Sir David King is Tony Blair's Chief Scientific advisor and a famous proponent of the notion that climate change is a more serious threat than terrorism. He is used to getting his way, and he usually does in European climate circles. When he doesn't get his way, he can be petty and petulant, as he was when he recently refused to open a climate conference in Moscow since the participants included too many climate skeptics for his taste. The Russians and Brits, instead of reaching a greater understanding over climate policies, now seem further apart than ever before. Given where British policy has been heading, that may be good news.
The story starts about nine months ago. At that time the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) sent a list of questions to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), probing the science of global climate change, as well as the potential impacts of actions designed to mitigate man's impact on the climate. The IPCC never replied.
Despite the snub, the Russians continued to promote scientific debate. In May, the RAS held a three day "Council Workshop" with 28 well-known experts, most of them academicians, in which they debated all aspects--including science and policy--of the climate change issue. They concluded that there was a lack of scientific basis to many of the claims on climate change reported in the popular press and on the costs of Kyoto Protocol, the treaty designed to regulate climate change.
In June, the British government, a firm supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, suggested a high level delegation of scientists visit Moscow to discuss their views with the RAS.
The Russians accepted, but also invited some of those respected academics who are skeptical of the current alarmism over climate change. These included MIT's Richard Lindzen (who raises significant question about the current modeling of clouds used by the IPCC), the Pasteur Institute's Paul Reiter (who challenges the notion that temperature increases will lead to more insect-borne disease), and Nils-Axel Morner of Stockholm University (who doubts evidence of sea-level rise).
The Russians sent a program to the British. The British objected to the program; in particular they were reluctant to participate with several of the skeptics. The Russians stood firm.
On Wednesday morning, the day the conference opened, Sir David was mysteriously absent. He was to have opened the proceedings with RAS President Yuri Osipov, and with Andrei Illarionov, Chief Adviser to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin.
According to conference participant Dr. Paul Reiter, "we waited for two hours. Apparently, [Sir David] was appealing to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw," to intervene.
Despite Sir David's no-show, Sir John Houghton, who used to run the IPCC, eventually began the program. Given genuine dissent from good academics the conference was apparently very interesting; with widespread debate about the science of climate, the exchange was reportedly electric. Climate alarmists, who usually get their own way and are never challenged, were scrutinized by the other participants and the audience.
After calming down, Sir David showed up in order to wind up the proceedings. But, according to Dr. Reiter, Yuri Osopov--obviously still seething with the breach of earlier protocol--refused, telling Sir David that as he had delayed the program, he would have to speak next day. Sir David said he couldn't, and insisted on prolonging the meeting so he could speak. Mr. Osopov then announced that due to unforeseen circumstances, dinner had to be advanced by an hour, so the proceedings would finish before Sir David could talk.
The entire episode was ridiculous and petty; it would have been slightly amusing, too, except that the climate change policies currently promoted by alarmists threaten to retard economic growth around the world. As such, vigorous debate is essential.
Thank God for the Russian sense of fair play and delight in debate, and shame on Sir David and his climate alarmist cronies for trying to stifle it. It is especially shameful of the British to attempt limiting debate in a country that had science suppressed far too often in the past. Doesn't Sir David remember Lysenkoism?
Andrei Illarionov says he was "shocked" by the British attempts at "censorship." Illarionov, a noted opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, says he had no hand in inviting the skeptics--a scurrilous assertion made by Sir John Houghton. It has to be hoped that this episode hardens the recently wavering Russian resolve to refuse to participate in Kyoto.
Roger Bate is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.