When the latest lobbying scandal broke in the UK last week, I must admit that I was somewhat surprised by the decision of Patrick Mercer MP to resign from the Conservative Party and announce he will leave Parliament in 2015. However, having now watched the BBC Panorama programme about this last night, I understand completely. Last week, I did not appreciate that Fiji had been expelled from the Commonwealth because it is currently being run by a cabal of Fijian Army officer who ousted a democratically elected government in 2006. Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened in Fiji. This is also not the first time that British MPs (and/or Members of the House of Lords) have been caught in Sting operations taking money from undercover journalists posing as Lobbyists. However, this is not the only reason why Patrick Mercer comes out of all this looking so greedy and foolish. Although Mercer admits (to the undercover journalist, Daniel Foggo) that he has never been to Fiji, he does not appear to be that bothered when Foggo explains (or reminds him of?) the recent history and circumstances of Fiji. Mercer also executes some wonderful intellectual acrobatics in order to dismiss a potential conflict of interest between sugar cane production in Fiji (currently suffering due to exclusion from Commonwealth markets) and sugar beet production in his Newark constituency (on which 900 local jobs rely). In the BBC Panorama programme, Foggo also manages to entice Lord Laird of Artigarvan (an experienced former professional lobbyist himself) into adding Fiji to what is probably a lengthy list of dubious causes he already promotes (such as the oil-rich nation of Azerbaijan). However, what has this to do with fossil fuels? Well, I was prompted to write this blog post by the contribution to the programme of Douglas Carswell MP, who is a prominent climate change ‘sceptic’ within the Conservative Party. Carswell’s contribution included some very self-righteous pronouncements implying that lobbying was a corruption of the democratic process. As an aside, this point was also made by someone in the audience of BBC’s Question Time programme last night; except that this astute member of the public chose to specify ‘professional’ lobbyists – those who make money out of getting politicians to do things for them. As numerous people have pointed out, the thing that corrupts the democratic process is not lobbying – it is money. There is no better example of money being used to influence the political process – and thus no greater corruption of democracy itself – than the work of the Fossil Fuel Lobby (e.g. here). Therefore, Carswell’s contribution to this programme was, at best, completely ironic, or, at worst, utterly hypocritical. There are two options here because it is not clear (to me at least) whether Carswell is deliberately misinforming others or simply misinformed himself. I will give you some examples of statements Carswell, a graduate in History, has made about climate science, and let you be the judge: Douglas Carswell is an outspoken backbench MP who was clearly so impressed by reading Ian Plimer’s book Heaven and Earth that he decided to blog about it (criticising Prof John Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for labelling Americans as being ‘ignorant about climate change’), as follows:
Perhaps we should send the Americans copies of Prof Ian Plimer’s book on the subject… to enlighten them? …If we did, those ‘climate illiterate’ Americans would learn how some scientists are of the view that: FACT 1: Global temperatures are not determined by the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. FACT 2: The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is largely determined by geology – and human activity has only a very marginal effect… But surely, good science is not about the weight of opinion, but about the weight of fact and evidence? …In the free market of ideas, expect a correction soon (Douglas Carswell’s Blog 29/09/2009).
A few days later, he began another post on his blog by saying, “The lunatic ‘consensus’ on man-made climate change is starting to break down” (ibid – 12/10/2009). Intriguingly, neither of these items appear to be viewable on his TalkCarswell blog today. However, he definitely said them because he has been quoted and criticised in numerous newspapers. Indeed, as a result of this latter comment, Carswell was criticised by many and got himself into his local newspaper, the Clacton Gazette, which quoted him as having said:
I have thought long and hard about it and in my view the climate is not changing because of human activity… We know that it was a lot warmer in the middle ages. In Essex, we know a variety of grapes were grown, it was that much warmer… I read a book this summer which details less than half of one percent of all CO2 in the atmosphere and surface of the earth is caused by man (as quoted in the Clacton Gazette newspaper on 23/10/2009).
The UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey, has recently said this:
Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue… We make progress by building on what we know, and questioning what we don’t. But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups who reject outright the fact that climate change is a result of human activity. Some who even deny the reality of climate change itself… By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care…
For an economist, Davey’s words are refreshingly blunt and consistent with history, science and reality. For more on this speech, see this post on the Think Progress website about it. Therefore, the question remains, which camp are people like Carswell in: Do they know what they are saying about climate science is rubbish or do they actually believe their own propaganda?