Conspiracy theory? That'll be the deniers

Climate-change denial makes sense only as a conspiracy theory

Some good news at last.

Nick Griffin is a climate-change denier, and will be representing the European Parliament in Copenhagen. Griffin's involvement exposes the "sceptic" fringe for what it is: a reactionary movement of the political far right.

Griffin's take on the subject expresses the reactionary paranoia these "sceptics" share. "The anti-western intellectual cranks of the left suffered a collective breakdown when communism collapsed," he fulminated in a parliamentary speech recently. "Climate change is their new theology . . . used to impose an anti-human utopia as deadly as anything conceived by Stalin or Mao."

I doubt that there is much actual overlap between the anti-immigration, old working-class constituency of the British National Party and the anti-environmental crowd. But in their underlying psychological motivations the two philosophies have a great deal in common. Both are backward-looking: for Griffin, the idealised past was an all-white country populated exclusively by "indigenous" Britons, while, for climate deniers, the past represents an era where the pleasures of flying or driving came with no moral guilt attached and market-driven consumerism would satisfy all of life's desires.

The climate denial movement has been enjoying something of an upsurge in the past couple of years. The illegal hacking of University of East Anglia emails, however, was a PR masterstroke: now the very basis of climate science itself could be attacked, through the wide dissemination of vaguely incriminating-sounding emails cherry-picked from ten years' worth of private correspondence. The emails were a gift to conspiracy theorists: here, it seemed, was real evidence of scientific conniving, if not outright fraud.

The truth is different. The "Mike's Nature trick" to "hide the decline" email was written ten years ago, and referred to dropping post-1960 data from the tree-ring record which was known to be incorrect. The furore about keeping two sceptic papers out of the IPCC was pointless - they were both in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. None of this says anything about the surface temperature measurements, on which much of our knowledge of global warming is based. It is unjust that Professor Phil Jones has had to resign from his position while an investigation is held - the facts are already clear.

The "Climategate" furore emphasises what has been obvious for some time: battles over the "science" of climate change are nothing of the sort, but a proxy for ideological warfare over the harm that emissions cuts might do to established interests. Climate-change denial makes sense only as a conspiracy theory: how else can the opinions of thousands of scientists and academic institutions be so casually dismissed? Only if all are involved in a complex fraud, presumably to extort grants from gullible governments in cahoots with the UN and other left-wing forces, to the detriment of unfortunates such as ExxonMobil and Peabody.

The important thing for rational people to understand is that people are irrational - and that the unwelcome message of imminent austerity that climate activists and politicians are selling to the public is pushing otherwise decent people towards belief in the most ludicrous conspiracy theory since the claimed "faking" of the moon landings. Surely it doesn't have to be this way.

Mark Lynas has is an environmental activist and a climate change specialist. His books on the subject include High Tide: News from a warming world and Six Degree: Our future on a hotter planet.

This article first appeared in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus