Sir John Houghton was Chairman of the Scientific Assessment Panel of the IPCC, 1988/2002, and he has a letter in today’s Sunday Telegraph.
He complains that he has been widely misquoted. The alleged quote “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen” has appeared in numerous references over a number of years (try Googling it), but it seems that Sir John has only recently taken umbrage.
I have to put my hands up. I quoted him too, in my book “Cool Thinking on Climate Change”, and I admit that the quote had been used so often, and apparently unchallenged, that I took it for granted and used it myself without going back to the source. Indeed I quoted the source used in another book. And when Sir John issued his denial, frankly I wasn’t prepared to read the whole of his book from which the quote was claimed to come. It seemed easier simply to apologise. So I did.
Here the matter might have rested, but for two professors, John Adams and Philip Scott. Adams had retained a very full archive of materials on the climate debate. Stott runs an excellent blog. Adams discovered an interview clipping from the Sunday Telegraph of Sept 10th 1995. Stott put it on his blog, at http://is.gd/8Rqqm . In it Sir John is quoted as saying “God tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved; the effects would be the same. If we are to have a good environmental policy in the future, we will have to have a disaster”. So let’s be clear: Sir John believes that we need disasters to convince the public about climate change. He also seems to think that global warming is God’s punishment for man’s sin. (I wonder if he takes the same view of the floods in Pakistan?).
Sir John now protests that he said “If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we’ll have to have a disaster”. Indeed he did, though he doesn’t repeat the very eccentric religious allusions, I notice.
So he denies the often-used quote, but admits to words that to all intents and purposes mean the same thing. We have here a distinction without a difference. So Sir John: I am happy to apologise for getting the detail wrong, but I absolutely withdraw any apology for the sense.