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Spectator Debate: ‘The Global Warming Concern Is Over. Time For A Return To Sanity’:

Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, proposed the motion by addressing various myths promoted by the ‘relics’ of the opposition. The average temperature rise fossil fuels were first used had been barely one degree Celsius, he said, and no warming had been observed this century. The cost of ‘decarbonising’ the economy, he added, would be catastrophic. Oil was not about to run out and ‘winnable gas’ was available in ever greater abundance. Yet schoolchildren were being deliberately scared to death about global warming by their teachers. ‘This is not just outrageous but wicked’.

Simon Singh, opposing, said that he was more than willing to credit the 97 per cent of scientists who were worried about climate change than the campaigners and journalists opposed. Sceptical opinion was animated by a ‘love of mavericks’ even though 99 per cent of mavericks turn to be wrong. ‘Follow the smart money and the smart arguments’.

Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, accused Singh of making an authoritarian argument. ‘In the 16th century [sic] he’d have been putting the case for the papacy against Galileo.’ He told us of a climate scientist who gave this response to a request from a sceptical opponent: ‘Why should I send you data when you just want to find out what’s wrong with it?’’Finding out what’s wrong with data’, said Stringer, ‘is the entire basis of science’. We should be wary of reacting to unproven theory by lavishing funds on ‘incredibly expensive technologies.’

Professor Tim Palmer, president of the Royal Meteorological Society, said that belief in climate change is not the issue. It was about assessing risk. The chances of a damaging two-degree rise in average temperatures by 2100 stood at 90 per cent while the chances of a more severe five-degree rise stood at 10 per cent. ‘The risk of serious environmental damage is so great that we should act.’

Dr Benny Peiser, a visiting fellow at the University of Buckingham, confirmed that public concern about climatic change has peaked. The scale and the extent of the problem were impossible to predict and alarmist prophecies should be treated with caution. ‘We aren’t doomed.’ Current on global warming are irrelevant, he said. ‘The people who have to pay for the policies will make the decisions.’

Sir David King, a chief scientific adviser to the Blair government, told us that every 10 per cent rise in the oil price causes a 0.2 per cent decrease in the world’s GDP. ‘Defossilising the economy would be a win-win and would deliver economic growth.’ He showed us temperature graphs indicating that the exceptionally hot summer of 2003 – which caused the deaths of 30,000 elderly Europeans – would be an average summer by 2050. Lord Lawson, who lives in France, replied that thousands of older citizens had perished there in 2003 because their families had gone on holidays and left them to fend for themselves.

The motion was carried, but with a much larger swing from the undecideds to the losing side during the debate.

Before: For 423, Against 149, Undecided 101

After: For 428, Against 214, Undecided 31

The debate was sponsored by Brewin Dolphin

The Spectator, 9 April 2011