Climate change ‘sceptics’ abuse freedom of expression

Posted on 4 Jan 2020 in

Climate change ‘sceptics’ in the UK were very vocal over the holiday period complaining that they do not receive enough attention from the media. They argued that freedom of expression means they have the absolute right to have their views amplified by newspapers and broadcasters without fear of rejection for being inaccurate and misleading.

For example, on 28 December, Charles Moore was a guest editor on the ‘Today’ programme on BBC Radio 4. The BBC had previously indicated that he would focus on “freedom of expression”, but the presenters at the beginning of the programme said that the items would include “the untold costs of tackling climate change, the prospect of regime change in Iran, and the future of the BBC”.

Mr Moore is a trustee and director of the male-dominated Global Warming Policy Foundation, which was set up by Lord Lawson to lobby against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels. The Foundation, which does not disclose its funders, claims on its website that it is “open-minded on the contested science of global warming”, but was sanctioned by the Charity Commission in 2014 for promoting climate change denial and ignoring the results of mainstream science.

The Foundation subsequently set up a campaign arm, the Global Warming Policy Forum, to circumvent the Commission’s rules, and it has continued to spread inaccurate and misleading information about the science, economics, ethics and politics of climate change. It is perhaps not surprising that Mr Moore exploited the opportunity to give a platform to other members of the Foundation during his stint as guest editor on ‘Today’.

First up was Michael Kelly, who is Emeritus Professor in solid state electronics at the University of Cambridge. He is also a trustee and director of the Foundation, and became the eighth consecutive man to deliver the its annual lecture in November 2019, following in the footsteps of Cardinal George Pell.

During his interview on the ‘Today’ programme, Professor Kelly expressed his dislike of renewable energy, but also raged against climate scientists’ projections of global warming: “It’s no good looking at a model today and saying it’s done well for the last 30 years. If you look at a model made 30 years ago and look how well it’s done in the 30 years since, if you look at the data for the last 30 years, on average the models have been heating twice as fast as the data.” This claim was, of course, entirely false. A study by Zeke Hausfather and co-authors on ‘Evaluating the performance of past climate model projections’, which was published in December 2019 in the journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’, concluded: “We find that climate models published over the past five decades were generally quite accurate in predicting global warming in the years after publication, particularly when accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric CO2 and other climate drivers”.

Later on in the programme there was an interview with Viscount Ridley, a self-proclaimed “lukewarmer” who is among the 26 men who make up the Foundation’s “Academic Advisory Council”. He expressed his concern about policies to limit the use of coal, oil and gas: “Well, one of the reasons for being careful about not over-reacting to climate change, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t, that we should do nothing, we should do things, but I think we should be careful not to over-react and not to shut down civilisation. One of the reasons for that is because some of the measures we’re taking are doing real harm already. We’re denying fossil fuels to Africa so that as a result they’re burning wood to feed themselves, that’s killing their children, that’s also destroying forests. And another reason is the diesel scandal which came directly out of climate change policy.” However, in both cases, Viscount Ridley was wrong to blame climate change policies.

As the International Energy Agency pointed out in a special report in November 2019, about 900 million people in sub-Saharan Africa currently do not have access to clean cooking facilities and almost 600 million have no electricity. But the Agency did not identify climate change policies as a barrier. Instead the report noted: “While clean cooking fuels and technologies are now more available, consumer awareness, accessibility and affordability remain significant challenges. The provision of clean cooking solutions does not guarantee that rural and urban communities will stop using traditional cooking methods.”

Similarly, Viscount Ridley was wrong to blame climate change policies for the scandal resulting from the illegitimate attempts by some car companies between 2009 and 2015 to comply with regulations on local air pollution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency took action against Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche for installing software in some diesel-powered vehicles that was designed to detect when the vehicle was undergoing emissions testing and then turned on full emissions controls for the test only. This resulted in the cars meeting emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emitted nitrogen oxides at levels up to 40 times higher than the permitted level. This software was determined to be a ‘defeat device’ that is prohibited by the Clean Air Act. Hence the so-called ‘dieselgate’ scandal had nothing to do with climate change policies.

Viscount Ridley was also asked by the interviewer, Nick Robinson, about a possible underlying motive for his ‘lukewarmer’ views: “Now I know the focus of your argument is largely about policies that you think are counter-productive at best, and may be positively bad at worst, isn’t your thinking though underlain by the fact that you’re a Conservative, like many of the people on this Foundation, you’re a free-marketer, and your real fear is that socialists have grabbed hold of the green agenda and they are managing to get support for things that you’re fundamentally opposed to on a new basis?”

Viscount Ridley replied: “That’s not true about the Foundation. The Chairman is Lord Donoughue who is a Labour peer.” This was false. Lord Donoughue, who had succeeded Lord Lawson as Chair of the Foundation in January 2019, resigned from his role on 1 December. He was replaced by Terence Mordaunt, who is co-owner of Bristol Port Company and who has previously donated to the Conservative Party.

Viscount Ridley also went on the claim that “people like me are not allowed on the BBC”, before launching an extraordinary personal attack on Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, falsely claiming he “takes his instructions from the environment lobbies”.

Mr Moore later followed up the assault on Mr Harrabin’s reputation by wrongly accusing him of being “biased”. It was very apparent that the ‘freedom of expression’ sought by Mr Moore, a former editor of ‘The Daily Telegraph’ newspaper, does not include journalists with whom he disagrees.

Indeed, it is abundantly clear from Mr Moore’s stint as guest editor on ‘Today, as well as his inaccurate and misleading articles in ‘The Daily Telegraph’, that his notion of the ‘freedom of expression’ is that media coverage of climate change should be aligned with his own views rather than factually correct.


Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.