‘There’s a lot of rich people backing this cause’
Former Enron lawyer turned climate change sceptic Christopher Horner tells spiked that scaring people green has become big business.
This article is republished from the November 2008 issue of the spiked review of books. View the whole issue here.
You’re a corporate lawyer who has got a new job doing government relations with an energy company. You would expect to be battling to prevent restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, right? Not in the topsy-turvy world of climate change politics.
Consider Christopher Horner’s bizarre experience in 1997. ‘I was innocently practising law about 11 years ago when a little energy company called Enron hired me away from my law firm to be director of federal government relations’, Horner tells me. ‘I was told on my first or second day that my number one priority was to get a global warming treaty. I was despatched to a meeting of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. I was seated next to the American Gas Association, Niagara Mohawk Power and BP, and on my other side was the Union of Concerned Scientists and so forth.’
That big players in global energy should be in cahoots with environmentalists and climate change alarmists came as something of a shock to Horner. ‘Though I was a fully grown man, I had yet to understand the concept of “rent seeking” or even these “baptist and bootlegger” coalitions.’ Just as prohibitionists and drink smugglers had a common interest in maintaining a ban on alcohol, so big companies that want massive subsidies for renewable energy schemes and the right to sell emissions permits – the nearest thing yet to selling thin air – can find common ground with those who want us all to reduce our ‘carbon footprints’.
Horner, now a senior fellow at the DC-based American think-tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, continues: ‘I came back to my office and sent an email, essentially saying “Houston, we have a problem”. Did they have any idea what this group, which I was essentially chairing in [former Enron boss] Ken Lay’s stead, was doing? That didn’t go over well. They reminded me that they knew exactly what they were doing, that they had cobbled up businesses on the relative cheap that would – if they got their way – be worth a fortune. That was now their number one priority: windmills, owned by General Electric; gas pipe, owned by General Electric and Warren Buffett; solar panels, now held by BP, and so on.’
While Lay, later convicted of a massive accounting fraud at Enron, was visiting the Oval Office just a few weeks later to give Bill Clinton and Al Gore tips on how to negotiate at Kyoto, Horner decided to jump ship and go over to the ‘other side’. Or maybe, if you’re a climate change activist, that should be called ‘the dark side’. And that would be just the kind of black-and-white, critics-are-evil worldview that Horner takes to task in his new book, Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.
If the book title seems a little in-your-face, then that only illustrates the nature of the battle that is going on over climate change and what it means for the future direction of public policy. The current public debate about climate change is not so much a disinterested examination of the science and economics and more a down-and-dirty streetfight, as Horner reveals.
Horner’s argument is that we are getting a one-sided discussion of climate change because most media outlets, politicians, activists and a substantial section of big business have – in a variety of ways – got an interest in keeping it that way. He tells me: ‘This affirms a worldview of many people: “Man is wretched, an agent of doom”; “There’s just about enough of [the moral people] and way too many of everyone else”; “Markets are horrible and the state needs to be much bigger”; “Development is terrible”. All of those movements find refuge in the global warming industry.’
Horner is, if anything, even more disparaging about politicians: ‘[Global warming] allows them the option of cheap virtue – cheap to them, expensive to us – of satisfying constituencies for something that’s never solved. They get to emote and spend; there’s something in it for everyone.’ And rumour has it that they now get to bypass the legislature, too. According to Horner, there is talk that Barack Obama will attempt to get a climate change treaty ratified by simply reclassifying the necessary legislation as an ‘executive agreement’, making passage through the Senate considerably easier. That would be at odds with the spirit of the American Constitution, which demands the Senate’s ‘advice and consent’ on major treaties (1).
The result, as Horner’s book explains, is an outlook in which criticism of the global warming consensus is regarded as heresy. The world, we are told, is going to burn unless a particular set of emissions-restricting policies are introduced. Anyone who even dares suggest otherwise is ridiculed or smeared as being in the pay of Big Oil – a baseless slander which was directed at spiked by a national newspaper earlier this year. Meanwhile, the wealthy benefactors and corporate interests that have the potential to gain enormously from climate change legislation are barely mentioned.
‘There’s a lot of rich people backing this cause’, says Horner. ‘Al Gore has just raised $300million. Over the past few years, the greens continue to say we receive Exxon Mobil support – and we do not. But where did Al Gore get $300million, far more than the entire sceptic community has received ever from any source? No one seems to care. How much of this is from George Soros? How much of it is from his buddies at the venture capital companies that are invested in a bunch of dogs-with-fleas that won’t be at all attractive until this regime is put in place? We don’t know – and we don’t have a curious media or state.’
So what is Horner’s position on the future of our climate? ‘Climate changes. Always has, always will. That makes me a “climate change denier”. The question is: what is man’s role?’, he says. The answer, he believes, is that humanity’s effect is much smaller than suggested by climate alarmists. ‘The notion that “the science is settled, you have to shut up” is offensive. All other things being equal, man should have an impact. We don’t know how much. What we do know is that CO2 doesn’t drive temperature. And here’s the thing: as George W Bush prepares to leave office, the planet is cooler than when he entered office. That’s a tough one for a lot of people to deal with.’
Whether Horner is right or wrong about what makes our climate tick is, in many ways, immaterial. What matters is that even raising questions about the veracity of the popular presentation of the problem now attracts the label ‘denier’. The term has sinister parallels to ‘Holocaust denier’; some commentators have even called for ‘deniers’ and their alleged supporters to be prosecuted. For example, at a congressional hearing in June this year, the daddy of climate alarmism, NASA’s James Hansen, declared: ‘CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of the long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.’ Indeed, Horner himself has featured on a ‘Field Guide to Climate Criminals’ circulated by Greenpeace.
At every level, there are forces attempting to forestall a wider debate. Sceptical scientists often prefer to keep their heads down rather than admit publicly that they have doubts – and no wonder. Horner recounts the firestorm that hit Bjorn Lomborg after the publication of his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001. Lomborg was subjected to sustained attempts to rebut his arguments ‘in the name of science’ in prestigious publications like Scientific American and Nature, and was even condemned as ‘dishonest’ by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty – a modern equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition intent on torturing Lomborg’s reputation rather than his body. Yet, as Horner notes, Lomborg is far from a sceptic when it comes to manmade global warming, merely a critic of the policies put forward to counter it.
Similar controversy surrounded Martin Durkin’s film, The Great Global Warming Swindle, and the contribution of Carl Wunsch, a scientist based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Wunsch argued in the film that the oceans play an important part in affecting CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. As they get warmer, they tend to release CO2. That suggests that even today, CO2 concentrations may be following temperature rise rather than causing it. Wunsch went on to talk more generally about the way climate science is done and how certain results from computer models get picked up rather than others: ‘There is a bias, there’s a very powerful bias within the media and within the science community itself towards results which are dramatisable.’
When the very politically incorrect Swindle came out, Wunsch rushed to declare that he had been quoted out of context and would never have taken part if he had known about the polemical nature of the film. But, in truth, he was not misquoted or taken out of context – he was simply terrified to be seen to be on the side of the sceptics. When the British TV regulators ruled on the film, their only findings against the makers and Channel 4 was that they should have given the participants a little more time to respond to the draft version. Horner admits that Swindle has its flaws, but he argues that they are far fewer than the inaccuracies in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the Oscar-winning movie which is compulsory viewing in English schools.
The invective against climate change ‘deniers’ is justified on the basis that sceptics are a tiny minority who do not accept the scientific consensus. The problem is that science is not a straw poll; it is supposed to be a disinterested search for truth in which heretical positions do, from time to time, prove to be correct. It is extremely important, therefore, for open debate to continue. As it happens, Horner argues that the much-vaunted ‘consensus’ is rather weaker than alarmists would have us believe. As he notes in his book: ‘The actual consensus that does exist is that temperatures have risen a degree in 150 years since the end of the Little Ice Age and, all other things being equal, more CO2 and man’s contribution of greenhouse gases should play some role. That’s it, and we spend billions trying to narrow it down further, but sceptics don’t deny it.’
Those who seek to claim that a business-as-usual increase in greenhouse gas emissions will lead to planetary disaster like to declare that ‘the science is settled’. But on every aspect of the science, economics and politics of climate change, there are huge uncertainties and major debates still to be had. That’s why a desire to close down debate should worry us all, and why Horner’s litany of skewed science, explicit and implicit censorship and scaremongering should be required reading for those whose only experience of the debate has been An Inconvenient Truth and the mainstream, doom-laden coverage about how the end is nigh.
If Horner’s account of the climate change debate only had implications for energy policy or taxation, that would be bad enough. But a close-minded approach to political life more generally seems to be emerging. Our conversation concludes with an anecdote. ‘I served on a panel of the International Association of Political Consultants this week with a man who has made his money. He’s a former CEO and he retired at what seems to be a young age. His position now is that this issue is too important to be left to things like democracy and individual liberties – we need to suspend them for this issue. We need a supernational organisation that we can’t object to, we can’t fight, to create something to control us. That alarmed me beyond belief.’
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.
Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Force, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed, by Christopher C Horner, is published by Regnery Publishing. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)
This article is republished from the November 2008 issue of the spiked review of books. View the whole issue here.
(1) For a fuller explanation of this point, see Vigilance Required, Planet Gore, 6 November 2008
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