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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
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Examination of Witness
Witness: Lord Oxburgh, Chair, Science Assessment Panel
Q1 Chair: As I said, we rapidly change subjects. Welcome, Lord Oxburgh, to our proceedings. I understand you have been a bit poorly, so thank you for maintaining the commitment to attend. I hope you are back to full health. The international panel was set up in consultation with the Royal Society. Can you explain to us how the panel was chosen and set up?
Lord Oxburgh: Perhaps it is worth beginning with a little bit of background. Would that be useful?
Chair: Of course.
Lord Oxburgh: As you know, the university of East Anglia set up a review under Sir Muir Russell in order to look into, initially, all aspects of the assertions which had been made about the Climatic Research Group. It became clear, I think, to the university in round about January/February of this year that they had asked Muir Russell to take on a much larger job than they had originally thought, and it was going to take quite a long time-probably six months or morr-for Muir Russell to report. In the meantime, they had quite important domestic problems. They had a number of their academic staff about whom very serious allegations had been made, and they felt both, really, for the benefit of those individuals and the university, that this ought to be cleared up as quickly as possible. So I was approached in February to say would I chair a very brief study, really, on the honesty of the people. Not all aspects of the science. We were not expected to go into the e-mail saga or what have you, but they really wanted to know whether there was any evidence that their people had been behaving dishonestly.
I was pretty reluctant to take this on because I had all sorts of other things planned but, in the end, I did. We put together a panel in consultation with various people, of people who were outside the field. This was quite important because it is quite a small field, and if you look at the publications of the Climatic Research Unit they have collaborated with almost everyone in every department around the world. So it was quite difficult. But, basically, we wanted people who had no or as little as possible formal position on any of these questions but who, by and large, understood the methods and the techniques that were relevant to what was going on. So, ultimately, the choice of the panel members was mine, but I talked directly and indirectly to a number of people.
You will see that we ended up with only three people who had absolutely no connection with climate work, meteorology or anything of that kind-well, four, really, including me-and three people who were a bit closer to it. We had Lisa Graumlich, for example, who was a tree ring person, but had not used tree rings in the same way as the Climatic Research Unit used them. Basically, the traditional use of tree rings is for setting up chronologies-you know, the archaeological applications. What the Climatic Research Unit did was, of course, try and interpret the characteristics of these rings in terms of climate, and that is a different step and quite a difficult step to take.
Similarly, the other two people who had some professional knowledge in the adjacent area would be Huw Davies and Kerry Emanuel, both of whom were meteorological people, which is different from climate and they have different problems, but they understand the long words and so on. That was really how it was put together, but it was ultimately my decision.
Q2 Chair: One of the criticisms that has been made was that nobody on the panel appeared to have a predisposed position of being a climate sceptic. Why didn’t you pick anyone of that ilk?
Lord Oxburgh: I think that it is not for me to comment on the private views of any member of the panel. I can tell you that at least one member of the panel had been active as a sceptic, but I am not going to go further than that. I think the views of individuals are their own.
Q3 Chair: So it would be your view that it is wrong to suggest that the panel was selected to have a particular point of view?
Lord Oxburgh: I certainly would. I think the panel was selected to have no point of view but, indeed, one of the panel members, when I approached him, demurred and said, "Really, I’m very doubtful about this. I don’t believe in this." I said, "Oh, well, you’re the sort of person we want," so I think the statement was unjustified.
Q4 Graham Stringer: Can I just follow through a point? You really said your Inquiry was about the integrity and honesty of the people involved?
Lord Oxburgh: As far as we could.
Q5 Graham Stringer: When Professor Acton was before the previous Committee on 1 March this year, he said that your panel was "to re-assess the science and make sure there is nothing wrong." That is a direct quote. Now, what you are saying is very different.
Lord Oxburgh: I think that was inaccurate, and I think that the scope of our panel was made quite clear in the university’s press release at the time that we were appointed and, indeed, in the first paragraphs of our panel report. I think you have to bear in mind that the vice-chancellor had been in post a month or something like that at the time. I think this all came as a rather unwelcome deluge in his first months as vice-chancellor.
Q6 Stephen Mosley: Can I come back on that a bit , because this is one of the key things that we are being told by the people who were kicking up a fuss: that the terms of refe rence have changed. The press release-
Lord Oxburgh: The terms of reference have not changed.
Q7 Stephen Mosley: I am sorry. That’s what they are claiming and that’s what we want to try and get to the bottom of.
Lord Oxburgh: Yes; sure.
Q8 Stephen Mosley: But the UEA press notice did say that it would be : "An independent external re- appraisal of the science in the CRU’s key publications." Now, you are quite clear , from your opening statement and from your statement there , that you didn’t see it that way. Can we just try and drill to the bottom of why there is a slight difference between what the press release said and what the previous Committee was told?
Lord Oxburgh: I can’t comment on the recent report of other people saying things. Let me tell you I was visited in Cambridge by the deputy vice- chancellor and another senior member of the university , who wanted to persuade me to take this on. This had to be done rapidly. This was their concern. They really wanted something within a month, and there is no way that our panel could, if you like, validate the science. In fact, if you wanted the science validated you’d actually appoint a different p anel . You probably wouldn’t appoint me as chairman, and you would actually need experts from the field, because it is a very different activity to see wheth er things are wrong from saying, "Ye s, they’re right," or "T hey have been done properly " or " improperly " . It is very different. It really is quite different. So I was quite clear. What we took on was really to look at the integrity of the researchers, and we couldn’t really have done anything different from that.
Q9 Stephen Mosley: Okay. So who formally set the terms of reference for the p anel ? Was it yourself, the Royal Society or the university ?
Lord Oxburgh: I think in the subsequent discussion assumptions have been made of a much more formal process than in fact happened. The terms of reference emerged from discussions in my house in Cambridge when the university explained what they wanted done, and they are effectively encapsulated in the first paragraph of our report. I don’t think there is any disagreement between me, our committee and the university on that.
Q10 Alok Sharma: Lord Oxburgh, you have made the point already that you were asked to try and do this fairly quickly-within a month.
Lord Oxburgh: Yes.
Q11 Alok Sharma: But how do you actually respond to the allegations that this report, which is ultimately only five pages long and took three weeks to produce, was rushed and actually pretty superficial?
Lord Oxburgh: I think that is for those who make that assertion to demonstrate. I know we have a tradition in this country of glacial rates of progress of commissions and panels of inquiry, but it is not something that I subscribe to. I don’t think we could have done, usefully, any more than we did to answer the question that we were set. We worked very hard, and I am afraid that I worked the panel very hard. They were very experienced people. Had we worked in a different way, the report would have taken, probably, two and a half months rather than one month. But, fundamentally, what I did was, after we had done all the interviewing, talking and scrutiny, actually kept the panel together in Norwich while the report was written and while it went through a series of drafts, so you did not go through the endless iterative procedures which you, as a Select Committee, must be familiar with, of circulating reports, getting a few comments here, getting them back, balancing them with someone else’s opposing reports. We did it all around the table. So, actually, that probably saved six weeks over the normal procedures. I think that explains it in terms of time put in, and activity put in. We would have gained nothing by taking any longer. I think if people feel it is superficial, it would be for them to demonstrate in what respect they think it was superficial.
Q12 Alok Sharma: I think we all appreciate that nobody wants to see glacial rates of progress when producing reports. But may I just clarify this point ? Y ou sai d you had all the members of the p anel based up in Norwich .
Lord Oxburgh: All but one.
Q13 Alok Sharma: Okay. But does that mean that they were spending all their time on this report over that three-week period?
Lord Oxburgh: Not over two weeks but, probably, over four days, five days-something like that. They had done a lot before.
Q14 Alok Sharma: So how much time did each individual spend working on this report?
Lord Oxburgh: Gosh. You mean altogether, not just in Norwich?
Q15 Alok Sharma: Yes. You said it happened over a three-week period and most of the time was spent in Norwich.
Lord Oxburgh: People had done an immense amount of work before they came. This is one of the important things. They had a fairly tough work schedule before they arrived, and then, in Norwich, when they were there, they worked continuously. I think we worked out that the total number of person days spent on this was around 15, something of that kind. It was significant. Does that answer your question?
Q16 Alok Sharma: Yes. The only comment I would make is that Sir Muir Russell’s report took seven months and it just contrasts with the fact that yours took three weeks. But perhaps you feel that you spent enough time on it?
Lord Oxburgh: We were meeting a deadline. We were there for a purpose, to help the university with a particular problem. In fact, given our limited remit, I don’t think we needed any more time.
Q17 Roger Williams: You have given us a clear understanding of the way the panel worked. But was the Panel involved in actually drawing up its programme of work and how it was going to work? What sort of standards do you apply to honesty? It seems to me you can apply a standard to science but you could be honest but incompetent, honest but misled. It seems a difficult task that you have set yourself almost.
Lord Oxburgh: That is a complicated question. We would have been-or the university-I would not say happy, but would have been content had we said the researchers there were incompetent but honest, misled but honest. We were looking for any evidence of deliberate manipulation of data which really led in a different direction in order to meet some predetermined aspect of an agenda. I have to say we found none.
You asked me at the beginning how the panel worked. Basically, until we got to Norwich, more or less, I laid down the way. I gave people jobs to do and things like that. We had a provisional work scheme before we got to Norwich. In fact, we changed that and the panel adapted its work method to the people that they were dealing with. One point I would make is that we were under quite a lot of press pressure, media pressure, to have them present and make the whole thing public. I was quite clear that it would be counter-productive to make this a media circus. People wanted to bring television cameras in and have it there. Given the nature of the individuals concerned, we felt that we would get much more out of them and get them to unwind and relax and, indeed, if they had chinks in their armour to expose them, if we did this in a much more relaxed and a much more easygoing way. I am confident that that was the right approach. I think that certainly one of the key people there was someone who was pretty highly strung, and in fact I think we were able to get him to relax and explain things. I think we understood pretty well.
Q18 Roger Williams: It seems to me that you have asked some very eminent people to do perhaps some fairly, I won’t say bog standard but basic work.
Lord Oxburgh: Yes.
Q19 Roger Williams: Would it have been better, really, to use perhaps a team to do that work and report back to the group of people that you had gathered together?
Lord Oxburgh: I don’t think so.
Q20 Roger Williams: What liaison or co-ordination did you carry out with Sir Muir Russell and his Inquiry?
Lord Oxburgh: Pretty virtually none. I felt that it was very important, given the assertions which were floating around of collusion, conspiracy and what have you, that we be absolutely independent. So until we actually finished, the communication with Muir Russell was entirely through the university.
Q21 Graham Stringer: The point you make about independence is interesting, Lord Oxburgh, because you said earlier that you wanted to help the university with a problem. Is that consistent with being independent? Was it prudent, really, as an independent body, to be based in the registrar’s office?
Lord Oxburgh: We were not based in the registrar’s office. We had held our meetings, I think, partly in a hotel and partly actually within the Climatic Research Unit premises. No, we were not. Let me make a comment on the university. I think quite a few assertions have been made about the university perhaps wanting a cover-up, or something of that kind. I have to say that, from everything I saw, the university wanted the story complete and completely unembellished. If the news was bad, they wanted to be the first to know. We were given complete freedom. No one tried to constrain us in any way. When we visited the research unit we asked for material, we asked for other publications, we asked for the raw material in certain cases. I would have to say that I don’t think I have ever been in a more free and more open environment. The university just wanted it out.
We had a sort of courtesy meeting with the deputy vice-chancellor or something in the registrar’s office, but that was 10 minutes or something like that.
Q22 Graham Stringer: I don’t think I have ever criticised a report for being too short before. You made the point earlier, and I listened carefully to what you said, about openness. I understand that. I don’t necessarily agree because this area is so fraught with paranoia, quite frankly, from both sides. I have been sent a copy of Professor Kelly’s notes on the 11 papers that were reviewed. Would it not have been good, for the sake of supporting evidence of what is a short report, to have at least published your working documents even if you didn’t bring out the reports of the actual interviews?
Lord Oxburgh: I actually don’t think much would have been added. Again, we were working to time. It could have done. Look, there are many ways of skinning a cat. Someone else doing this might have done it quite differently, but I am content with the way that we did it and I don’t think I would do it differently again.
Q23 Graham Stringer: Having read Professor Kelly’s notes, I don’t really agree with you. If I can take one of his comments on one of Briffa’s papers-
Lord Oxburgh: I don’t think I have seen those recently. I probably saw them at the time, so you will have to indulge me, please.
Q24 Graham Stringer: I am not going to read them all out. I will give them to the Clerk afterwards. He says: "I take real exception at having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments)."
Lord Oxburgh: Yes.
Q25 Graham Stringer: "This is turning centuries of science on its head." There are a lot of comments like that. "It is hard directly to correlate this aspect with the anthropogenic hypothesis of climate warming. Some features do correlate – others don’t – so where is the rigorous tests of the significance of correlation or lack of it?" One could go on. I will pass these over to the Clerk.
Lord Oxburgh: That is okay. I remember that now.
Q26 Graham Stringer: There are others. The line between positive conclusions and the no hypothesis is very fine in my book.
Lord Oxburgh: Yes.
Q27 Graham Stringer: And it goes on to talk about how information is extracted. In trying to understand this incredibly important area, do you not think it would have been good to provide a lot of supporting documentation to the report?
Lord Oxburgh: I don’t think it would have added very much. With Michael Kelly we discussed all of these things round the table with others, and I think you will see there a perfectly legitimate response of an engineer, a physical scientist, to looking at the work in an area of observational sciences. The language is very different. He, quite legitimately, says, "In our area we wouldn’t call these things experiments." It is the common thing to do in this area of activity. So I actually don’t think that that would have been particularly advantageous.
Q28 Graham Stringer: You also talked about the integrity. One of the accusations made in the evidence to the predecessor committee of this was made by Keenan-
Lord Oxburgh: Made by?
Graham Stringer: Keenan, who accused Professor Jones of fraud.
Lord Oxburgh: Yes.
Graham Stringer: If you were trying to find out whether there was fraud going on or whether the scientists had integrity, did you look at Keenan’s accusations?
Lord Oxburgh: I don’t recall doing so, if I did.
Q29 Graham Stringer: Can you tell us how you chose the 11 publications from the Climatic Research Unit?
Lord Oxburgh: We didn’t choose the 11 publications. Basically, what I said that we needed was something which would provide a pretty good introduction to the work of the unit as it had evolved over the years. The publications were suggested to us. They came via the university, but via the university and the Royal Society, I believe. Let me emphasise, they were just the start. Because all of us were novices in this area, I think we all felt that they gave us a very good introduction. From then we moved on. We looked at other publications. We asked for raw materials and things of that kind. The press seems to have made quite a meal of the choice of publications. I think for anyone on the panel this all seems a bit over the top because it didn’t have that significance.
Q30 Graham Stringer: There are two things that arise out of that, aren’t there? One, are you saying, because it says "small units," that Professor Jones, who was the subject, really, of this investigation, chose the papers themselves that were to be investigated and that wasn’t the panel or the Royal Society?
Lord Oxburgh: No. There is no suggestion that Professor Jones chose them.
Q31 Graham Stringer: Then where did the lists come from?
Lord Oxburgh: I suspect that one of the people involved was Professor Liss, who was the acting head, I think, of the unit, who had been brought in from outside the unit to look after it. But he is a chemical oceanographer who is broadly interested in this area. I think he, in consultation with people in the Royal Society-and maybe others outside the unit who had some familiarity with the area.
Q32 Graham Stringer: So the list did not come from the unit? You are absolutely categoric on that?
Lord Oxburgh: I am sorry. The list?
Graham Stringer: The list did not come from the CRU?
Lord Oxburgh: I can’t prove a negative, as you know. But we had absolutely no indication that it did.
Q33 Graham Stringer: Some of the publicity said that it came from the Royal Society, but the panel were given the list before the Royal Society was asked, weren’t they?
Lord Oxburgh: Not as far as I know. You might be right but I don’t believe so. No, certainly, I don’t think that can be true.
Q34 Graham Stringer: I have just two final questions. When the panel was carrying out its appraisal were the scientists at CRU able to make accurate reconstructions from the publication back to the raw data that they themselves had used?
Lord Oxburgh: Not in every case. Not with the old material.
Q35 Graham Stringer: You have surprised me over a number of things you have said, Lord Oxburgh. That is very surprising, isn’t it?
Lord Oxburgh: I think it’s undesirable but it isn’t too surprising. This is perhaps one of the cultural differences between the work of the unit and many of those who, I think, legitimately criticise it, who frequently come from an industrial background or an engineering background, where the culture and the patterns of working are very different-in which, particularly in industry, everything is documented. Your lab book contains everything that you have done and it is the property of the organisation, and when you leave it stays with the organisation. That is not always the practice in a university and particularly for work which is 15 or 20 years old, even if the material was properly recorded at the time, I think there are quite a few situations in which it would no longer be available today. People would just have said, "Well, that’s all history. We’ll throw that out." So you are quite right. Early work was not adequately documented and I’m not surprised, unfortunately.
Q36 Graham Stringer: Did Professor Jones say, when he was in the discussions, that it was actually impossible to reconstruct temperatures over the last thousand years?
Lord Oxburgh: I don’t believe he said it, but it probably would have been true. Well, it depends what you mean by "reconstruct temperature over the last thousand years." I mean, the whole concept of a global temperature is actually a very subtle one. How do you decide what the temperature of the globe is? We know that all sorts of local circumstances associated with local weather are giving all sorts of small-scale variations. We know that most of the observations until the last century were based on land. Most of the land is in the northern hemisphere, so you had relatively few observations in the greater part of the surface. So actually deciding what a global temperature is is pretty darned difficult. You may be able to track temperature at a particular area, but how that relates to others is much more difficult.
I am fairly convinced by the work of Jones himself, which is based largely on instrumentation and instrumental records over the last 150 years, something of that kind. I think the instrumental records give us the best kind there are. Then what you have got to do with those instrumental records, which are not distributed geographically, as you would really like, is to interpolate between them. You’ve got to then make extrapolations to the areas that you can’t get to. So it is a pretty difficult business. That is why on the serious publications massive uncertainty bands are associated with temperature reconstructions.
Q37 Pamela Nash: Lord Oxburgh, would it be accurate to say that the primary focus of the panel was the integrity of the scientists rather than the science?
Lord Oxburgh: I am sorry, but could you repeat the first bit again?
Pamela Nash: Would it be accurate to say that the focus of the panel was on the integrity of the scientists rather than the science?
Lord Oxburgh: Absolutely; yes.
Q38 Pamela Nash: The report suggests that the key task of the CRU was to analyse the data sets of others. However, the CRU scientists did not have the level of statistical skill to do this. Do you think that the CRU scientists are people of integrity but out of their depth when it comes to statistical analysis?
Lord Oxburgh: You are quite right. To the best of our knowledge CRU have not collected any of their own original data for a couple of decades, probably. All of their material comes from other sources of data collected by other people. We were quite critical of the way they handled some of this data. We were fortunate in having a very eminent statistician on our panel. He looked at pretty well all of that material very carefully. His conclusion was that they had not used state of the art methods to do-to solve/attack-what is essentially a statistical problem. You have got these dispersed data and you really have to manage this lot statistically. And he was really quite serious in saying that this was not the best way to do it. Having said that, even though they had adopted their own methods, he said, actually, had they used more sophisticated and state of the art methods, it wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference.
So all of this reflects, if you like, a little bit on the competence of the people but not on their integrity.
Q39 Chair: Moving on to the memo, the e-mail of 16 November 1999 that we keep hearing repeated in various arenas, the sentence that has been commented on extensively, "I’ve just completed Mike’s nature trick of adding real temps to each series for the last 20 years", etc, did you seek to interpret what was meant by it?
Lord Oxburgh: Let me start by saying I did not study the e-mails. We were told that Muir Russell was going to be looking at those carefully. But certainly I was aware of that from the attention it got in the newspapers and so on at the time. I looked up "trick" in the Oxford English Dictionary, actually, at that time, and, if I remember rightly, the Oxford English Dictionary gave it nine different meanings, one of which was "Special technique or way of doing something." I think, having looked at that, that anyone in the field reading that with an open mind, would actually take that meaning of the word "trick".
Q40 Chair: So you concluded that the approach that Professor Jones had adopted was one of dealing with presentation of the data rather than an attempt to deceive?
Lord Oxburgh: Absolutely. I think when you come to the presentation of complicated scientific observations and making them available to a much wider audience, you come up against some very tough "honesty" decisions. How much do you simplify? It is the same when you are teaching undergraduates. How much do you simplify in order to get a general idea across? I, personally, think that in various publications for public consumption those who have used the CRU data and those who have used other climatic data have not helped their case by illuminating the very wide uncertainty band associated with it.
Q41 Stephen Metcalfe: Good morning. Accepting that you were there to look at the people rather than the science, and you said you thought you were all novices, you did look at some of the raw data?
Lord Oxburgh: Yes. We used it as a way of exposing them, if you like.
Stephen Metcalfe: Yes.
Lord Oxburgh: It was getting them to take us through it.
Q42 Stephen Metcalfe: Did you find looking at that raw data useful? Because we had Professor Jones give evidence to the former Committee, and he said it wasn’t standard practice for that evidence to be made available, published, to underpin the conclusions. Did you agree with that principle? Do you agree that that was the correct approach?
Lord Oxburgh: They are two separate questions. There was whether we found it useful or whether it should be made available.
Q43 Stephen Metcalfe: If you found it useful, then-
Lord Oxburgh: We found it educational. Put it that way. I have never actually examined tree rings under a high resolution microscope. I didn’t know that they got darker towards the end of the year. So it was quite useful in that way.
In making data available, it seems to me that a number of issues arose in this, so can I widen it a little bit beyond what you have done? As we said a moment ago, none of the data that they were really using today did they collect. So all of those data, if people wanted them, the thing to do was to go to the people who generated them and actually get permission if they were not in the public domain already.
When you move on beyond that, you move into a trickier area. One of the things that anyone handling large amounts of data would have wanted to do was to use their own techniques, which may be proprietary techniques which they have developed as part of their research. I think that when the observations, when the conclusions are published, there must be enough explanation and enough material of the kind you describe in order to allow another expert to come to the same conclusion or to disagree. You have got to have that availability, otherwise it doesn’t stand.
Q44 Stephen Metcalfe: Right. So you think it would be a step forward to actually make that data available so that a peer review can take place, effectively?
Lord Oxburgh: I think for a peer review, even for a scientific journal, normally it would be available. I can well imagine a referee for a scientific journal saying, "Well, I can’t assess this without seeing the data," and the editor then says, "Would you please send the data?" It doesn’t mean it has to be published, but I can well imagine that would happen.
Q45 Stephen Metcalfe: But in your experience was it standard practice not to publish that data up until this point?
Lord Oxburgh: Again, things have changed because the nature of publication has changed so much during the last few years. Quite often now editors of journals are retaining archive material which is available for people to access, with reasonable cause, but is not actually published, which is probably a pretty good compromise.
Q46 Pamela Nash: The p anel ’s report criticised the climate change sceptics. Could you tell us on what evidence this was based?
Lord Oxburgh: I am sorry. The panel?
Pamela Nash: The panel’s report criticised climate change sceptics. What evidence was used to come to that conclusion?
Lord Oxburgh: I am not sure that we quite criticised climate change sceptics. Talking about climate change sceptics as a group is a bit like talking of members of the House of Lords as a group or, indeed, maybe the Commons as a group. Some of the people who carry the label "sceptic," I think, are extremely able and have actually done a really beneficial service to the science, particularly by going through a lot of the painstaking detail and discovering errors-sometimes important, sometimes not so important. This is clear, I think, in the blogosphere, although that, for reasons of preserving my blood pressure, I don’t explore extensively. Then there are people who simply do not believe that this is possible. I was completely floored by an elderly lady, after I had given a talk on this sort of thing, and she said, "You’re quite wrong." I said, "Well, thank you. I’m keen to know about that." She said, "It is totally presumptuous to think that human beings can have any influence on the Lord God’s construction", and I didn’t have an answer to that. But you have people who just have a gut feeling that human beings can’t have this effect on climate.
Then you have others, particularly in north America but other parts of the world, who I think are probably funded by those commercial interests which are likely to be damaged if Governments take climate change policy seriously. I have to say that I would regard it as extraordinary if that didn’t happen: if you look at the efforts of the tobacco lobby a decade and a half ago; if you look at what’s going on in the United States at the moment over proposals based on health researchers’ recommendations associated with the concentration of sugar in soft drinks, I think it is both expectable and reasonable for those whose businesses are going to be seriously influenced if Government policy changes to challenge them. I suspect that some of the methods of challenge are not very salubrious.
Q47 Pamela Nash: So how much damage do you think this latter group of sceptics that you have mentioned could do to climate change research and how should G overnment and academics then respond?
Lord Oxburgh: That is a very broad question. For something as important as climate change, let me just say that I would just love climate change to be proved wrong, because it is so, so important, and it is going to affect the way we live and the way we do things. So I would just love all of this to be proved irrelevant and that we didn’t have to take any notice. I see no sign of that happening at the moment.
I think that, certainly, commercial lobbies have had a significant influence on undermining public confidence. I think probably the scientific community has been unduly patronising and arrogant in its presentation of its conclusions, and so I think there is some sort of balance to be found there. I think that Governments are not doing badly at the moment, but I think they simply have to plug on and take the best advice they can. The best advice doesn’t really come from the fancy and complicated computer models which can be criticised or not. I’ve built these things myself in the past, and you believe in them honestly and sincerely yourself with enormous enthusiasm but you may have overlooked something. The fact is that a lot of the modelling from different groups in different parts of the world, based on different assumptions, all point in the same direction.
But actually there are more profound reasons for concern than the models. We are in the Thatcher Room at the moment, and I was sitting about as close as you are to me on the occasion when Mrs. Thatcher gave her astonishing green speech. I can’t remember the words exactly, but she said, "We are performing an enormous experiment on our earth or on our environment, and that is really what’s happening".
If we look at the behaviour of the planets, the four terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, only two of those have got temperatures which really are above the temperature that you would expect at their distance from the Sun. Those are Venus, which has got an atmosphere almost entirely composed of C02, and Earth which has got an atmosphere with a little bit of C02. The whole idea of the greenhouse effect controlling the temperatures of the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets is a hundred years old. What that simple observation tells you is that if we increase the C02 in our atmosphere, we are actually into pretty uncertain territory. I suspect that the modelling is right but although I don’t believe it 100%, but I do believe that we are actually doing something pretty dangerous.
Q48 Chair: Finally, Lord Oxburgh h ave you seen a letter from the Secretary of State for Climate Cha nge, Chris Huh ne , to George Osborne, the Chancellor?
Lord Oxburgh: No, I haven’t.
Chair: In that case, I can’t ask you to comment on it.
Lord Oxburgh: But I want to see it.
Q49 Chair: No doubt you will. I don’t think it is regarded as private. Assuming that I can release it to you, I would actually ask you for your comments on it.
I thank you for your frank answers. I think, clearly, there are lessons that can be
learnt , as you illustrate d in your response to P amela Nash. I think that this C ommittee and our
sister C ommittee at your end of the corridor need to reflect on this.
Lord Oxburgh: If I may comment, I am no expert on the Freedom of Information Act but I do think that there are very interesting questions to be asked about the interface between the Freedom of Information Act and scientific research in progress, which either your Committee or our Committee might look at. I do find it extraordinary that any individual in any part of the world, with or without good cause, can cause people in this country to spend a great deal of time answering inquiries and so on. I think we haven’t got it quite right yet, and I think that is, maybe, what Tony Blair meant in one of his comments recently in his book.
Q50 Chair: We are actually, of course, formally meeting your Committee in October. Perhaps that is one of the items that we could put on the agenda.
Lord Oxburgh: I think that would be very valuable.
Chair: Thank you very much for your attention.
Lord Oxburgh: My pleasure. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you everyone.
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