 am

The only purpose of “climate change” policies, etc. is to separate the rubes from their money. Oh, and control their behavior at the same time. It is a huge scam, enacted by some of the greatest grifters on the planet, politicians of all stripes and colors. Apparently, Lord Lawson knew this a long time ago and pointed it out each time he had an opportunity to do so. Good for him and all the rest of the folks using logic and common sense in looking at the issue.
RIP, Lord Lawson.

Mike McMillan
April 9, 2023 7:13 am

A pretty much behind-the-scene, laying the groundwork kind of guy.
RIP Sir.

Dr. Bob
April 9, 2023 7:33 am

We live in and insane world where Up is Down and LEFT is right. I don’t think people like him would want to see what the world will become in the future. He tried valiantly to shine light on a dark issue which will not go unnoticed. May he rest in peace.

Joseph Zorzin
April 9, 2023 8:06 am

“scientists had not agreed on the sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2”

And without that- it’s crazy to pretend “the science is settled”.

April 9, 2023 8:11 am

A big loss and one of the last conservatives

John Oliver
April 9, 2023 8:47 am

His position and warnings will be vindicated very soon. We are just a short 2-3 years out from for example the cessation of production of ICE vehicles in certain categories. ( example Chevy GMC work vans) and a whole host of other insane industrial policy suicide. It’s happening faster than people realize. RIP sir and God help us all.

April 9, 2023 9:13 am

Lord Lawson rescued the UK from a financial disaster, but that meant little to current crop of political imbeciles.I benefited from his reforms, for which I should be very grateful.

April 9, 2023 9:25 am

Recently I made some comments on the Guardian politics page. It followed on from criticism of the BBC for allowing Lord Lawson to talk about climate change. My initial point was that, if the science is settled, then the issues are economic and political – who better to hear from than a former Chancellor of the Exchequer? Although I conceded that he was a disaster as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The counter-argument was put that the consensus states we need to act now and Lord Lawson was a threat to our future. I pointed out that that was a fringe political position and that the actual consensus on Climate Change, after 27 COPs and 30 years of the IPCC, is:
1) Watch climate change.
2) Meet to discuss climate change.
3) Take no action yet on climate change as fighting poverty is far more important for developing countries like China and India.

Surprisingly, I was mocked for saying that the COPs had agreed to take no action yet. My response was to link to the Paris Agreement and thus show who was right. A total win for me.

That was a mistake. Clearly I was right and the Guardian editorial line is wrong. So the whole comment thread was deleted and I am now banned from commenting at the Guardian again.

Reply to  MCourtney
April 9, 2023 10:42 am

Never argue with idiots.

They bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.

April 9, 2023 9:55 am

On slightly happier note, or maybe not:
The temperature of the world’s ocean surface has hit an all-time high since satellite records began, leading to marine heatwaves around the globe, according to US government data.
“The current trajectory looks like it’s headed off the charts, smashing previous records,” said Prof Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales.
Said so, but don’t bother to read it will ruin your Easter festivity.
Maybe Richard Feynman was correct after all, vacuum energy is about to boil over all the world oceans.

April 9, 2023 10:30 am

‘We have evidence and we have facts, and they are a secure foundation for news, she added.’

Not at the BBC they aren’t – they are scared of them so have signed up to censor things they don’t like.

Jennifer Marohasy
April 9, 2023 1:50 pm

I had lunch with Lord Lawson, perhaps it was in 2015. He was visiting Australia, giving a talk. I asked him about Margaret Thatcher and the coal miners and the beginning of the Wests obsession with carbon dioxide. He didn’t dispute my thesis that more than anyone else Margaret Thatcher ignited the carbon dioxide as villain meme. He confirmed to me that Margaret Thatcher absolutely hated coal miners/the union and saw resurrection of the Svante Arrhenius theory that a doubling of atmospheric levels could result in a 5 to 6 degrees Celsius global temperature rise as politically useful.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  Jennifer Marohasy
April 9, 2023 3:13 pm

I think it is little known that Arrhenius went on to revise his 1895/6 work publishing Die vermutliche Ursache der Klimaschwankungen in 1906 – after Planck’s Law had emerged in 1900, beginning to provide the underpinnings for quantum theory and resolve the ultraviolet catastrophe etc. An English translation can be found here,%20final.pdf

I calculate that a reduction in the amount of CO2 by half, or a gain to twice the amount, would cause a temperature change of – 1.5 degrees C, or + 1.6 degrees C, respectively.
In these calculations, I completely neglected the presence of water vapour emitted into the atmosphere.

Because of the high concentration of water vapour in the lower air layers, the radiation is not reduced by the action of the water vapour in the same proportion as it is by the action of CO2. The calculation shows that under the conditions of the quantity of water vapour in our atmosphere, almost exactly 1/3 of the radiation absorbed by the atmospheric water vapour is retained. The average water vapour content of the whole atmosphere corre-sponds to approximately an absorbent layer 4 cm in length. Thus the water vapour would reduce the Earth’s radiation by 1/3 x 61.6 = 20.5%.

If one uses this correction, one finds that with a change in the quantity of CO2 in the ratio of 1:2, the temperature of the Earth’s surface would be altered by 2.1 degrees. It is as-sumed that the radiation that is absorbed by the water vapour is not influenced by the CO2.*

Added to this is still the increased heat protection through the uptake of water vapour. The water vapour in the atmosphere does not only keep back the Earth’s radiation, but also absorbs a large part of the solar radiation. This last circumstance works in opposite directions, but not nearly as vigorously as the former. For this related correction, I have used the data of Ångström and Schukewitsch. The calculations show that a doubling of the quantity of water vapour in the atmosphere would correspond to raising the tempera-ture by an average of 4.2 degrees C.

For this disclosure, one could calculate that the corresponding secondary temperature change, on a 50% fluctuation of CO2 in the air, is approximately 1.8 degrees C, such that the total temperature change induced by a decrease in CO2 in the air by 50% is 3.9 de-grees (rounded to 4 degrees C).

* This assumption is perhaps not totally valid, in that perhaps some spectral portions in the large absorption band of CO2 are also affected by water vapour. This effect of water vapour seems never the less to be very weak, if it exists at all. Neglect of this fact could be more than offset by the effect of ozone, hydrocarbons etc, which is still very little known and not included in the calculation.

Of course in 1906 infrared spectroscopy was still very much in its infancy, and there was no nice HITRAN database to refer to or the modern understanding of the detailed quantum mechanics.

Jennifer Marohasy
Reply to  It doesnot add up
April 9, 2023 3:52 pm

thank you for sharing this most useful information. :-).

April 9, 2023 1:50 pm

Sounds like a whale of a man, a good man. Much of Britain should hang it’s head in shame for treating him the way they did.

April 9, 2023 7:10 pm

Rest In Peace, Mr Lawson. As long as there are people like him in the world, there is hope

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