31 July 1998

Teresa Gorman MP (Con. Billericay)

I compliment Mr. Jeremy Corbyn MP on securing a debate (House of Commons 15 July 1998) on the forthcoming Climate Change Conference. I share his view that it is important to ensure that our politicians receive sound scientific advice before they go off to conferences. Policy decisions that are made on the basis of agreements reached at such conferences have profound implications for our industries and for jobs.

Mrs. Helen Brinton MP pointed out that industries involved in fossil fuel production can be severely affected if the Government take the wrong decisions. The implication is that those industries produce substances that affect the environment and must therefore be controlled. MPs who represent areas where such industries are important employers often face a dilemma: by definition, they do not want to see the jobs go, but, by ideology, they subscribe to the idea of global warming, which runs counter to the interests of the industries that they seek to preserve.

On more than one occasion, I have attempted to give an elementary science lesson – dating from the days when I taught science – about what constitutes global warming. We use that combination of words when we are talking partly about the climate – the weather is variable and the climate alters over time. That is caused by forces outside our control. Sun activity varies and one will find that it corresponds with climate changes on earth. When sun spots are active, there are periods of high temperature on the earth's surface. Some people might call that global warming. At other times, we have ice ages, which correspond to periods when the sun's activity is much lower.

The second factor involved in global warming is volcanic activity. People seem to think that there is only one active volcano on the earth's surface that erupts every few years and causes a minor problem that soon disappears. In fact, there are more than 100 active volcanoes that, for a short period, cause cooling of the earth's climate. They emit large quantities of sulphur dioxide, which reach to a high level in the upper atmosphere. That forms a screen that prevents the sun's rays from reaching the earth's surface, which causes a period of cooler weather.

Throughout the traceable history of the earth's surface, there have been minor alterations in the earth's weather. I am sure that the protagonists of global warming would have loved us to be having a boiling hot summer with water shortages. They would have said, "Ah ha, that is evidence of what we are warning you about". However, we are having a rather damp summer.

We demonise carbon dioxide, which is allegedly the greenhouse gas. However, the most important of the gases is water vapour. That is hardly mentioned because people cannot demonise the nice clean rain that falls from our skies. Carbon dioxide is a trace gas in our atmosphere, constituting fewer than 300 parts per million – or 0.0035 per cent. The substance is extremely valuable to plants and very soluble in oceans. If we want plants to grow more quickly, we give them extra carbon dioxide. Yet we attribute the perceived problems of global warming to that trace gas.

More than 200 scientists attended the Rio convention, of which 54 were Nobel prize-winners who wrote a dissenting report on this thesis. Their views are ignored because they do not reflect the populist mood, which is largely fueled, and certainly influenced, by pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. The views of those scientists do not happen to fit the pressure groups' vision of Utopia – of the earth preserved from the wickednesses of mankind.

Notice, too, that, whenever we speak about pollution, the United States is demonised. Localised pollution does exist; most of it is in eastern Europe, where people continue to use outdated technology and produce especially offensive smoke emissions, and where motor cars are old bangers, which are not being cleaned up as our cars are. All those factors are relevant to localised pollution, but I keep trying to put this in perspective. I repeat, not only is the United States a tiny part of the earth's surface, but the United Kingdom is even smaller. We make up less than 1 per cent. of the globe. Whatever industrial output we manage to produce in this country, we are infinitesimal compared with the enormity of the atmosphere that surrounds our earth, and the other factors involved in climatic change.

Nevertheless, localised climates can be improved, and undoubtedly our car industries have gone to great lengths to remove the particulates that come out of exhaust pipes and chimney pots in order to clean up their emissions, and have succeeded in reducing some of that CO2. Even though, in my view, the case is bogus, they are responding to public pressure.

The statistics on the quantity of CO2 before the industrial revolution are extremely dodgy. The best estimates, which were made around the 1840s, were about 300 ppm. Current estimates are around 350 ppm. If the pre-industrial revolution quantity is the equivalent of a drop in the ocean, the current quantity might be two drops in the ocean; such levels are still not great enough to cause serious problems. We divert our attention when we go off on the wrong tack; we should focus, as we do, on making our localised climates much cleaner, and on exporting technology to those third-world countries that can do something to improve the local climate. I have no objection to trying to make the world a nicer place in which to live; I am simply saying that, if we demonise the wrong things, we shall end up imposing on our industries expenses that will have a harmful effect on the people whom we represent.

I want to ensure that Ministers who go off to these conferences are well armed with a balanced view of the underlying science.

In the debate, as usual, the United States has been blamed for not taking enough notice of climate change. It is sceptical about the targets that we have set ourselves for CO 2 emissions. If we were to pursue the Kyoto target of a national reduction of 20 per cent. in a couple of years' time, or whenever it is, the expenses that would be imposed on our industries would make them seriously uncompetitive with those in third-world countries or eastern European countries – the former Soviet Union and China included – and for what? By making those changes at home, we shall have no effect on those countries' heavily polluted local climate. I put it to the House of Commons that it is our responsibility to take those points into consideration.

Before the industrial revolution, as uncleaned coal was the only domestic and industrial fuel, the atmosphere in our country was so polluted that the air was almost unbreathable. In the 17th century, John Evelyn, the well-known diarist, wrote a famous pamphlet about the smokes of London, called "Fumifugium: or the Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated".

We have cleaned things up enormously – we have done so even in our lifetime, and we are still doing it – but we must bear in mind the fact that, in imposing such targets on our industries, we could be causing them severe problems in remaining competitive in a world that does not take such a severe attitude to such substances.

I urge the Minister (Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions) – despite the fact that she has information from the international climate corporation, or whatever it is called, and other organisations – to take into account the fact that the United States and its scientific community are dealing with factual evidence, much of it produced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA is observing the atmosphere from outside the earth's immediate climate and reporting back to the United States Government. It is warning them that the targets that are being set at conferences on climate change, on the back of partly emotional pressure from the pressure groups and some scientific information, could seriously damage our wealth.

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