I was once at a dinner at which HRH Prince Charles was the honoured guest, and he talked after dinner about urban design and architecture generally, on which he had strong views. I knew enough about the subject to recognise that there were alternative views that could be well supported, and wondered why HRH had not referred to them.
It struck me then that he might be one of those for whom the opinions came first, with the evidence being used to support the opinion — rather than the opinion’s growing out of a sustained study of the evidence. Of course, he is not alone there. All of us do that from time to time, having gobbets of evidence that we can produce on demand to sustain the opinion we have, whatever it is.
In Prince Charles’s case it might also be possible that no one ever really argues with him, because it might be considered quite rude and disrespectful to do so. I can recall other subjects on which he has spoken where his view seemed to be delivered ex cathedra, as it were — as a given, rather than as a proposition that might be argued with in discussion.
And he has done it again in the last few days, speaking to an audience in London like this: It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science. All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence. So, thank goodness for our young entrepreneurs here, who have the far-sightedness and confidence in what they know is happening to ignore the headless chicken brigade and do something practical to help.
So far as I can tell, these were classic off-the-cuff remarks, and were not supported by any examples, evidence or data. Indeed, he also told the audience that I have tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off for pointing out what has always been blindingly obvious to me.
I think there’s a real clue in the phrase ‘blindingly obvious to me’. In fact ‘climate change’ can’t be blindingly obvious to anyone, because climate is the long-term average of weather. Whether the global climate is changing in any significant way is not even clear, let alone the extent to which any change is due to human activities of various kinds. What Prince Charles seem to be saying is that if something is obvious to him, then those who disagree with him are powerful intimidators who ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence.
With all due respect to the heir to the throne, this can only be described as rubbish. The only intimidation I have been able to discern, over the last few years, is the description of sceptics as ‘deniers’. The supposed ‘death threats’ to climate scientists turned out to be nothing of the kind. What on earth can he mean by ‘a barrage of sheer intimidation’? Where and when did this barrage occur? At whom was it directed?
And who belongs to these ‘powerful groups of deniers’? To the best of my knowledge, again, those who disagree with the AGW orthodoxy are not organised at all. The closest I get to a group is an occasional lunch with a bunch of retired scientists, medicos and servicemen whose principal link is that they share a common view that the AGW scare has been grossly overdone. Yes, there is the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, and the Heartland Institute in the US, but to describe these as ‘powerful’ is ludicrous. They seem to exist on the smell of an oily rag, unlike Greenpeace and the WWF, which have substantial financial resources and a privileged position in the IPCC business.
Finally, the use of the phrase ‘overwhelming scientific evidence’ says it all. HRH doesn’t really have a clue about the nature of the evidence, which is certainly large, but not at all overwhelming. To almost any question about the earth’s climate the best current answers are uncertain. Has the planet warmed over the last century? Probably. Is this warming unprecedented in human experience? Probably not. Is the warming going on at the moment? Not really. How much of it has been due to human activities like burning fossil fuels, making cement and clearing land? Some, but probably not much. Should we be really worried about what is going to happen in terms of climate? Probably not.
If Prince Charles can show me that there is in fact much more certainty than this, based on good argument and good evidence, I will refrain from assuming that ‘the heedless chicken brigade’ remark applies much more surely to HRH and those who talk like him, than it does to anyone else.