On a clear day you can see the future

Posted by Graham Thompson — 24 June 2013 at 4:19pm - Comments
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Borisconi and his chief climate advisor

Borisconi's leadership campaign has struck again, and the Telegraph's somewhat battered reputation for science reporting is again the first casualty.

The last time I covered Boris’s climate unwinding, I may have implied that he was being economical with the actualite in order to appeal to his party’s wrong wing - the Axis of Stupid formed by the so-called ‘Tory Taliban’ (Christopher Chope, Peter Bone etc.) and the UKIP insurgency. I now regret that snide innuendo.

This is an important issue, so let’s be completely clear – Boris is deliberately lying to Telegraph readers.

It’s the usual list of denialist nonsense about what ‘the BBC, and all the respectable meteorologists’ said about climate change, and I don’t think I really need to go through all of his semi-jocular claims and debunk them. Well, OK then, just as an example, nether the BBC nor any meteorologist ever said ‘we were never going to have snow again’ – that was actually one Independent sub-editor misquoting a climate scientist, a misquote endlessly recycled by denialists who can’t find anything an actual climatologist actually said which serves their purposes. Nor did the Beeb or the Met Office ever say any of the other nonsense about boules, pastis and mandolins which Boris attributes to them.

Nor was there ever a consensus that the UK would experience ‘long, roasting summers’. The consensus has always been, and still remains, that if you put more energy into the weather system you get more energy out – more floods, more droughts, more extreme weather generally. The idea that Britain would have a delightful Mediterranean climate was invented by the denial-o-sphere as yet another reason not to do anything to stop carbon emissions. To quote the respectable meteorologist and cockroach exterminator Dale Gribble – ‘That's code for UN commissars telling Americans what the temperature's going to be in our outdoors. I say let the world warm up. Let's see what Boutros Boutros Ghali Ghali has to say about that. We'll grow oranges in Alaska!’

Climate scientists have always been very clear on the fact that global warming would create more extreme weather and a generally hostile climate. After all, would the likes of Greenpeace and other ‘alarmists’ have been constantly accused of fear and/or doom-mongering if we’d been predicting a Mediterranean climate? We’d have been ‘siesta-mongers’ or ‘sangria-mongers’.

But none of this is particularly new or particularly interesting. What is interesting, as it might be quite significant for the political future of the UK, is why Boris feels the need to spout this particular variety of nonsense. He has to do this because he has created an electoral base in London, which, whilst not exactly left wing, contains a different kind of tory to those inhabiting the shires where the majority of the party’s support is based. In order to appeal to cosmopolitan, multicultural London tories, Boris had to look modern and progressive (quite a challenge when your whole identity is an impersonation of Rowley Birkin QC), and, to a degree, he managed it.

But this success has become a liability in his battle for the tory leadership, where Cameron’s metropolitan modernism is the main reason for his unpopularity within the party, and the restless backbenchers are looking for a more traditional, hang-em and flog-em, nasty old-school tory. From the same old school, of course, and the same university drinking club, but without all this new-age guff about science and tolerance.

Boris is busy trying to undo all his previous good work, so that he can neatly fit into the Cameron-shaped hole the tory right are digging. This requires reversals on various dog-whistle issues - public statements which show that Boris is indeed ‘one of us’, ‘us’ being the wrong wing. Climate change is one of the few dog-whistle issues where it’s possible to take the wrong-wing line in a national newspaper quite openly without being prosecuted for hate-speech, and Boris is seizing the opportunity.

He’s learnt from the experience of having to throw the Borismobile into reverse at high speed, and so you’ll note that the Telegraph piece preserves plausible deniability. Should Boris become PM, and be forced to deal with grown-ups, he can claim that these pieces are merely mischievous humour – obviously he never really meant that swimming pool owners should actually sue the Met Office – the whole thing was a joke! Can’t you take a joke?

Well, I try. But I’m a bit simple-minded, so for the sake of the hard of thinking, I’d really appreciate it if Boris could make a clear, non-humourous public statement of his views on this issue. Does he agree with  the 97.4% of climate scientists who make up the consensus, or does he agree with the 0.7% of climate scientists who dispute it? It’s not just me who wants a bit of clarity on this issue – I suspect that before they make him their leader, the wrong wing will want to make sure Boris really is as clearly wrong as they are.


UPDATE (25/06/13)

In today's Telegraph, Tom Chivers goes some way towards making amends, with a blog that begins -

"It pains me to say this about a colleague, but I think Boris Johnson is playing to the gallery a little."

And ends with -

"The easiest way to get a cheer around here is to say "Climate change is a con". I doubt I'll get many cheers for saying it's a bit more complicated than that. But, annoyingly, it always is."

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