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Was Margaret Thatcher the first climate sceptic?

August 17, 2018

By Paul Homewood


As we know, Michael Howard claimed in the Mail this week that Margaret Thatcher warned of the dangers of global warming 30 years ago. However, he fails to tell the whole story, which Christopher Booker revealed in 2010:


A persistent claim made by believers in man-made global warming – they were at it again last week – is that no politician was more influential in launching the worldwide alarm over climate change than Margaret Thatcher. David Cameron, so the argument runs, is simply following in her footsteps by committing the Tory party to its present belief in the dangers of global warming, and thus showing himself in this respect, if few others, to be a loyal Thatcherite.

The truth behind this story is much more interesting than is generally realised, not least because it has a fascinating twist. Certainly, Mrs Thatcher was the first world leader to voice alarm over global warming, back in 1988, With her scientific background, she had fallen under the spell of Sir Crispin Tickell, then our man at the UN. In the 1970s, he had written a book warning that the world was cooling, but he had since become an ardent convert to the belief that it was warming, Under his influence, as she recorded in her memoirs, she made a series of speeches, in Britain and to world bodies, calling for urgent international action, and citing evidence given to the US Senate by the arch-alarmist Jim Hansen, head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

She found equally persuasive the views of a third prominent convert to the cause, Dr John Houghton, then head of the UK Met Office. She backed him in the setting up of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, and promised the Met Office lavish funding for its Hadley Centre, which she opened in 1990, as a world authority on "human-induced climate change".

Hadley then linked up with East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to become custodians of the most prestigious of the world’s surface temperature records (alongside another compiled by Dr Hansen). This became the central nexus of influence driving a worldwide scare over global warming; and so it remains to this day – not least thanks to the key role of Houghton (now Sir John) in shaping the first three mammoth reports which established the IPCC’s unequalled authority on the subject.

In bringing this about, Mrs Thatcher played an important part. It is not widely appreciated, however, that there was a dramatic twist to her story. In 2003, towards the end of her last book, Statecraft, in a passage headed "Hot Air and Global Warming", she issued what amounts to an almost complete recantation of her earlier views.

She voiced precisely the fundamental doubts about the warming scare that have since become familiar to us. Pouring scorn on the "doomsters", she questioned the main scientific assumptions used to drive the scare, from the conviction that the chief force shaping world climate is CO2, rather than natural factors such as solar activity, to exaggerated claims about rising sea levels. She mocked Al Gore and the futility of "costly and economically damaging" schemes to reduce CO2 emissions. She cited the 2.5C rise in temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period as having had almost entirely beneficial effects. She pointed out that the dangers of a world getting colder are far worse than those of a CO2-enriched world growing warmer. She recognised how distortions of the science had been used to mask an anti-capitalist, Left-wing political agenda which posed a serious threat to the progress and prosperity of mankind.

In other words, long before it became fashionable, Lady Thatcher was converted to the view of those who, on both scientific and political grounds, are profoundly sceptical of the climate change ideology. Alas, what she set in train earlier continues to exercise its baleful influence to this day. But the fact that she became one of the first and most prominent of "climate sceptics" has been almost entirely buried from view.

  1. August 17, 2018 7:40 pm

    Dellers also covers this:

    “Delingpole: Margaret Thatcher Would Have Backed Trump on Climate”

    “”The Daily Mail has published a rubbish piece by Michael Howard, former leader of Britain’s Conservative party, attacking Donald Trump, claiming that man-made global warming is real and that Margaret Thatcher was a true believer.”

  2. Joe Public permalink
    August 17, 2018 7:41 pm

    But she did perhaps most to improve our air quality, by removing our previous utter dependence upon coal-fired power generation.

    A true environmentalist!

  3. HotScot permalink
    August 17, 2018 7:56 pm

    Good old Maggie. Not perfect by any means but she was up there with Churchill as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Colin Brooks permalink
    August 17, 2018 8:45 pm

    Good and accurate report (as usual) by Paul but I do not agree that Cameron followed Thatcher on global warming, he followed his over inflated ego into virtue signalling on a massive scale.

    • Ian Magness permalink
      August 17, 2018 9:50 pm

      Absolutely Colin.
      And there is also no conceivable way that Michael Howard didn’t know that Maggie turned against AGW.
      There is more than an element of dishonesty about this.

      • John189 permalink
        August 18, 2018 1:49 am

        Indeed there was a basic dishonesty in Howard’s piece in the Daily Mail, namely the comparison of the relatively local phenomenon of the 1976 heatwave with the European heatwave this year. As a comparator 1976 is irrelevant. Look instead at 2003 and 1920.

    • August 18, 2018 12:09 pm

      I think that Cameron was mainly motivated by turning “the nasty party” into something else. He was later keen on cutting the green cr*p, when electricity bills went stratospheric.

  5. Ian George permalink
    August 17, 2018 10:14 pm

    Didn’t she use ‘global warming’ meme to break the coal unions?

    • Athelstan permalink
      August 17, 2018 11:20 pm

      There were a number of things going on in the 70s & 80s, the ‘Three Mile Island incident’ and then the Cernobyl failure probably did for UK nuclear power and the acid rain and looking for any excuse to shut the mines down – suddenly ‘global warming’ grew wings and soared and then Maurice Strong saw the possiblities as did our political class with €£$ – in their eyes and the scam really took off!

  6. August 17, 2018 11:14 pm

    The tactic of converting Thatcher to global warming/climate change belief after her death is a fine example of what Dr. Lindzen called “Global Warming Revisionism”, by which skeptical positions of prominent people are altered after they are dead. This article tells what went on to subvert and cripple climate science in support of the noble cause.

    My synopsis is at

    • James Delingpole permalink
      August 18, 2018 10:23 am

      Thanks very much for drawing our attention to the brilliant Lindzen piece, Ron

  7. DaveR permalink
    August 18, 2018 6:01 am

    Houghton and Tickell, too.

  8. MrGrimNasty permalink
    August 18, 2018 8:26 am

    O/T but……….

    The BBC news is India floods – ‘worst’ in 100 years – climate change attribution imminent.

    Pages of results for nearly every few years – I’d love to know how they qualify ‘worst’.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 18, 2018 8:34 am

      Reading more, it seems ‘worst in 100 years’ is actually the anecdotal opinion of one official referring to one state, which the BBC then uses to give the reader/listener the impression that it is a matter of fact that the whole of India has a 100 year flood.

    • August 18, 2018 8:44 am

      Matt Frei on Channel 4 News said the flooding was the worst in 100 years and in the next sentence said it was unprecedented. You couldn’t make it up!

      • Martin Howard Keith Brumby permalink
        August 18, 2018 10:53 am

        Well, last night BBC News at 10 inadvertently let the cat out of the bag.

        Whilst the local girl correspondent was waxing lyrical at how dreadful and unprecedented the monsoon & flooding was, it slipped out that the monsoon was so heavy that the authorities had been forced to “open the flood gates” of a dam (or maybe more than one dam?”


        Just like 2011 Brisbane in fact.
        “Releases from Wivenhoe Dam raised water levels in the Brisbane River by up to 10 metres during January’s flood, a panel of independent hydrologists has found.”

        I wonder also whether the inept Communist State Government had prepared a proper plan and had an evacuation scheme in place?
        Lots of useful information here:-

        Of course, none of the above lessens the sympathy we must have for the countless poor sods who have had to somehow cope with this disaster (or die trying), no doubt whilst their toasty dry Beloved Leaders were mulling over their latest Ruinable Energy scheme and how much Baksheesh they might pick up from the promoters…

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 18, 2018 12:26 pm

        Speaking of CH4 being as bad as the BBC these days, tonight we have more propaganda.

        “Saving Planet Earth: Fixing a Hole” – The story of how we defeated the first great man-made threat to our planet’s environment: the hole in the ozone layer.

        Here we go again with the same old lie. First it was claimed fixed, then it wasn’t – got bigger than ever, then it showed statistical evidence that it would start to fix, then the latest – the Chinese have been illegally using CFCs to blow insulation so OUR houses can meet ‘green’ energy limits – and it’s unfixing again.

        The fact is nobody knows if the hole is natural or man-made or fixed or bust completely.

        But it makes a good narrative – if only you would trust the eco-extremist activist scientists, the ‘experts’, and allow fascist socialist global governance, we can fix climate change too.

        Just like they try to make the false analogy between the smoking industry and “Exxon knew” etc.

    • dennisambler permalink
      August 18, 2018 11:23 am

      The Hindu has a very informative article on the flooding and the issues such as dam release, increased population on a flood plain extra and not a mention of “global warming”, as typified by their title:

      “Trial by water: How Kerala is coping with an extraordinary natural disaster”

  9. August 18, 2018 12:19 pm

    Some interesting history of the early years, including Mrs T, from Richard Courtney:

  10. Harry Passfield permalink
    August 18, 2018 1:19 pm

    Bit O/T, but in case anyone gets the Telegraph on Saturday there’s a great piece of nonsense from Lucy Mangan extolling the virtues of the off-shore wind-farms she saw in Norfolk: their beauty etc and the fact that the energy from them was FREE!!! (It’s wind, innit).

    • dave permalink
      August 18, 2018 2:11 pm

      All this propaganda comes under the heading of “creating a general impression.”

      The statistician Francis Galton, wrote:

      “General impressions are never to be trusted.”

  11. Dave Gardner permalink
    August 18, 2018 3:18 pm

    I’ve got a feeling that a sneaky politician like Michael Howard, if he was pushed to explain it, would try to dismiss the Statecraft book of 2003 as being written by someone possibly suffering from dementia. I noticed John Major using that trick in an article a few months ago, where he claimed that the criticism he was receiving from Margaret Thatcher when he was PM from 1990 to 1997 was due to her suffering from dementia:

    • dave permalink
      August 19, 2018 3:38 pm

      “…from 1990 to 1997…”

      According to her aides, mental deterioration did not happen until the end of 1996 – when it was rather sudden. Perhaps she had a mini-stroke

      As for the book written in 2003, that is much later, and after she had definite mini-strokes.

  12. Roy Lewis permalink
    August 18, 2018 4:51 pm

    Maggie’s hate for the powerful union which controlled the coal industry was her driving force in the early years and unfortunately she overplayed it and played into the hands of the warming brigade and now we are living to regret it. We gobbled up all our natural gas to free us from coal dependency, chickens coming home to roost

  13. saparonia permalink
    August 19, 2018 2:35 pm

    During the infamous miner’s strikes, I lived in a mining village in South Yorkshire. I had recently separated from my husband and was placed on benefits in a comparatively rough area. I admit that I totally hated Margaret Thatcher because of the poverty she imposed onto people in my situation. I saw first hand the struggles, and was looked after by, neighbours who were mining families as if I was one of their own.
    I recall my feeling of dread when, after she had already stopped free milk in schools in her previous position, she was voted in as Prime Minister.

    Now I am aware of the other side, I have to say that I can see the bigger picture and have great respect for her. I have been following the Armstrong Economics blog for some time and read there that one of the things Thatcher did was to predict that joining Europe was a Federal Europe by the back door. Even now May is trying to hoodwink us into keeping that chain around our necks despite more than serious problems with the Euro.

    I am not surprised that Thatcher has once again been blamed for a situation that she foresaw and was ultimately beyond her control. What amazes me is that so many people don’t research or take responsibility for their own mistakes in judgement.

    I didn’t know that she had been instrumental in the ridiculous scam of global warming. I do know that if we have any change coming then it is going to be catastrophic unless these people jumping on the bandwagon don’t take stock of their responsibilities. As I’ve said before many times on these posts, the long term and naturally occurring symptoms labelled as “global warming” are preludes to a drastic drop in temperatures of the Northern hemisphere.

  14. Dave Gardner permalink
    August 21, 2018 1:12 pm

    This use of Margaret Thatcher as an authority figure for global warming, without acknowledging her substantial change of opinion on the issue years later, isn’t just limited to Michael Howard. Green-leaning Conservative politicians in the UK have been doing this for years.

    An example from earlier this year was Nicholas Soames, who wrote this article in the form of an open letter to Donald Trump:

    In the article Soames criticises Trump for his attitude to the environment. He includes the unverifiable claim that his grandfather, Winston Churchill, would have been a ‘climate leader’, and he also tries to make use of Thatcher as an authority figure.

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