Talking Point: Climate clarity

Written by on 28 May 2014

Appearing at the Parliament’s Environment Committee, Owen Paterson was always likely to face some tricky questions.

The Secretary of State, described by George Monbiot as ‘the worst environment secretary this country has ever suffered’, is a man loathed by environmental campaigners.

Despite public opposition, Paterson supports fracking for shale gas. He was then accused of standing by as England flooded.

As if that wasn’t enough – he also turned on badgers, launching a baffling and ultimately doomed attempt to assassinate them.

As policies go, this was always going to be an unpopular one – after all, badgers are cuter than Tories. The plan risked turning him into the UK’s very own Cruella De Vil.

But most of the opposition to Paterson centres around claims that he is a climate change sceptic.

Last year Paterson asserted that the earth’s cycles have always moved in cycles – an argument which, although true, is closely associated with climate change deniers.

Under his stewardship, budgets for tackling climate change were cut by 41 per cent within 12 months.

It seems natural that a man charged with dealing with climate change should believe in it – and it is hard to imagine another government department with a similar problem.

There may be debate around Curriculum for Excellence, but Mike Russell definitely believes that schools exist.

But as well as raising questions over why David Cameron would appoint Paterson to that particular department, the story also raises another: Why is he referred to as a ‘suspected’ climate sceptic? The truth is, Paterson has never actually given a straight answer, one way or the other.

Imagine no one was sure if George Osborne believed in money. People call him many things, but the idea of describing Osborne as a ‘suspected’ advocate of the free market is laughable.

As Donald Rumsfeld, would put it: ‘There are known knowns, there are known unknowns, but there are also unknown unknowns’.

It is one thing for campaigners to accuse Paterson of wanting to frack for shale or to make himself a new fur coat from 101 dead badgers. But this is stranger. Paterson’s views on climate change are a ‘known unknown’. We do not know the Environment Secretary’s views on the environment, and in some ways that is worse than if he said he was a sceptic. 

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