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March 17, 2000


Julian Morris: lessons from the history of climate research


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

From: Julian Morris
Subject: lessons from the history of climate research

Very much enjoyed Tony's responses. One comment: global warming may be
another green myth. (In any case, comments about nuclear power would need
modifying because coal, oil and gas are far and away the dominant sources
of energy on the planet.) Obviously this is not the appropriate forum for
discussions of this topic ... but it is worth beearing in mind how
thinking on this issue has shifted over the past twenty years: in the
1970s climatologists were serious research scientists seeking to
understand the dynamics of climate change from a variety of perspectives;
in the 1980s a small group of climatologists began agitating about the
possibility that carbon dioxide build-up would cause catastrophic climate
change. The major environmental organisations en masse became global
warming apocalyptics, with Greenpeace spearheading the campaign for global
climate control (does this sound familiar?). UNEP and the World
Meteorological Office combined forces to set up the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climatge Change (IPCC), which reported in 1990 that the climate
was very complex. But the Policymakers summary of the IPCC, written by a
select few indivuduals (including Bert Bolin and John Houghton) claimed
more than this: it claimed that the earth was being seriously warmed by
man's activities. Governments began to contemplate action and politicians
began to thow their weight behind the claim that man was having this
detrimental impact and that controls must be put in place.
More work was commissioned. Research on climate change shifted from an
academic exercise, searching for the causes and consequences of climate
change, into a search for the probable impacts of man on climate. And as
you alll probably know, when you begin to look for patterns in data, it is
not hard to find them.

Some very well respected academic climatologists remained outside this
process and have continued to criticise the findings. But those on the
inside are under pressure to conform (and the pressure, in terms of
research funding, is pretty intense).

The reason I say all this is not because I want to convince the people on
this list that global warming is not a problem, it might be -- but if it
is the appropriate response is more likely to be adaptation (which will
include developing GM plants that can deal with more extreme climatic
conditions). No, the reason I say this is that it is a cautionary lesson.
The wackos are already there -- Mae Wan Ho, Pusztai, etc. -- and more
mainstream scientists are beginning to be drawn in: as funding for
research into the negative impacts of GM becomes more widely available,
the biotech community may begin to split, with many university-based
researchers attracted by the funding from those looking to discover
negative effects (perhaps under the auspices of the biosafety protocol).
Then you will really have two botanies and the public will be told by
governments that the apocalyptics are correct. This is especially likely
in Europe, where farmers will continue to militate for excuses to ban
imports as their subsidies are reduced and they see the threat of
competition from the US, Canada and Brazil as unbearable without
artificial constraints.

Julian Morris
Institute of Economic Affairs