Coffee House

An open letter to Chris Huhne

25 November 2011

2:32 PM

25 November 2011

2:32 PM

Earlier this year, the former head of the civil service, Lord Turnbull, wrote a pamphlet on climate change entitled The
Really Inconvenient Truth or “It Ain’t Necessarily So”
. It was praised by Nigel Lawson, writing its foreword, as a ‘dispassionate but devastating critique’ of global
warming alarmism — and it is a critique that Chris Huhne saw fit to respond to earlier this week, in a letter to the ennobled pair. Well, now they’ve responded in turn, via the open letter below, and we thought
CoffeeHousers might care to see it:

Dear Secretary of State,

We are pleased that you have decided that a public response to growing criticism of your climate policies is now required. We regret, however, that you do not address our main arguments and
key concerns. Neither are we impressed by evidently ill-advised assertions.

For a start, you make the mistake of connecting the reality of 20th century global warming, which no one doubts, with the various causes for it. You claim that the evidence for man’s
influence is getting stronger every year, yet you fail to provide any empirical evidence for this statement.

In reality, over the past few years there has been a growing realisation among scientists that other influences (such as solar, stratospheric water vapour, oceanic cycles, to name but the
most dominant) are likely to be more significant than previously thought. These factors have seriously impinged on estimates of the magnitude of mankind’s influence.

Your faith in the conclusion of Australia’s Garnaut Review — that there has been no change in the rate of global warming in recent years — is wholly at odds with the latest
scientific work and even the Government’s own Met Office: Most research papers published in the last 12 months confirm that there has been no warming trend in the last 10 years.

It is true that the fundamental greenhouse effect yields only a 1.2°C increase for a doubling of CO2 (so-called climate sensitivity) and that larger increases depend upon various
feedback mechanisms. There is no convincing evidence, however, to support your assertion that the increase of the level of water vapour in the atmosphere (as a result of doubling of CO2) would
(other things being equal) raise global average temperature by around 3°C.

In reality, the magnitude of water vapour feedbacks, positive as well as negative (such as increased cloud cover and precipitation) remains a poorly understood subject. Do you seriously
believe that only ‘one or two people’ (sic) have published research that shows moderate rather than catastrophic warming in the next 100 years?

You do not seem to appreciate the incomplete state of scientific knowledge regarding these extremely complex feedbacks. In reality, most scientists will tell you that we do not know all of
them; and that most of those we do know, we understand only rudimentary.

What is more, estimates for climate sensitivity in the peer reviewed literature have been going down. You and your advisers will no doubt take a look at the latest research findings on this
very subject by Schmittner et al. published this week in the journal Science. This is yet another study that corroborates a low estimate of climate sensitivity and concludes that
"these results imply a lower probability of imminent extreme climate change than previously thought."

Your faith in the integrity of the IPCC process is no less ill-advised. There have been three reports on the IPCC — by the InterAcademy Council in 2010; the recent book by Donna
Laframboise; and the report by Professor Ross McKitrick published recently by the GWPF (a copy of which is attached). You and your advisers need to study all three as they all identify a common set shortcomings in the
IPCC’s scientific approach and its working methods.

The IPCC seeks to present itself as embodying the independent, impartial advice of the world’s best scientists in the field. All three reports reveal serious flaws in this claim — its
lack of transparency in how the so-called experts are chosen, its resistance to views challenging its orthodoxy, its lack of proper governance to deal with conflicts of interest, its
excessive use of non-peer reviewed (grey literature), and its infiltration by activists from environmental pressure groups.

We are surprised that you have been so slow to recognise that the IPCC, which has influenced a great deal of UK policy, no longer carries the credibility necessary to persuade society of
the massive changes it is advocating. It should be drastically reformed or wound up and replaced.

We note that you appear to be denying the charge on unilateralism in UK policy. This is curious as you and your predecessors were keen to boast that the Climate Change Act made Britain a
world leader in decarbonisation. And you personally have been urging the EU to adopt even more ambitious targets, fortunately unsuccessfully.

Admittedly, you limit your claim that Britain has not adopted unilateral policies to "until 2020," but even this ceiling is at odds with the introduction of the carbon floor price
which you wish to introduce in the next couple of years. This scheme most certainly is a unilateral folly which is already having a devastating effect on manufacturing and energy-intensive
industries — which, of course, are also concerned about what is planned for after 2020.

In reality, the UK stands alone as the only country in the world to impose long-term legally binding CO2 emissions targets. No other country in the world is willing to inflict such
unilateral burden on its business sector and economy.

Even within the EU Commission major concerns about its unilateral targets have begun to surface. The EU is now seriously considering to discontinue its unilateral decarbonisation in the
absence of a global agreement.

Whether you like it or not, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has pledged that the government will no longer be bound by unilateral decarbonisation targets that cut CO2
emissions in Britain faster and deeper than other countries in Europe. We trust that his promise to abandon the path of green unilateralism will be followed, sooner rather than later, by a less
extreme and more pragmatic policy.

Lord Lawson
Lord Turnbull

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Show comments
  • Simon Stephenson.

    fragmeister : 10.14pm

    The second group of “sceptics” that you identify are not really sceptical at all. They’re not comparable with agnostics, they more resemble atheists. True sceptics are agnostic about what can logically and reasonably be concluded from the data and information which is available. What staggers us most of all is the certainty with which both the theists (Warmists) and the atheists (deniers) hold their beliefs. It is this certainty – this refusal to accept the possibility of error – that leads us to conclude that neither of their cases can possibly be constructed from actual evidence. We’ve seen in the past the purveyors of a faith sweetening their case by claiming spurious factual support – we’ve seen this too often before, and we’re too long in the tooth to be taken in by it again.

  • fragmeister


    I don’t turn the scientific method on its head. I just understand it a bit better than you. There is a philosophy of science that says what you say, but there are others. In the end, as Richard Feynman said, the results will tell us whether the theory is right or wrong. Not politican, not non-scientists or even scientists. Merely the results. And of course those that do the footslogging, such as collecting core samples, launching weather balloons, taking simple temperature measurements, are the forgotten ones. A handful of climate scientists working around the world rely on the basic data and no amount of arguing for or against will change the data.

    What I was saying, and what you chose to twist, was that the Lords were not talking about data either. I read Huhne’s letter and, though I thoroughly dislike the man, I think his was a more honest letter. Those who label themselves sceptics on this come in two flavours: those that are unsure of the conclusions but are willing to listen to what the data tells them before they make up their minds, and those that have made up their minds and will peck and question at every point. No matter what we believe, the results will be everything. And, sadly, the second form of scepticism is a corrosive form. It does not debate with the same honesty that the pair of Lords do.

    The thing about science that you clearly don’t like or don’t understand is that it is open about its assumptions and uncertainties. Unlike politicians. As I said earlier, take the opportunity to read climatology textbooks and educate yourself and find out what they say.

    Its interesting that peer review keeps coming up. Since it is the best way we know of that keeps rubbish research in the waste bin and is used throughout academia, and perhaps even in the Spectator. Of course, it isn’t perfect. If it was Andrew Wakefield’s damaging “research” on MMR and autism would not have been published. Science, as you might have noticed from the current debate over the speed of a handful of neutrinos, is about proving people wrong. The problem with the deniers is that they haven’t found a way of doing it yet. A few emails with ambiguous wording won’t do it. It will be the data.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    BungaBunga : 9.42am

    Would you accept that people who rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and Cabinet Secretary are quite likely to be able to understand the difference between a valid and an invalid argument? Irrespective of any specific education or training they had received in building their careers?

    Would you also accept that what Lords Lawson and Turnbull are doing is not to question the exactitude of the scientific data but to dispute the argumentative logic of the conclusions which the Warmists have drawn from it?

    Do you seriously claim that there is scientific evidence in support of the Warmist case that is :-

    (a) not sufficiently comprehensible for non-experts to grasp?


    (b) stand-alone justification for the Warmist position of certainty, without any need to be reinforced by moralistic as opposed to scientific reasoning?

  • BungaBunga

    The point is that Lords Lawson and Turnbull are not scientists, just rather prejudiced men with an agenda. We don’t expect non-engineers to build our bridges. So why do we let laymen set the climate change agenda? We’re all entitled to a view, but it should be an informed one.

  • starfish



    You turn scientific method on its head

    The hypothesis of AGW has been stated; its proponents need to provide hard empirical evidence

    Simple assertions about ‘consensus’ (that does not actually exist) supported by dubious statistics extrapolated from dubious data of poor quality and poor global applicability and by comparison with similalry dubious global climate models packed full of dubious assumptions and then verified by a peer-review process that might be most charitably described as ‘less than robust’ all in an atmosphere of highly politicised debate is not very sound evidence I am afraid

    It is for the proponents to make their case and answer the sceptics’ questions

  • fergus pickering

    Well, he seems to have charmed one woman to bankroll him and look after the kids and another to embrace heterosexuality. A Prince among men. A Tony Blair minus the core of integrity.

  • ButcombeMan

    One of the biggest mistakes Cameron has made, is letting Huhne anywhere near his current job.

    He is rabid on many issues, climate change is one, the euro and europe are others.

    Not a serious thinker but (very) personally charming.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Sean Haffey : 4.16pm

    “Please, let’s raise this debate from name-calling and into making reasonably valid scientific and statistical points. The cost of getting it wrong is too high.”

    Good Lord, Mr Haffey, modern political and social debate isn’t based on scientific validity. It’s based on how effectively one can propagandize a case such that large numbers of irrational thinkers will sign up to it. Against professional presentation and the abandonment of intellectual integrity, arguments based on fact, reason and logic don’t have a chance.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    I’m surprised that Lords Lawson and Turnbull should consider that they are dealing with someone committed to rationally justified beliefs. They’re not. They’re dealing with someone whose commitment to rationality is limited to those areas that don’t weaken the position he is endeavouring to establish. People like Huhne aren’t swayed by the reality of the information available, nor by a reasoned conclusion of the import of such data. To him, the data’s only there to be cherry-picked to support his pre-decided position.

    It’s not the slightest use trying to persuade people like Huhne that the reality of the data should lead them to change their opinions – because their opinions were never derived from the data in the first place.

  • john miller

    Huhne, like all his fellow millionaires in government, believes that his money will buy him exemption from the results of his policies.

    He doesn’t care how expensive energy becomes because he knows that he can aford it, or, in the slim chance that he can remain an MP, we will pay for it.

    But, like all politicians, he can see no further than the end of his nose.

    His policies will ruin the entire infrastructure of this country and send us back to equatorial African levels of existence. No industry, no economy and no energy.

    Perhaps we ought to make a condition of Huhne remaining in office is that he is barred from leaving the country for the rest of his life.

  • fragmeister

    No, it’s not really a good letter – it’s full of the same rhetorical stuff as Huhne’s. Saying you don’t quote any science and then failing to quote any yourelf is a bit weak. This matter is not something that will be settled by debates, any more than the speed of those funky nutrinos in Italy will be. It will be settled by the hard work of those people that put in the hard yards on collecting the data, analysing it and interpreting it. It is highly likely that the increase in greenhouse gases is the result of human activity and the unimpeachable physics suggests they must have an effect. What that effect is, time will tell for certain. What is sad is that polticians got involved. Perhaps getting the real climatology textbooks out of your local library would help because education is better than throwing dung, but a lot harder.

  • oldtimer

    This is a very good letter.

    It is given extra point by the release of a further c5000 emails from the UEA files. These included this example:
    “I can’t overstate the HUGE amount of political interest in the project as a message that the Government can give on climate change to help them tell their story,” a civil servant wrote to Phil Jones in 2009. “They want the story to be a very strong one and don’t want to be made to look foolish.”

    They also reveal that the science, such as it was, was based on very shaky evidence. Anyone who has followed the so-called enquiries will conclude that these were whitewashes by design. The UEA continues to claim that it has been vindicated; the fact is that the Oxburgh panel did not consider any evidence except that provided by the UEA itself, and specifically stated that it did not examine the science. The whole exercise of Parliamentary oversight has been a sham.

    All three party leaders were and remain complicit in this scam; backbench MPs need to revolt and repeal the Climate Change Act before they too are swept up in the scandal.

  • whatawaste


    You are probably right. His appearance on Question Time last night was notable as he has pulled out at the last minute from being interviewed by Newsnight on BBC2. He seemed a bit confident too rather than the usual shifty eyed troll.

  • Mirtha Tidville

    Sadly I have a feeling that the CPS are going to bottle it and we will be lumbered with this arrogant swivelled eyed loon for rather longer than is good for us.

  • Merlin

    It’s good to see the Lords Lawson and Turnbull getting Huhne up to speed. i think they made their points very well.

  • TrevorsDen

    A neat précis.

    Governments have been kidnapped and held to ransom by he environmentally loony IPCC for too long. The received opinion of the likes of the BBC have been too powerful for too long.
    Some scientific reality needs to be let in to the debate.

    The overwhelming simple point is that even if you accept man made global warming (EVEN!) the reality is it is not catastrophic and not immediately catastrophic.
    Ultimately we are heading for an ice age and that is highly likely to wipe out humanity. if humanity proves to be as thick as Huhne then we will deserve it.

  • Sean Haffey

    People on BOTH sides of this argument seem to think it’s a binary decision – “There is man-made glabel warming!” “No, there isn’t!”.

    Like much science, it’s not binary. Instead there are *probabilities*. I don’t know the answers and I suspect no-one does, but the matter of man-made global warming mght be summarised as follows (NB I have made these numbers up to illustrate the concept: I do NOT claim they represent reality)

    10% probability: man’s influence will cause the planet to cool.
    60% probability: man’s influence will cause the planet to warm by 2 degrees or less.
    20% probability: man’s influence will cause the planet to warm by more than 2 degrees
    10% probability: man is not having a significant effect on the earth’s temperature.

    People also need to be less selective in using data to “prove” their points. Even if man-made global warming is happening, it’s not a smooth progression. There will be jumps in some years and drops in others. So it’s perfectly possible to choose your data to “prove” your point. I am reminded of Darrel Huff’s excellent “How to Lie with Statistics”. If you haven’t read it, please do: it’s in print, available from all good bookshops.

    Please, let’s raise this debate from name-calling and into making reasonably valid scientific and statistical points. The cost of getting it wrong is too high.

  • Scott

    well that him. Personally, I am not well educated in climate change theory, but the letter does tend to agree with my gut feeling that we are all being connec on climate change, and that it is folly of our Government to continue on its present green agenda. In 20 years time this country will be poorer and everyone else will be laughing at us for being such numpties to saddle our industry and general ecomony with all the green taxes we have. In 20 years time I will have retired, but I fear the UK will not function as a major economy because this Government will have destroyed our future.

  • Dimoto

    A few days ago, the BBC carried a report that some climate group at UMIST, sponsored by the Cooperative Society (!) had published new evidence that Huhne’s “carbon strait jacket” meant that there was “no room” for exploiting shale gas resources, so development plans should be abandoned.

    It is unbelievable that a “Conservative led” government has allowed this handful of clowns to meddle with national energy security.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Unfortunately, this is all a waste of effort. Huhne doesn’t want to listen. The sooner the CPS relieves the long-suffering tax payer of this burdensome man, the better.

  • Jay Waite

    blimey that’s told him

  • Swiss Bob

    And the Speccie’s view is?

    THe most amazing thing I’ve read relating to Climategate 2.0 is the fact that Prof Jones can’t even create an Excel chart (I paraphrase).

    I hate Excel but if someone gave me some numbers I’m pretty sure I could come up with what’s required (Google is your friend), and he’s an eminent scientist working in a field that covers many disciplines, including stats.