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Only a few weeks ago we saw conservative environmentalists evoking the ghost of Ronald Reagan to make the case for strong action on climate change. Now climate skeptics are getting in on the act, co-opting Reagan's ally Margaret Thatcher as a key voice of climate skepticism. The trouble is, Thatcher's legacy on climate change is muddled to say the least.As reported by Bob Ward in The Guardian, Lord Monckton (yes, the same Lord Monckton whose climate "science" presentation has been thoroughly debunked piece-by-piece, and source-by-source), is now claiming Margaret Thatcher as a key voice for climate skepticism.
As Ward points out, there was a time when Thatcher was seen as a champion of climate science - shocking the UN in the 1980s with a call to to action on man-made global warming. However, she has since recanted many of her positions, and adopted an increasingly skeptical stance. The only trouble is, while she had previously looked to established scientific authorities and peer reviewed literature for counsel, her new found skepticism seems to come courtesy of more politicized sources—as evidenced in her book Statecraft:
"At the start of the book's passage on Hot air and global warming, she notes that there is "a vast amount of highly technical material on these matters" but points out that "thankfully, the issues have been clearly analysed and debated by scholars in the United States" before providing a long list of publications by "free market" lobby groups, such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
In her description of the science, the former prime minister draws heavily on a pamphlet called A plain English guide to climate change which was published in December 1997 by the Reason Foundation, another lobby group that the following year received $70,000 from Exxon to "assess public policy alternatives on issues with direct bearing on the company's business operations and interests"."
It's this politicization of the debate, argues Ward, that makes climate science such a tricky subject. Increasingly, the public appears to be "picking sides", not based on a thorough understanding, or even a cursory read, of the scientific literature, but rather whether you happen to find Al Gore or Margaret Thatcher more believable. (Yes, I do think the environmental movement does hold some responsibility for this—Al Gore may have done a lot to raise awareness, but making him the poster child of the issue may not have been the smartest move...)
As to what can be done about this polarization, your guess is as good as mine. But one thing is certain, I'm always going to weight the opinion of the vast majority of scientists working in the field higher than I am either Maggie Thatcher, Al Gore, or George Monbiot for that matter. Call that an appeal to authority if you will, I call it due respect for expertise and the scientific process.