Margaret Thatcher on Climate Change – The Lady Was for Turning

By Dr. John Happs

How many times have we heard or read that:

1. Margaret Thatcher had scientific training;
2. Margaret Thatcher was the food chemist who invented soft-serve ice cream;
3. Margaret Thatcher was always an ardent believer in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

The first claim is factual in that Thatcher (1925-2013) studied chemistry at the women’s Somerville College, Oxford. She specialised in X-ray crystallography and was later employed as a research chemist with BX Plastics in Essex.

The second claim has no substance. Thatcher did not invent soft-serve ice cream and this fake news came from her parliamentary opponents who invented that particular political metaphor by claiming she discovered soft-serve ice cream “by adding air, lowering quality and increasing profits.”

But what of the third claim, often promoted by climate alarmists, that Thatcher was always a believer in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming?

That claim is completely false although there are climate alarmists, such as Club of Rome member Ian Dunlop, who will push that particular fake news for their own benefit.

Without any empirical evidence, Dunlop opined:

Climate change is occurring fast and extensively, largely caused by human carbon emissions, with increasing evidence that extremely dangerous “tipping points” in the Arctic, Antarctic, the oceans and elsewhere are being activated, probably irreversibly.”

Dunlop went on to say:

You may not agree with Margaret Thatcher on many things, but on climate change she was spot on.”

Indeed she was spot on, but not in the way Dunlop imagined and most likely hoped for.

Another promoter of the “Thatcher always believed in catastrophic anthropomorphic global warming” myth is political commentator Paul Bongiorno who said (Radio National, 9th April, 2013) that:

She (Thatcher) was convinced of the science of global warming.”

Except that Bongiorno didn’t bother to find out (or ignored) the fact that Thatcher initially trusted the UN and the IPCC (like so many Australian politicians still do) but later looked closely at the science and the machinations of the political/ideological IPCC and completely changed her mind.

It’s such a pity that climate alarmists Dunlop and Bongiorno (and many others) appear incapable of doing the same.

Margaret Thatcher’s career as a chemist was short-lived since her real ambition was in law. From 1954 she practiced as a barrister,¬†specializing in taxation law and then, by natural progression, she moved into politics.

It is generally acknowledged that lawyers represent the laval stage in the politician’s life-cycle and so Margaret Thatcher abandoned her legal career and entered parliament. ¬†She was Secretary of State for Education and Science in Edward Heath’s Conservative government, from 1970 until 1974,¬†eventually becoming UK Prime Minister in 1979 until 1990.

There is little doubt that Thatcher Initially promoted climate alarmism but the question must be asked – why did she do this, only to reject such alarmism at a later stage?

In the same way that some politicians, green activists and other vested interest groups promote climate alarmism for their own ends, Thatcher accepted the climate alarmism promoted by some influential scientists and some of her advisers. She saw both opportunity and reason to neutralise the stop-work disruptions by the nation’s coal miners, then controlled by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leader Arthur Scargill who boasted:

All too often miners, and indeed other trade unionists, underestimate the economic strength they have.”

And they certainly exerted that strength under the leadership of Scargill. They brought economic pressure to bear on the UK Government and the whole economy through strike action that had brought down the previous government.

The coal miner strike of 1984-85 was the last straw for Margaret Thatcher. She was determined to subdue the power of the NUM which, at its peak, employed over 1 million workers. Industry in the UK was dependent on coal and it seemed that more strikes would inevitably lead to restrictions on coal output, thus bringing the British economy to a halt.

Thanks to Arthur Scargill the striking miners were pricing themselves out of the energy market and inadvertently bringing about a dramatic change in the UK’s energy base.

The 1960’s had already seen the UK finding less expensive and plentiful energy sources such as North Sea gas and oil and nuclear power. Diesel and electric engines were replacing steam locomotives. Coal, when required, could be imported more cheaply from overseas and the Clean Air Act of 1956, introduced after the Great Smog of London in 1952, was bringing about cleaner sources of home heating.

Margaret Thatcher seized the opportunity to shut down the power of the NUM by demonizing carbon dioxide emissions saying they were the principal driver of global warming with dire consequences for the environment. She wanted to move away from the extensive use of coal and that certainly happened. One after the other, coal mines across the UK were closed down.

Nigel Lawson, when Secretary of State for Energy, indicated that while Margaret Thatcher promoted the carbon dioxide emissions-global warming link, her real motive was to subdue the coal-mining union and lend her support to the nuclear power industry that offered a clean energy replacement for coal. Lawson observed:

She felt Britain should not be so dependent on coal. She was in favour of building up nuclear energy to break the dependence on coal and the main opposition to nuclear came from the environment movement. Mrs Thatcher thought she could trap them with the carbon emissions argument.”

Thatcher’s initial belief in carbon dioxide-driven global warming was likely genuine. It was promoted by Sir Crispin Tickell, who incidentally had been warning the government in the 1970’s (incorrectly) about global cooling.

History graduate Tickell had jumped off the global cooling bandwagon of the 1970’s on to the more fashionable global warming bandwagon. He was joined by the head of the UK Met. Office Dr. John Houghton, co-chair of the IPCC’s scientific assessment working group and Lead Editor of the first 3 IPCC reports.

On the 28th July, 2003 Houghton wrote in The Guardian:

Our long-term security is threatened by a problem at least as dangerous as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism: human-induced climate change.”

Interestingly, Houghton is President of the John Ray Initiative that links environment and Christianity. Houghton has compared the stewardship of the Earth with the stewardship of the Garden of Eden. He told the Sunday Telegraph that God may induce man to mend his ways with a disaster and: “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

Margaret Thatcher was initially persuaded by Houghton and Tickell. They pointed to evidence given to the US Senate by environmental activist Dr. James Hansen (now retired) from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). It wasn’t appreciated at the time how contrived Hansen’s testimony was and how questionable were the following 3 main points in his testimony:

1. The Earth was warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements;
2. Global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship to the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide;
3. The consequences are already large enough to begin to affect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.

Thatcher seized the opportunity to condemn coal and its emissions on environmental grounds. She injected money into the Hadley Centre that was linked with the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), the repository of global terrestrial temperature records. The CRU was later to become the centre of the notorious “Climategate” scandal of 2009 that provided clear evidence that some climate scientists were behaving very badly.

To further promote climate alarmism via the imaginary carbon dioxide-global warming link, Thatcher gave large amounts of taxpayer money to the UK’s National Academy of Science, asking them to produce “science” that would further raise public concern about the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming.

Surely, I hear you say, no reputable scientific institution would do that just for money?

csiro cartoon

Encouraged by Tickell and Houghton, Margaret Thatcher gave a speech at the 2nd World Climate Conference (November 6th, 1990). She warned of the threat of anthropogenic global warming and the importance of the findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She said:

But the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”


I want to pay tribute to the important work which the United Nations has done to advance our understanding of climate change, and in particular the risks of global warming. Dr. Tolba and Professor Obasi deserve our particular thanks for their far-sighted initiative in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

But even then Margaret Thatcher urged caution, saying:

Of course, much more research is needed. We don’t yet know all the answers. Some major uncertainties and doubts remain. No-one can yet say with certainty that it is human activities which have caused the apparent increase in global average temperatures. The IPCC report is very careful on this point. For instance, the total amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere each year from natural sources is some 600 billion tonnes, while the figure resulting from human activities is only 26 billion tonnes. In relative terms that is not very significant.

Her caution was well founded. Unlike the many politicians who had embraced the anthropogenic global warming mantra and those who stood to gain financially from climate alarmism, Margaret Thatcher later did her homework. She looked at the lack of empirical evidence for anthropogenic global warming. She also looked closely at the modus operandi of the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as noted in her book Statecraft published by Harper Perennial in 2003:

statecraft cover

Thatcher realized that the IPCC made clear there was never any serious intention to consider factors other than human emissions of carbon dioxide as the principal driver of climate change.

She also realized that the IPCC’s claim that human activity is contributing significantly to global warming and that the claim was backed by more than 4,000 scientists was obviously false.

Additionally, she realized that the IPCC was always about ideology and wealth distribution rather than acquiring a real understanding of climate science and that the goal of the UN was central control with efforts to exert that control over Britain. She wrote:

… that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked on will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era. And that Britain, with her traditional strengths and global destiny, should ever have become part of it will appear a political error of the first magnitude.”

In her book, under the heading “Hot Air and Global Warming”, Margaret Thatcher clearly showed she was aware that carbon dioxide is not a key driver of global temperature and that a number of natural factors, such as solar activity, are more likely to play key roles. She criticized Al Gore’s alarmism about melting ice sheets and rising sea levels, pointing out that the Medieval Warm Period was significantly warmer than current global temperatures and that an equivalent warming episode today would be wholly beneficial for all life-forms.

Thatcher argued that the distortion of science by the IPCC was being used to advance an anti-capitalist, left-wing political agenda, which inevitably threatens any nation’s growth, progress and prosperity.

She was explicit in her book Statecraft:

Kyoto was an anti-growth, anti-capitalist, anti-American project which no American leader alert to his country’s national interests could have supported.”

Thatcher came to the firmly held belief that the IPCC is not a trustworthy independent source of information on climate change. She saw it as a political/ideological branch of the United Nations and that it had abused science since its inception in 1988 in order to promote an anti-capitalist, anti-growth socialist agenda.

Ignoring Margaret Thatcher’s warnings about the UN and the IPCC, other UK Prime Ministers scented the breeze of uninformed public opinion and, for their own ends, made foolish predictions about climate catastrophe. In 2009 the UK’s Prime Minister (2007-2010) Gordon Brown said the world faces “catastrophe” if action is not agreed at the UN climate summit in December (2009):

We have fewer than 50 days to save our planet from catastrophe.”

The UK’s next Prime Minister David Cameron (2010-2016) took up the climate alarmist call and identified climate change as a core government issue and such alarmism, based essentially on junk science led to the UK introducing energy and climate policies that have resulted in rising energy costs with millions of UK households facing “fuel poverty” along with the possibility that energy intensive industries would quit the UK leaving thousands of people unemployed.

Fortunately, not all politicians have completely swallowed the global warming/climate change nonsense. Canada’s former Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t fooled. He said:

“Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.”

Sammy Wilson, as Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister, wasn’t fooled either. He said:

I don’t think that there is any firm evidence to show that all climate change is due to CO2 emissions. I think we have to make sure we do not allow the agenda for NI to be dominated by the people who can sometimes be described as green fanatics.”

Few people realize that Margaret Thatcher helped to promote the anthropogenic global warming scare and fewer still realize that she later made a complete U-turn once she came to appreciate that she was witnessing what is arguably the biggest fraud in the history of science.

On a lighter note, consider another piece of fake news about Margaret Thatcher and climate change.

Thatcher was trying to convince a number of journalists that the whole fabric of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming was a piece of UN nonsense, completely lacking any empirical evidence.

She took the journalists to lunch and attempted to show them why climate alarmism was without any scientific foundation and what the UN/IPCC goals really were.

The journalists simply wouldn’t listen to facts or reason so Thatcher gave up and decided they would just eat lunch. She beckoned the waiter who came over to their table and asked:

Would you like the fish or the steak Madam?”

Margaret Thatcher replied:

I’ll have the fish thank you.”

The waiter responded:

And what about the vegetables?’

Thatcher replied:

They’ll have the fish too.”

Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.

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