Nigel Lawson 'An Appeal to Reason' - A Critical Review

Stop Press! The U.K. Charity Commission has ordered the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Nigel Lawson as a 'charity' to promote a climate-skeptic point of view, to split in two. Under British law, no charity can involve itself in political action, but GWPF did so, disingenuously. 16 July 2014

I am perhaps what Nigel Lawson calls a climate alarmist, in his book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming (2008, Duckworth Press.). He is what I would call a climate skeptic. Liking to hear an opposite point of view, I read his book hoping to learn something or discover weaknesses in my position. Sadly, I found very little useful material, but much weak argument, partiality, narrowed views, misunderstandings and emotional wording. Briefly,

Entitled 'An Appeal to Reason', it proved to be nothing of the sort!

This page is a review of Nigel Lawson's book:

This page does not try to argue the case for climate concern, except where necessary; it merely shows that Lawson's argument is weak and almost valueless. For those who want an excellent treatment of the science of climate change, see Sir John Houghton's responses to Lawson. In reading the book I took into account the whole human condition, not just the science. I trust it is useful in this role.

Andrew Basden.

Nigel Lawson: Personally Responsible?

It may be that Nigel Lawson can personally bear major responsibility for the climate damage that has been occurring.

In January 2020 (see link below), it was revealed that Margaret Thatcher, UK Conservative Prime Minister during the 1980s and early 1990s, had proposed radical policies to curb greenhouse emissions. As a scientist, she had become convinced of the realities and dangers of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and, with her Methodist background, she believed that humanity had a responsibility on this earth like that of a tenant with a full repair lease, and she wanted global action. In a speech to the Royal Society in 1988,

"she indicated that any thinking industrial country now had to look at its policies on energy, agriculture and a whole heap of industrial questions if they were going to address the greenhouse effect properly. Radical indeed, but not as radical as what was struck out of the draft of that speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigal Lawson.

"Calling them 'bizarre ideas' and 'political dynamite', Lawson insisted that two key proposals on how to solve the problem she was setting out [greenhouse gas emissions] were removed: a global levy on fuels to encourage energy efficiency, and a debt requirement linked to the guardianship of rainforests."

What would have happened, had those two policies been enacted and become effective since then, right through the 1990s, 2002 and 2010? Even if only partially so. It is most likely that the world today would be very different, with very much less climate change and the resultant droughts, storms, floods and fires that have increased in both severity and frequency since then, killing many people as well as devastating wildlife and habitats.

Nigel Lawson insisted they be struck out, and they were. Should he not be held partly personally responsible for the deaths and damage that have resulted from that insistence?

For the whole episode of Green Originals Friday 17th January 2020, see ""


Here is a brief summary of the book, chapter by chapter. I give the chapter title, then what I understand to be the message of the whole chapter, then a brief overview of the arguments therein, followed by my response. From each overview you can jump directly to a more detailed summary of the 'points' that Lawson makes and my more detailed comments.

Chapter 1. 'The Science - and the History'.
Message: We cannot be certain that global warming is happening.

The science of global warming is not 'settled'; the models and data are not to be trusted. Need observations. Belief in climate change is part of a political conspiracy of political correctness. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: Does Lawson really understand the nature of science?

Chapter 2. 'The Next Hundred Years: How Warm? How Bad?'
Message: Global warming is unlikely to happen and even if it does, it won't be very bad.

Prediction of outcomes of global warming is fraught with uncertainty. Models are incomplete. The problems claimed for global warming (water, food, coasts, species extinctions, and health) either won't happen, or are not linked to it. Even if these problems occur, we'll all still be much better off in 100 years than now (Lawson's simplified economic prediction). So we need not worry about possible impacts of global warming. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: Is it really appropriate to demand absolute certainty of prediction before we act? Rather, should not our actions be guided by wisdom and responsibility?

Chapter 3. 'The Importance of Adaptation'.
Message: We need not try to prevent global warming because we will all adapt.

The IPCC analysis underestimates the possibility that we can adapt to global warming. The Stern Review is even worse. Adaptation is better than mitigation (acting to prevent CC). Also, since we will all be better off, we'll be better able to afford adaptation. Therefore we need not pay too much attention to preventing global warming. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: OK for the more prosperous nations. But how will poorer peoples, fauna and flora be able to adapt?

Chapter 4. 'Apocalypse and Armageddon'.
Message: The major planetary problems and tipping points either will not occur, or are nothing to do with global warming.

If you look at the ten worst hurricanes, increase in hurricanes is not happening. No single hurricane can be attributed to global warming. The Greenland and Antarctic ice are not melting much. The Gulf Stream will not stop. Ignore tipping points. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: But is Lawson really looking at the whole picture? Does he really understand tipping points?

Chapter 5. 'A Global Agreement?'
Message: International agreement to reduce climate change emissions is unlikely. Even if we get agreement, making it work will be impossible.

China is growing rapidly and increasing its CO2 emissions, as it becomes the "factory of the world" [p.56] from where we obtain our material goods. Similarly India. In effect, we have outsourced our own CCEs. Both China and India subsidise the cost of energy. The West will not be prepared to pay the cost of China's mitigation measures (e.g. carbon capture). India, China and the United States are against agreements to cut climate change emissions. Europe is isolated. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: Should I not do right even when those around me are doing wrong? Does good example count for absolutely nothing?

Chapter 6. 'The Cost of Mitigation'.
Message: We should not call upon people today to pay the cost of mitigating global warming.

Cost of mitigating global warming is difficult to estimate, but it will be "very costly". IPCC estimates in range 1-5% of global GDP. We would have to radically change the way we live (a political cost). Especially in energy terms. The cost would fall more on us richer people. We should not require today's people to bear this cost ("sacrifice"). Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: Surely we in the richer parts of the world can afford a mere 5% reduction in our living standards today? Surely we have the courage and ability to change our lifestyles?

Chapter 7. 'Discounting the Future: Ethics, Risk and Uncertainty'.
Message: Since it is far in the future, we need not - and indeed should not - do anything to mitigate global warming.

If we think in financial terms, should we pay costs now of future possible global warming? No: because we must discount future costs of it happening. No: because we should treat the needs of future generations as less important than our own. No: because it's good to take risks. No: there are several possible future catastrophes of which "runaway global warming" is only one. So it's "plainly absurd" to do anything about global warming now. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: Is not this like saying "Let others later pay our debts"? Is this not similar to the thinking that led to the recent collapse in world economies? Should we not take responsibility for the damage we ourselves have been doing?

Chapter 8. 'Summary and Conclusion: A Convenient Religion'.
Message: Concern for climate change is a religion, which some politicians use to bolster their power and status.

After summarising his chapters, he suggests investment in new technologies that might counter global warming if it occurs, and a carbon tax that is optional. Climate concern is a religion. Politicians use it to get power and deference. Jump direct to points. Direct to comments.
Response: Is not climate-skepticism just as much a religion as climate-concern? Are they not both ideological commitments? Is not Lawson enjoying the power and deference by his leadership position in the climate-skeptic movement that he accuses the politicians of?

Overall Response: Human beings are inescapably religious (or ideological) beings, always believing something and committing to something. The conflict between climate-concern and climate-skepticism is not primarily logical or scientific: it is religious, ideological. Our deepest beliefs and commitments determine how we respond to data and its uncertainties, and how we apply scientific findings. Lawson's book should be read in the light of his religious-ideological commitment against climate concern. Only then can we understand why, for example, he employs deficient arguments (see the 'Major Problems' below) in a book entitled 'An Appeal to Reason'.

My own religious commitment is to Jesus Christ and this leads me to responsibility to his world and to desire truth, love and humility.

Read on ...


This section discusses each chapter. For each chapter, a summary of the argument is given, and for each point there might be a comment. I have tried to represent his arguments fairly, in a way that I trust he would agree is a reasonable summary. Any comment I make is gathered in a section after the summary of the chapter, and can be accessed directly from each point by clicking on its attendant "[But ...]" or similar. Alternatively, the comments can be read one after the other.

Contents of Detail

  • III. Major Problems in Lawson's Book

    Chapter 1. The science - and the history

    Lawson's argument is to try to undermine general beliefs that climate change is occurring to any appreciable extent.

    Comments on Chapter 1

    Note on Lull in Temperature Rise and Solar Cycles.

    Lawson makes the valid point that the fast rise in global temperature during the 1980s and 1990s is a result, in part, of an increase in solar activity, which is known to warm up the earth. Solar activity increases and decreases in cycles around three decades in length, and so we would expect temperature to do so too.

    Look at this figure, which shows a graph of global temperature over some decades. (Of course the actual graphs would not be as smooth as this; they show the underlying longer-term variation.)

    Graphs of global temperature, with solar cycles and with warming

    In (a), we see a graph of temperature if there is only solar cycles and no underlying global warming. In (b), we see a graph of temperature if there is underlying global warming plus solar cycles. If there is no global warming, then when solar activity reduces, then global temperature should fall, but with sufficient global warming it merely remains flat (or might even continue increasing). Which has actually happened during the 2000s? Lawson gives the figures [p.7] of global average temperature above 1961-1990 average:

    2001 0.40
    2002 0.46
    2003 0.46
    2004 0.43
    2005 0.48
    2006 0.42
    2007 0.41

    Does this not look more flat than decreasing? Even Lawson admits it is flat. More like graph (b) than graph (a)?

    In response to Lord Lawson's figures of 7 years, Sir John Houghton points out that Lawson shows "a surprising ignorance of elementary statistical analysis". Figures from 37 years, from 1970, show "first a clear increasing trend of about 0.5 ēC over the whole period and secondly, a substantial year to year variability of the kind that is well known to climatologists. The latest years are not unusual compared with the rest of the period." Even though these 7 years are flat, "In fact, the seven 21st century years to 2007 are on average warmer by 0.09 ēC than the last seven years of the 20th century ­ even though 1998 holds the overall record."

    Moreover, it appears that some of the flattening arises from a changing distribution of temperature measurement devices: there are now fewer drifting buoys, which measured temperature down at the ocean water level, and more up on ships, which measure higher up, slightly colder air. [Source: Metereological Office, 26 November 2010].

    Back to Chapter 1

    Note about temperatures added 25 January 2020: It has been reported that the 2010s have been the warmest decade on record, and that 2019 has been the second-warmest year, second only to 2016. 2016 temperatures were enhanced by the El-Ninio effect, while 2019 temperatures were not - suggesting that the underlying trend is even greater.

    Note about science.

    In claiming that climate science is not 'scientific', his understanding of science is weak. Lawson calls for 'observations' rather than models, and calls upon Popper's principle that all models need to be able to be refuted to suggest that the use of models in climate change is not 'scientific'. There are three things wrong with what he says:

    Restricted view about science. Popper is only a tiny part of the story of understanding science. Here is a fuller account of the scientific process, as it is understood today:

    "Facts (observations) are not neutral because they arise from classifications and distinctions. These are not neutral, because they arise from theories or hypotheses, as Popper argued. These are not neutral because they arise from paradigms, as Kuhn argued. These are not neutral because they arise from research programmes, as Lakatos argued. Even these are not neutral, because they arise within disciplines. Disciplines are not neutral because they presuppose a systematic philosophy, whether this is explicitly worked out or not. A systematic philosophy is not neutral, because what both 'systematic' and 'philosophy' mean depends on our life-and-world-view (LWV), which is closely related to our common sense or lifeworld - as Husserl and others argued. These in turn are not neutral, argued Dooyeweerd, because they arise from, presuppose and are based on religious ground-motives."

    "Not neutral" means that we must take responsibility rather than relying on some mechanical 'truth' - and this non-neutrality occurs all the way down, at every level.

    Faith in 'observations'. Theories are models are theories. They are conceptual models that express our current beliefs about how reality works, which we believe it is valid to apply across a range of situations; some of them are expressed in words, some expressed in mathematics, yet others are expressed in computer code. Climate change models happen to be expressed in computer code. While theories and models should always give way to direct data from pre-theoretical experience, this is by no means as simple as Lawson implies. To make an observation means that we must first decide what to observe and what to not observe. This decision is by no means neutral. For example, if you measure temperatures, where do you measure them? And how? Observing is a labour- and resource-intensive process. Lawson gives several examples of limited observation. Moreover the purpose of observation in science is to formulate theories (models about how reality works that we can apply across a range of situations). Then, to say something about these other situations, we need to use our theories (models).

    Difference between generating and using theories (models). The activity of science is to generate and refine theories. The use of such theories is not science, but application, and application is driven by some measure of trust in the theories, and involves a variety of range of thinking, including economic and political. In the case of climate change, we have both activities.

    However, it is possible to be lax in both generation and use of models / theories. Laxness can arise from prejudice. It might be that some of we climate 'alarmists' have been lax. If so, then we deserve to have our knuckles rapped. But I believe the laxness is far less than climate change deniers claim.

    Back to Chapter 1

    Note about incomplete models.

    Lawson suggests that the models of climate change are to be rejected on the grounds that they do not explain everything or they contain uncertainties. But are not all models generated by scientific activity always incomplete? Is there not always something more to discover and incorporate into them? Of course there is. Does the incompleteness of models make them completely useless? Of course not. So why should the CC models be rejected on grounds that they are incomplete? Do they not generate at least some useful results? Of course they do. And are they not being continually refined as they are challenged with new factors? Of course they are.

    Sir John Houghton's response explains well about uncertainties in climate data.

    Back to Chapter 1

    Note about the Rising Temperatures and Hockey Stick curve.

    The Hockey Stick curve shows a fast rise in temperature over the last few decades, when compared with the last 1000 years. As I understand it, it was constructed using the best methods available. It is, of course, imperfect and in need of more checking and refinement, but the question we must face is not whether there are uncertainties in the model but whether its message is more likely to be true than false.

    If you wished to find global temperatures over the past 1000 years or even longer period, how would you go about it? Can you find reliable records read from thermometers 1000 years ago? Of course not. So is it not reasonable to use different methods as they are available? Thermometer records should be used for recent years, but can we not find other temperature-sensitive phenomena from earlier years? Are not tree rings one such phenomenon? So why not use tree rings of very old trees? If you can find only one such tree, is it not better to use that than to use nothing?

    Lawson assumes the Hockey Stick Curve is more likely to be false than true, but his reasons for doing so are questionable: low sample size and discourtesy by a scientist to someone who emailed him. Low sample size does not make the early data wrong, just less reliable than other data. This lesser reliability has, as far as I understand, been taken into account.

    Moreover, whereas global average temperatures might rise by only a degree or two, both the effect and the temperature rise is likely to vary greatly over the globe. Rising temperatures in colder climes does more damage than in tropics, because of greater snow and tundra melt. And it is likely that colder northern climes will rise by ten or more degrees C, and the tropics rising less.

    October 2010: The climate science of the University of East Anglia had been attacked a year or two ago. The Russell Report, which investigated the UEA's treatment of data etc. concluded that while some charges stand, concerning process and unwillingness to involve critics, all the charges of dishonesty and malpractice and lack of integrity were found to be baseless. Every single one of the charges against their science (and results) proved groundless.

    Back to Chapter 1

    Chapter 2: The next Hundred Years: How Warm? How Bad?

    Lawson tries to argue that we needn't worry about the possible impacts of climate change. In chapter 2, he goes through each of the IPCC's impacts and tries to undermine each, using different methods.

    Comments on Chapter 2

    Note about five impacts of climate change.

    Lawson tries to argue that five impacts have little to do with climate change. Some of these effects might not be solely a CC issue, but might not CC be at least partly implicated in them? Even though we might be able to theorize other possible contributory factors, should we therefore completely ignore CC? Here is a more detailed examination of his arguments:

    Examination of Lawson's Arguments Why We Needn't Worry
    IPCC claim Lawson's claim Flaw in Lawson Underlying fault
    Water shortages will occur because of CC. Categorical denial of any link with CC.
    Water pricing and some technology (desalination, GM) will solve any problem here. Population is the problem.
    He offers no positive evidence of lack of link with CC.
    Agreed, population is indeed a problem, but that does not mean that CC will have absolutely no effect at all, making things worse. Desalination leads to huge energy use.
    Just making a claim does not make his claim true.
    CC will severely disrupt ecosystems and cause extinction of species Claims it won't happen. "over the past two-and-a-half-million years, a period during which the planet's climate fluctuated substantially, remarkably few of the earth's millions of plant and animal species became extinct." [p.30] He gives absolutely no reason to believe CC will not disrupt ecosystems and lead to extinctions. The quotation is no reason; it is from a short article by Daniel Botkin, who merely states it and gives no reference to follow up. Botkin claims that only about 20 species went extinct, large ones like mammoth. How could he tell that no tiny species went extinct, especially if they were of the kind to leave no fossils?
    It is not that the species today survived; of course they did. The point is about species that did *not* survive; how do we count the number of species that did not survive?
    But more important: the real problem is not the number of species going to extinction, but the disruption of ecosystems. Human damage is huge; will climate change not exacerbate that?
    Lawson misses the point, and he quotes as authoritative fact something that is flawed.
    CC will lead to major food problems, especially in impoverished parts of the world. Global food production will increase with warming.
    The answer is genetic modification.
    Food production will increase in the already-rich places; in already-poor places it will reduce.
    GM leads to other problems, which he ignores.
    He is "unconcerned for the poor" [Bible: Ezekiel, 16:49], an attitude that God condemns severely.
    He has touching faith in the ability of new unproven technologies.
    Sea level will rise in next 100 years; Coasts are under threat. Low-lying nations will be wiped out. Don't worry: sea level will hardly rise at all ("less than a-quarter-of-an-inch a year is not, frankly, on a scale to be alarmed about.") His claim rests on a few measurements of tiny sea level rises in last few years. He ignores land-based ice-melt, which has only just begun: where does he think all the future melt-water will go to? Quarter of an inch a year means 25 inches in 100 years.
    But the main flaw in his argument is that he ignores increased storm activity and severity. Sea level rise is not just a slight rise in calm water; it means much worse penetration by more severe storms.
    Sir John Houghton's response deals with this.
    If he extrapolates from just a few measurements, on what grounds can he criticise us for doing that?
    Is his ignoring of storms wilful?
    CC is a health threat. "Warmer but richer is in fact healthier than colder but poorer. ... In the developing world, the major cause of ill health and the deaths it brings, is poverty." [p.33] So CC will be a good thing.
    "I spent the summer of 2003 in south-west France myself, and found it perfectly tolerable" [p.34]
    But CC brings poverty. That is what we are seeing today.
    "the heat wave in Europe in 2003 ... was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 people ... The best estimates we have at the moment, if the trend in warming continues, are that that sort of summer will be the average summer in Europe in 2050." [p.33: quoting Sir John Houghton] Cause was that health workers went on holiday, therefore cause cannot be CC. "It is the custom in France for every family to go away on holiday during the first fortnight in August, leaving behind, to fend for themselves, those family members who are too old to travel." Wait! If the cause was solely health workers going away, would not 20,000 die every year, since going away is 'the custom'?
    Though one factor is a cause, it does not rule out other factors. Summer 2003 was extraordinarily hot (one that hot is so improbable as to be 5 standard deviations away from norm), and that is why the absence of health workers and family members mattered that year. One can never prove a particular cause, but CC predicts that more severe summers will be more frequent.
    Lawson misuses causality.

    In the main, he presents no sound evidence, nor even argument, that CC is actually irrelevant to all of these. All he does is either to show that other factors are also important (and illogically concludes that therefore CC cannot be important) or he claims that it is nothing to worry about, and that technology will fix it.

    Back to Chapter 2

    Note on Times-Better-Off.

    Lawson argues [p.36] that in terms of GDP per head of population, global warming will make little difference in how much better off we are (only 8.5 rather than 9.6 times better off for developing countries, and 2.6 rather than 2.7 times for developed). "'Only' 8.5 rather than 9.5 better off" means the developing countries will be rich in 100 years time even with global warming. From this point onwards throughout the book he uses this analysis to suggest that they can adapt to global warming [p.40] and we don't need to make sacrifices now [p.81] and to rubbish the notion that we should 'save the planet' [p.93]. But there are three things wrong.

    First, where are his calculations, and where is the detailed explanation of them so that we can follow them and check the assumptions he makes? On what basis can we trust them? All he says about how he calculated this is "It can readily be calculated" [p.36]. What he seems to have done is to take estimates for annual increase in GDP/person (2.3% and 1% for developing and developed economies) and apply that figure a hundred times, then reduced this by the estimate for how global warming will harm GDP (10% and 3% respectively, all figures from IPCC's special report on scenarios).

    Second, if this is how he made his calculation, it is flawed even by his own standards. He assumes that average GDP/person will increase steadily annually by the same rate of 1% or 2.3%. Is this not rather hypocritical? Has he not already made much of the difficulty in predicting the future temperature? Why should be believe that his financial predictions are any more reliable than the ones he is throwing doubt on? Worse, while the earth's temperature rise is subject to mere physical laws (albeit highly complex), is not the rise in GDP subject to a much more complex set - economic, social, political, psychological, religious, and so on? So why is it that he, almost gleefully, keeps on repeating "'only' 8.5 rather than 9.5 better off" with so much certainty throughout the rest of his book? Are not his applications of it the ease of adaptation and the non-necessity of making sacrifices thereby highly dubious?

    Third, is not the calculation meaningless, even if his predictions are correct? If we look at the last 100 yaers, back to, for example, 1910, prosperity was rising, and especially in the developing world. If we had made a similar calculation then, about what it would be like today in developing countries, would we not have predicted almost universal prosperity for all the world? But what do we find today? Huge prosperity in the developed nations, huge poverty in the developing nations rubbing shoulders with obscene wealth. And this is without climate change. What will we find in 100 years with climate change? In the next chapter, Lawson sums his view up by the astounding claim that "the poorer regions are, for the most part, not going to be poor in a hundred years time" [p.40] If we look at the world today compared with 100 years ago, has not the disparity between Europe and Africa widened rather than narrowed, despite two world wars that decimated Europe? Does this not suggest that Lawson's analysis is completely wide of the mark?

    Fourth, it is accepted very widely that GDP is not a good measure of what is good in life. Even in the UK has not happiness decreased with increased GDP? In the world as a whole while GDP has grown steadily, is it not the case that disparities have widened, injustice has soared, wars have ravaged, genocides have occurred, terrorism has increased, fear has increasingly affected us, and so on?

    Fifth, does this not cast doubt on the whole exercise of economic analysis on which Lawson so heavily relies? I would even criticise the IPCC for the misleading nature of its estimates that climate change will reduce GDP by 10% and 3%. Does 10% really capture all the aspects of evil above? (If Lawson wanted to criticise the IPCC, why did he not criticise this aspect of their work?)

    In his response to Lord Lawson's argument Sir John Houghton says "Estimates of the costs of the damage of global warming in the Stern Review allow to some extent for these increases in floods and droughts, although I believe probably not adequately. Partly because until recently few quantitative estimates of increased risk were available and partly because much of the damage, for instance due to droughts, is not easy to express in monetary terms." Is it possible that 10% is too low?

    Back to Chapter 2

    Chapter 3. The Importance of Adaptation

    "Chapter 3 explains the importance of taking fully into account mankind's ability to adapt to higher temperatures, in terms both of assessing the likely impact of any global warming that may occur, and of deciding the most cost-effective policy response." [p3]

    Comments on Chapter 3

    Note on Taking Adaptation into Account.

    I agree that we should take adaptation into account - as long as we can predict precisely how it will be possible to adapt and how much it will cost. Lawson blithely tries to convince us that adaptation will be possible and easy. But where is his attempt to work out the details and the costs? I cannot find it. Before we put all our eggs in the basket of adaptation, as Lawson seems to recommend, should we not work out details and costs of adaptation, including where each type is appropriate, and the likelihood that each type of adaptation will work? To do this, are we not into the realms of prediction, which is subject to all the problems that Lawson highlights in Chapter 2: uncertainty in figures and so on?

    Back to Chapter 3

    Note on Adaptation Capability.

    Who can adapt? The rich nations will be able to adapt, especially if they are located where climate change problems are less severe. Lawson does briefly admit that less developed countries have low adaptive capacity. But he thinks this doesn't matter. And he forgets that the natural world must also adapt, and without the help of human technology, innovation and imagination. His reasons for thinking that it doesn't matter that poorer countries cannot so easily adapt are suspect:

    So will the poorer nations not still be left to the ravages of climate change? If so, what do we do with hundreds of millions of environmental refugees? Will we let them come into our better-off lands? Or will we just abandon them and let them suffer? Has Lawson adequately thought this through?

    But worse. How will the non-human world adapt? It takes a species many generations to adapt in even small ways. Humans and larger animals might be able to move to new places, but plants cannot.

    Is it not incredibly stupid to put all our eggs in the adaptation basket?

    Back to Chapter 3

    Note on Farmers Adapting to Climate Change.

    Will farmers find it as easy to adapt to climate change is Lawson assumes? Let us consider what is involved. Farming is not just a machine that you can adjust by a few tweaks; it is a culture and way of life; it involves a lot of shared, tacit knowledge, habits, expectations, assumptions. Will not adaptation of farming involve slow and gradual discovery of new ways of doing things, experimentation to find out what crops will give good yields and which will not, and how well those crops survive changing pest regimes? Will it not require many years of trial and error in the field as well as the laboratory? Does not this mean lengthy research programmes first, to find out what will work well? Does it not, after this, mean massive learning of what crops suit what soils in the new conditions? Will it not mean a massive and lengthy training of 'ordinary' farmers?

    What about subsistence farmers (i.e. those, especially in developing countries, who grow food for themselves rather than for the market)? How are all these people going to be trained, and supplied with new types of crop? And does it not mean that most people will have to get used to different types of food? And will this not disrupt established patterns of nutrition that have developed over centuries? Will this not lead to more disease and so on? Whereas in UK agriculture there is reasonable good communications and farmers are only 2% of the population, in developing countries, growers make up much more of the population and there is no established system of agricultural communication.

    Even if only some of these are true, is not Lawson rather cavalier in his assumptions? Who is going to pay for all these changes, training, etc.?

    Back to Chapter 3

    Note on Stern Review

    Lawson rubbishes the Stern Report as "essentially a propaganda exercise in support of the UK government's predetermined policy of seeking a world leadership role on climate change." [p.21]. It is probably true that the British government did want to be seen as leading on climate change, (and I would applaud that if it had led to real, courageous changes that truly tackle the problem, but I fear that was not the case.) But that does not invalidate the Stern Review on its own.

    The Stern Review was written to answer the question, "Suppose climate change were to happen; what would it cost us?" As such, the Stern Review was nearly unique in its time. Most of the argument at the time was whether climate change would happen, whether it was human-made, and what the possible results might be. Most of this did not address the financial side. Stern was the one who tried to do that.

    I think the Stern Review can be criticised, not for being too bold but for being too timid. It tried hard to be 'believable' to the politicians who had economic growth as their ultimate aim, rather than taking climate change seriously. The Stern Review thus avoided some of the things it should have tackled. Its economic analysis is very conservative, and its estimate of the costs of climate change as percentage of GDP is not only too small but very misleading.

    Back to Chapter 3

    Chapter 4. Apocalypse and Armageddon

    "Chapter 4, 'Apocalypse and Armageddon', looks at whether there are any specific disasters in the offing that should qualify the judgment reached at the end of Chapter 2." [p3] Lawson tries to show that major disasters normally expected to result from climate change are nothing to do with it.

    Comments on Chapter 4

    Note about hurricanes.

    Climate science merely predicts that there will be an increase in intensity and frequency over the coming decades. So, what Lawson says about no single hurricane being attributable to climate change is, strictly, in accordance with these predictions. But does that invalidate the climate change predictions? I think not. Is it only the 'ten worst' storms that do damage? Is it not the case that there are many outwith the top ten that do damage, and that these could be more frequent and more severe? Is it not the overall average that is the problem, not the top few? And is it not the case that these do damage not to the rich nations but to the poor? It is the average of the all, not the top few, for which climate science makes its predictions.

    In his response Sir John Houghton points to the IPCC's conclusion that "The most critical impacts come from the robust result of the IPCC concerning changes in rainfall patterns, water availability and increases in the number and average severity of floods and droughts. ... floods and droughts cause on average more deaths, more misery and greater economic loss than any other disasters ­ so their increasing trend is bad news especially for those in the most vulnerable parts of the world." Lawson does not do justice to these issues.

    Back to Chapter 4

    Note on Ice Sheet Melting.

    What does Lawson mean by "significant extent" of Greenland ice sheet melt? If there had been absolutely no evidence, would he not have triumphantly claimed that? Does not this suggest he recognises that there is some evidence of some melting? Now, would we not expect that, as climate change and global warming started it would begin slowly, with only small ice melt? Does the fact that Greenland ice melt is relatively small compared with its entire ice sheet, really mean that climate change ice melt is unlikely to be problematic in decades to come, as Lawson implies?

    With the Antarctica ice sheet thickening, does not Lawson actually admit that warming is actually one of the reasons for its thickening? If so, does this not suggest that warming is happening?

    Back to Chapter 4

    Note on Tipping Points.

    Tipping points are mechanisms that are brought about by climate change which increase the climate change emissions further, which increases climate change further, making the rate ever more rapid until the mechanism has finished. One is the tundra which, on melting due to rising temperatures, releases long-trapped methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, which causes temperatures to rise yet further. Another is Arctic floating ice, which uncovers local waters which absorb sun-heat more readily than ice does, which warms waters more, which both melts ice faster and has a slight warming effect on the air. If a tipping point occurs it is largely irreversible.

    All Lawson gives us on tipping points is on pp47-48: "The Stern Review is at the extreme end of the alarmist camp, warning us that ... 'at some point ... may take the world past irreversible tipping points'. And there is much more in this vein. ... this sort of scaremongering ...", "Professor Hulme was particularly scathing about Mr Blair's open letter to EU Heads of State, in which he declared that 'We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing a catastrophic tipping point'.", "Professor Paul Hardaker ... '... the idea of a point of no return, or a 'tipping point', is a misleading way to think about climate and can be unnecessarily alarmist." That is all. No actual arguments about whether tipping points might occur or not nor reasons for disbelieving them except loaded words like 'scaremongering' and 'alarmist'. Despite the fact that elsewhere he goes into great detail trying to prove that the mechanisms that climate science has etc. have proposed are flawed and even inoperative, he does no such thing about tipping points.

    Why does Lawson largely ignore such tipping points? Why has he not argued against them, but just remained quiet except for a sneer? Is it because he cannot find any flaw in their arguments? Might we conclude from this that he has no argument against them? And therefore that they are a real possibility?

    Back to Chapter 4

    Chapter 5. A Global Agreement?

    In this chapter he tries to argue that the international situation is hopeless, and that no agreement will be possible. He argues:

    Comments on Chapter 5

    Note on Outsourcing of Climate Change Emissions.

    Lawson is right in pointing out that the UK has only been able to reduce its climate change emissions by outsourcing them to China and elsewhere. If we in UK, Europe and USA still demand goods and services the production and delivery of which generates CCEs, are we not ourselves to be counted responsible for those CCEs, wherever they are generated? Should not the UK's figures for CCEs include all these, even though actually emitted in China? I wrote to my Member of Parliament some years ago about this but he refused to listen; he has now had to retire on grounds of ill health.

    Back to Chapter 5

    Note on Agreement being Unlikely.

    Lawson argues that international agreement on mitigating climate change is unlikely. I suggest a different approach for two reasons:

    Back to Chapter 5

    Note on the Possibility that Agreement will Work.

    Lawson opines that even if we get international agreement on climate change mitigation, making it work will be impossible. Is this not rather inconsistent with his stance on adaptation? If he is so confident that nations will adapt to climate change (including the rich nations generously paying for adaptation in poor nations! see above) why will not nations do mitigation if they have agreed to do so?

    In both this and the previous note, does Lawson assumes that the entirety of humanity is driven solely and only by self-interest, in which nobody will do an ounce more than they are forced to by others? Though I do agree that self-interest is rife, does self-interest rule for the entirety of humanity all the time. Is it not true that some people some of the time will act altruistically, with courageous generosity? Do not religions encourage this? At least, has not the Gospel of Christ given human beings the motivation and freedom to act in this way, out of thankfulness to God if nothing else. But Lawson ignores this; he assumes that the Gospel of Christ has done nothing in the world - is he not factually wrong about that?

    Back to Chapter 5

    Chapter 6. The Cost of Mitigation

    In this chapter Lawson argues that the cost of mitigation will be too high.

    Comments on Chapter 6

    Note about 'Feelgood' Measures.

    Lawson despises what he calls 'feelgood' measures that people take to reduce their carbon footprint, such as low-energy lightbulbs. He ignores that most people want to start small, and then work up to bigger things; so it's not necessarily irrelevant. Encouraging people to start small and then work to more effective measures is the strategy of Ashton-Hayes, a village in Cheshire UK that aims to go carbon neutral.

    Back to Chapter 6

    Note about Overall Costs.

    It is difficult to estimate the costs of mitigation. Lawson warns that "all the signs are that [taking action now to reduce climate change] would prove very costly". After piling up a long chapter of warnings about mitigation measures, he cites IPCC costs averaging 2-3% of global GDP (1-5% in earlier estimate, revised to somewhat less than zero to 4% in later estimate). Lawson believes these costs would fall more on the rich nations and that we should not be called upon to make this "sacrifice".

    Did not Lawson accept (earlier) that the the IPCC-estimated costs of climate change as being 3% and 10% of GDP of developed and developing economies respectively? Does this not mean that the cost of mitigation is greater than the cost of climate change problems? Does it not seem reasonable to pay the costs now? Does it not seem reasonable that we, the rich, should pay the costs? Especially since it is our own lifestyles that are the cause?

    Sir John Houghton's response presents more argument.

    Back to Chapter 6

    Note about Fuel Costs.

    Lawson claims that the increase in fuel costs required to change our habits is so high as to be politically impossible. There are two points he overlooked.

    Back to Chapter 6

    Note on Sacrifice by Present Generation.

    His comparison of current 'sacrifice' with future costs of climate change is unreasonable. As pointed out above, the messing about with times-better-off figures is misleading, narrow, stupid and irrelevant.

    Back to Chapter 6

    Chapter 7. Discounting the Future: Ethics, Risk and Uncertainty

    Here is his argument in more detail. He sums it up clearly in his first paragraph [p.82]:

    "There is a standard way of measuring future benefits against present costs, that is, to apply a rate of discount to the future.
    For jam tomorrow is not worth as much as jam today,
    nor is the possibility or even the probability of jam tomorrow worth as much as the certainty of jam tomorrow.
    Moreover a pot of jam is worth more to the poor man than to the rich man.
    So, for long-term projects, the richer future generations are expected to be, the higher the appropriate discount rate."

    Comments on Chapter 7

    Note about principles to use.

    Do the same principles on discounting really apply to long-term climate change as to shorter-term investments? Why does Lawson not give any reasons for his claim they do? Does not discounting economic theory depend on assumptions of a reasonably stable bank interest rate over the period? Have we not seen the bank interest rates slump over a mere 20 years? So why does Lawson claim the same principles apply?

    Back to Chapter 7

    Note about calculating discount rates.

    Sir John Houghton responds, "The distinguished economist Partha Dasgupta has pointed out that the negative perturbations of carbon emissions on future economies threaten the basis on which discount rates for future investment are set ­ a point that adds strength to the arguments in the Stern Review for applying a low or zero discount rate."

    What justification has Lawson for increasing the discount rate? It is difficult to calculate the appropriate discount rate on the basis of economics alone, and if we do, we are forced to make assumptions that are arbitrary and, even worse, hidden. These assumptions relate to other aspects of human life and activity, especially aspects of justice and ethics. Lawson does discuss taking ethics into account, but argues for a particular type of ethics that happens to let him decide on a high discount rate and criticise Stern for using a low one: that of Hume. Is Hume the only, and final, word on ethics? But his treatment of these is deeply flawed, especially from a Biblical point of view. See other notes about these below. Are not ethics and justice more important in setting discount rates than mere economics?

    Sir John Houghton suggests, "Further, we are faced not just with a judgement of how much in principle we should spend now to avoid damage in the future, but addressing how the energy industries of the world can overcome their system's inertia and turn around in time to meet the targets that the international community is likely to set."

    Back to Chapter 7

    Note about ethics

    Is Hume really the best philosopher of ethics that we have had? Did Hume not reduce ethics to other aspects, and thereby denature it? Did not Kant suggest that ethics is going beyond what is 'natural'? Did not Aristotle suggest 'virtue' is important? Does not Macintyre suggest we need to go 'beyond virtue'? Does not Dooyeweerd suggest the kernel meaning of the ethical aspect is self-sacrifice, self-giving? Whom do we consider the 'truly good' person? Is it the selfish or the generous person? Did not the Apostle Paul remark "but God loved us so much that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8] - is that not real love and goodness? So why does Lawson rely wholly on Humean ethics? Does it not seem that Lawson completely disregards the self-giving aspect of being human?

    Back to Chapter 7

    Note about treating other people

    Is it really "palpably absurd" to treat others as equal with ourselves? Is is not plain justice to do so - whether they are the person next door or in another land or in a future generation. Did not Jesus Christ say "The most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself"? Lawson seems to belittle this, and advocate the kind of selfishness by which we protect those dear to us and let the others go hang, even though they have nobody to protect them. Has Lawson become infected with the disease of misapplying survival-of-fittest to human relationships?

    Back to Chapter 7

    Note about future possible catastrophes.

    There are three issues intertwined here, in each of which his argument is flawed:

    Back to Chapter 7

    Chapter 8. Summary and Conclusion: A Convenient Religion

    Comments on Chapter 8

    Note on Disingenuous Claim.

    What does Lawson want us to believe when he starts this chapter with "global warming ... is not, at the present time, happening"? Is it not that, by and large, global warming is a fiction? But what, precisely, does he say (he is very careful in his wording)? What is the salience of adding "at the present time"?

    Given that the very physics predicts that global warming will start slowly and get faster, is surprising to see it currently swamped by the solar cycle? Is Lawson not rather disingenuous here?

    Back to Chapter 8

    Note on Nature of Religion.

    Lawson treats green belief and commitment as religious belief. He is correct, though not perhaps in the way he expects, because he does not fully understand the nature of religious faith and belief and commitment. To some extent he reduces religion to a need for, or desire for, comfort. While feelings of comfort might indeed sometimes come from religion, it is far from being the key ingredient. What characterizes religion is commitment and vision, it is belief that is not assent to a creed but firm trust. There is often a vast difference between what we claim to believe and what we actually religiously believe. All human beings are religious in this sense. Even (especially) atheism is a religion in this sense of commitment, vision and belief.

    This makes sense why he is partly correct in likening eco-fundamentalism to Marxism: both are strong beliefs that involve commitment and vision.

    Back to Chapter 8.

    Note on Politicians.

    But when he speaks of some politicians clothing themselves with priestly garb of "the new religion" for sake of gaining deference, and 'convenient' to them, he misses the point. Neither Tony Blair and Al Gore are doing it for this reason; they really believe it is the right thing to do.

    The only question I would raise is not whether they are hypocritical in using air travel to achieve their ecological ends (as Lawson insinuates) but something much deeper that Lawson himself has missed: their ground-motive. A ground-motive is a deep presupposition about the nature of reality, including normative reality, which acts as a spiritual driving force long-term on a culture's thinking (for more see page on ground-motives). The ground-motive of the mediaeval Roman Catholic church was Nature-Grace, while the modern Humanistic ground-motive is centred on the dichotomy between nature and freedom. I see Tony Blair as driven by the former and both Lawson and Al Gore driven by the latter. In a dualistic ground-motive like this, those who cling to one pole see those at the other as enemies. Lawson is near the freedom pole, Gore seems nearer the nature pole. But the one I espouse is the Biblical one of Creation-Fall-Redemption. Under this ground-motive, the whole creation is good, but it is human beings who bring evil because of the orientation of our hearts (attitude, below).

    Back to Chapter 8

    Note on Theology of Warnings.

    Can the warnings of God come through computer models? Lawson poses a genuine question here. But, in the literary device he uses, he sneers at the idea. So let us look at it from the point of view of the Bible (which is the religion we are considering here).

    Jesus castigated the leaders of the time for not heeding the warnings of the time. These were likened to warnings about tomorrow's weather. The central issue was not the medium by which the warning was delivered but the attitude they displayed, a refusal to believe rather than an open-minded caution. In the Old Testament, we find the prophet Ezekiel being told by God that his duty as a 'watchman' was to be sure he gave the warning, and then the people who refused to heed it would be guilty on their own account. So God does expect us to take warnings, and holds us to account if we do not, especially if the reason we do not is a refusal to do so. I sense this refusal in most climate-change-skeptics, including Lawson. They will be judged by God, not just on their disbelief, but on their refusal to believe.

    Moreover, the Biblical view has a certain logic to it: We human beings have been given responsibility for the rest of creation, as 'shepherds' of it. In Ezekiel chapter 34 the shepherds are castigated:

    "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. Should not the shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool, and slaughter the choice animals but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. ... Therefore you shepherds hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. ..."

    Of course, this applies directly to the Jewish leaders, and also to Jesus Christ coming as the 'good shepherd'. But notice the principle by which God judges: callous attitude, self-seeking, disregard for those we are in charge of. This is what God hates. Is it too much to apply this to humanity's responsibility for God's world?

    Back to Chapter 8


    This section is in draft form, in progress.

    Here are some problems in Lawson's book that are deeper and broader than the problems above. Most of them pertain to several chapters in the book, or even to the whole.

    Contents of Overall Comments:

    Inadequate Argument Against Action Now

    Lawson's message might be summed up as (my italics) "Global warming might not happen. If it does it might not be dangerous. It might not be that bad. So we need not take action now." But he does not give any good arguments why action now to prevent climate change is harmful.

    The only argument he gives for not taking action now is that it might involve us, developed nations, changing our lifestyles, 'sacrificing' up to 5% of GDP [p.79]. Lawson seems to think both change in lifestyle and a 5% cost must be completely ruled out. But:

    Lawson Often Misses the Point

    He often misses the point. Sometimes he misunderstands. Other times he does not see important implications. Here are some examples.

    Lawson's Narrow View

    Lawson adopts a narrow outlook. He seems to think that money is the only thing that really matters and that GDP is the overriding norm for governments. As one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer, some focus on financial measures is to be expected, but he should have retained greater awareness of other aspects of national and international life. He ignores other aspects of life, especially the need for responsibility. Assuming money is the measure of all things, he ignores the fact that governments sometimes (all too rarely, in my view) act to do what's right, and let the economics follow rather than lead.

    Lawson Does Not Understand Uncertainty

    Nigel Lawson does not understand uncertainty in data. His argument in chapters 1, 2 is "There is uncertainty in the figures. Therefore the 'alarmists' might be wrong in the figures they are using. So, on this basis, we can (should) completely ignore and disbelieve most of what they say."

  • I agree that there is uncertainty. But he makes no sound case that the 'alarmists' actually *are* wrong. He makes no sound case that the lowest estimates are more likely to be correct than the ones the alarmists are using. He takes the uncertainty as license to rule out certain possibilities. It is not valid to do that.

  • He focuses on arithmetic uncertainty in the data and ignores responsibility; see below. Statistics should be our servant, not master; it should be used in service of our (God-given?) responsibility to manage the world with wisdom. Uncertainty should not paralyse us to inactivity.

  • And he completely ignores the precautionary principle. He seems to go against the precautionary principle to its opposite: unless we have certainty that the alarmists are right, then we should disbelieve them and even undermine their warnings.

  • When faced with uncertainty, the responsible thing is to take it into account as best we can. But Lawson assumes that if there is a range of figures, with 'alarmists' picking the highest or average figures, then he can use the lowest figures. He does not say why.

    Lawson Rubbishes the Reputable

    Lawson pours scorn on various people and bodies, often by the tone of words and phrases he uses, instead of offering good argument. It is not clear why they deserve this scorn.

    Lawson's Style of Argument

    His style of argument is flawed. This draws together some examples, some of which might have been mentioned earlier.

  • His style of argument is flawed. He uses emotive words (e.g. 'climate alarmists', to refer even to IPCC). He tries to turn reader against e.g. IPCC by use of innuendo and insinuation. When it suits him, he lambasts computer models, but then at other times it suits him to use their results. He is too categorical in his opinions, and exhibits unquestioned faith in certain things, without justification. Ironic that he claims 'An Appeal to Reason'. See some examples below.

    Emotive words.

    Insinuation and Innuendo

    Intemperate language.

    He is too categorical in his opinions. e.g. Water problems "has nothing whatever to do with global warming." [p.29] CC might not be the sole cause but it cannot be so categorically ruled out. He too readily attributes this problem (without good justification) solely to population growth.


    When it suits him, he lambasts computer models, but then at other times it suits him to use their results.

  • He exhibits touching faith in certain things without much justification. These include: 'observations', technology, the generosity of future rich nations, GDP and money as measure of all that is good, genetically modified food, nuclear power, and several other things.

    It is indeed ironic that Nigel Lawson claims 'An Appeal to Reason'.

    Sir John Houghton

    Sir John Houghton is a careful scientist, concerned climate expert and committed Christian who puts truth above his own views and opinions. Like any of us he has his own ideas and tries to work them out (for example he was particularly interested in the high death rate in France in 2003). It is people like this who we ought to listen to and be stimulated by, even if we critically examine some of their detailed suggestions. People like this should not be rubbished in the way Lawson does.

    Sir John Houghton has published two responses to Nigel Lawson.


    Note about terminology

    Climate skeptics like Nigel Lawson call it "global warming".
    Climate concerned people, like me, call it "climate change".
    Ten years ago I was calling it 'global warming', but someone warned me:
    "Don't call it 'global warming', but 'climate change'. The greenhouse effect will increase energy in the atmosphere. Increased kinetic energy in the atmosphere means more storms and changed wind patterns. So Britain [I live in Britain] will get more winds from Siberia [the cold north], and might get cooler not warmer, even though the rest of the world gets warmer."
    So I call it 'climate change', as being a more accurate description, covering not only average warming but also increase in kinetics and local changes.


    I wish to thank:

    Created: 2009 by Andrew Basden.

    Last updated: 6 June 2010 chapters 5, 6, 7 summaries with notes and 'but's. 13 June 2010 major rearrangement, and revamp. Tidying up. 23 June 2010 gw v cc, no-against. 28 June 2010 ch8, and redid intro summary. 11 July 2010 redid introductory overview, and added graph. 13 July 2010 ack, new intro. 18 July 2010 minor errors MAS corrected; added links back to chapters; reword intro. 19 July 2010 knowles cmt, edited some of my more careless text. 2 September 2010 changed some intro and text. 3 September 2010 removed comment on wind v nuclear. 6 September 2010 shorter intro that makes clear not trying to prove cc. 17 September 2010 rlg dets how we analyse data. 30 September 2010 links to Sir JH's comments. 26 November 2010 fewer buoys, reversed title. 28 November 2010 shortened overall. 22 March 2011 shorter intro; rearranged material. 15 May 2011 Russell Report on hockey stick. 20 August 2011 but-Stern. 19 February 2014 list of flaws in Intro, a couple of other minor changes. 16 July 2014 stop press re GWPF. 25 January 2020 Margaret Thatcher and Lawson's responsibility; 2010s warmest decade.