It was the late Professor David Henderson who sparked Nigel Lawson’s interest in the climate domain. Henderson had persuaded Lawson to take a look at what he called “The Appleby File”, a dossier of his correspondence with senior Whitehall officials on the subject of global warming. This paperwork, Lawson later explained, revealed in the mandarins “a combination of ignorance and obfuscation that was indeed worthy of Sir Humphrey”.
Intrigued by the wrongheadedness of it all, Lawson quickly stepped into action. In his role as chairman of the House of Lords Economic Affair Committee, he persuaded his colleagues to launch an inquiry into the economics of climate change. Almost unique among subsequent Parliamentary inquiries, the witnesses included a number of eminent scientists who were on the sceptical side of catastrophism, as well as the usual chorus of the climate alarmist faithful. Such scrutiny was never to be repeated.
Global warming became a new focus of Lawson’s life. Soon he was hard at work on a book on the subject. Remarkably, no UK publisher would touch a short tome on the most important subject of our time by one of the most important politicians of recent decades. Fortunately, Lawson was not easily put off, and eventually found an American publisher that would take on the project.
When it appeared in 2008, An Appeal to Reason quickly became a bestseller, and on the back of its success, friends and supporters persuaded Lawson that a thinktank focused on climate change was needed. This was the seed of the idea that became the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Over the next twelve months, plans were put in place. Lawson would become the Foundation’s founding chairman, while Henderson would lead the Academic Advisory Council. A director was quickly recruited in the shape of Dr Benny Peiser, and an office – little more than a cupboard – was leased in Carlton House Terrace, a few doors down from the Royal Society.
The plan was for the Foundation to be launched in November 2009, on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate Conference. In the event, that occasion was overshadowed by the dramatic release of the Climategate emails. Lawson could scarcely have hoped for better publicity. The Foundation quickly became the focus of climate activists’ demonology, with Lawson installed in their minds as the heresiarch. A thousand conspiracy-mongering Guardian articles followed, a myriad of insults coming in their wake.
Lawson always shrugged off such nonsense. Steeled in the political battles of the 1980s, he’d been on the receiving end of such attacks before, and he scarcely seemed to notice them. He certainly never let them affect his behaviour, and his rebuttals were always polite and factual. His old-school decency was always to the fore.
Lawson knew that in the climate catastrophist movement he was facing an opponent that was not in any way rational. Facts and data were not central to the case being made for decarbonisation; insults and conspiracies about ‘big oil’ were therefore to be expected. Recalling his review of David Henderson’s Appleby File, he noted that ‘at no time was there the slightest suggestion that there should be an economic analysis of the issue’. Ten years later, the Climate Change Committee produced a lengthy report to accompany the Net Zero announcement, explaining why a cost-benefit analysis of the target was entirely inappropriate.
What Lawson saw, from early on, was something that I think the rest of the world is only now beginning to grasp
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that climate change orthodoxy has in effect become a substitute religion, attended by all the intolerant zealotry that has so often marred religion in the past, and in some places still does so today.
Here, as in so many areas, Nigel Lawson was far, far ahead of the rest of us.
Nigel Lawson, 1932-2023. RIP.