The secretary for the environment Liz Truss was taken apart by Andrew Neil on yesterdays’ Sunday Politics over climate change policy, having to fall back on the stock answer “we know warming is taking place” five times during the course of the interview.
During another exchange, when questioned on the role of gas in the energy mix considering the government’s target to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050, she lamely countered “gas is going to run out anyway”, apparently oblivious to the folly of setting policy for an eventuality likely to be many decades away.
With surgical precision, Neil challenged her first on whether Truss agreed that a “green blob of unelected busybodies” profited handsomely “from promoting the green agenda” environmental policy. Truss skirted the question, arguing that the environmental debate should be opened up at is important to all of us “whether we have clean air to breath, clean water to drink; whether we go to the beach at the weekend.
“The public are interested in trees and forestry, they’re interested in bees, interested in water quality,” she insisted.
Neil then enquired whether Truss agreed with her predecessor Owen Patterson that climate change forecasts had been “consistently and widely exaggerated”. It was here that Truss floundered, repeating “we have seen warming taking place” five times. Neil shot back “That’s not what I’m asking you,” before pushing on with “Do you think it’s significant that average global temperatures have not increased for 18 years?” Again, Truss prevaricated, insisting that warming is taking place and that her scientific advisors were “very clear” about that. “My role as environment secretary is to ensure that we adapt to those changes,” she said.
As regards the current legally binding target of reducing emissions by 80 percent on 1990 levels by 2050, Neil asked whether Truss accepted that that meant a complete decarbonisation of fuels, which could only be achieved “by abolishing gas for heating and cooking in the home”.
“Well, gas is going to run out anyway,” Truss pleaded. “Gas prices are plummeting,” Neil retorted. She was forced to fall back on the fact that gas has half the emissions of coal, suggesting that new technologies might fill that gap within the next decade. She then distanced the government from wind power, pointing to solar power and carbon capture as an alternatives.
This is not the first time that Neil has taken down a minister over climate change policy. In July last year he grilled energy minister Ed Davey on the subject, again pointing out that there has been no warming for well over a decade. His use of a graph illustrating this fact was lambasted by Californian environmentalist Dana Nuccitelli, who wrote on the Guardian’s ‘Climate Consensus‘ blog that evidence of no warming “should be totally disregarded and thrown out”.
“Throughout the show Neil focused only on the bits of evidence that seemed to support his position. He focused exclusively on the slowed global surface warming while ignoring the warming oceans, melting ice, and rising sea levels. He focused on and exaggerated the costs of climate policy while ignoring their benefits… True skepticism requires considering all the available evidence, not just that which seems to support your desired conclusion,” Nuccitelli concluded.
However, Neil took to the BBC blog to answer his critics in a comprehensive rebuttal, saying “This is partly right. We did come at Mr Davey with a particular set of evidence, which was well-sourced from mainstream climate science. But it was nothing to do with advocating a “position”. First, the Sunday Politics does not have a position on any of the subjects on which it interrogates people. Second, it is the job of the interviewer to assemble evidence from authoritative sources which best challenge the position of the interviewee. It is for viewers to decide how well the interviewee’s position holds up under scrutiny and the strength of the contrary evidence or points put to him or her.
“Mr Davey said in his interview that we should not concentrate just on land temperatures, but look at what was happening to ocean temperatures and the polar ice melt for evidence that global warming was continuing unabated. A reasonable point. But in a 15-minute interview we wanted to stick with the metric that most viewers would understand.
“At the Sunday Politics we are also used to public figures who try to change the metric when the one they’ve put their faith in does not behave as expected. We try not to let that happen. Moreover, the purpose of the interview was not to question all aspects of climate science, just the one metric that has commanded most attention. Other possible indicators of climate change – ice melt, ocean temperatures and extreme weather events – are a matter of widespread debate in which the science most certainly is not “settled”.”