This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Environmental advocacy groups strive to influence government. In 2006 a senior WWF executive simultaneously became chairman of a UK government body. Meet the Defence Ministry’s idea of propriety.
Steven Goddard, over at his RealScience blog, has unearthed a textbook example of the dubious means by which journalists have convinced us there’s a climate crisis. Headlined Skiing is ‘doomed’…so enjoy it while it lasts, this article was published in a Scottish newspaper in February 2009.
It quotes a gent named Alex Hill, “the chief government adviser with the Met Office.” Met stands for meteorological. In the UK, the Met Office is the government’s weather forecasting service, and forms part of the Ministry of Defence. These days it isn’t a popular institution. It’s getting clobbered for erroneous long-term forecasts – and for denying that it published certain forecasts at all (see here, here and here).
Hill, the Met man, is described as “a leading climate expert.” But my research has located no information regarding his scientific credentials. We know he spent much of his career as a television weather forecaster. Here you can see him in a 2009 photograph, accompanied by this comment:
…although it has been 14 years since Alex was a TV weatherman, the star struck amongst the attendees insisted on getting their photo taken with him. Fame is indeed everlasting!
According to the publicly-available version of his LinkedIn profile, Hill served as head of the London Weather Centre between 1997 and 2002 before moving to his current position. Two other bios are available online. One is here. Another, associated with a presentation he gave at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, is two sentences long:
Alex is the Met Office’s chief advisor to government in Scotland and Northern Ireland and is based in Edinburgh. He was previously head of the Met Office in London and presented television weather forecasts for a number of years.
Despite the academic setting, no mention is made of Hill’s own academic credentials. Indeed, none of the three available bios discuss his qualifications – although one of them does say he attended Strathclyde University. Nor is there any indication that Hill has written research papers.
In other words, after what appears to have been a lengthy stint as a television weather announcer, Hill became a full-fledged civil servant. There’s nothing wrong with that. But these facts do not begin to support the claim that he is a leading climate expert. Yet that’s how journalist Jenny Haworth described him.
According to Haworth, Hill believes Scotland’s ski industry is doomed to “disappear within decades.” Disappear is a strong term. Perhaps Haworth thought she needed to back it up. So who did she find to bolster this assessment? An environmentalist. She quotes Richard Dixon, the director of the World Wildlife Fund/Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Scotland branch. Both of these men tell her the exact same thing: they wouldn’t invest in Scotland’s skiing industry.
That odour you smell is the stench of advocacy. Advocacy on the part of the WWF – and almost certain advocacy on the part of the Met and the journalist.
WWF is a pressure-group, an organization that spends its time lobbying. By making the future sound scary, WWF gets an opportunity to advance its own agenda. That agenda boils down to this, a direct quote from the WWF UK’s current leader:
If we are to bring climate change under control, it’s essential that all of us learn to change our lifestyles. [bold added]
Please note: environmentalists were urging us to change our lifestyles well before global warming became the reason. In the 1970s they said wasteful, polluting Western lifestyles had to be curtailed. Back then they argued it was the only moral response to over-population, Third World poverty, and nuclear weapons. For some people, a back-to-the-Earth, less-than-comfortable existence is the answer to everything.
Folks who aren’t content with altering their own habits, but insist all of us must do so will seize any excuse to advance their agenda. They are entitled to argue their point-of-view. But we should have no illusions about the kind of world they would impose on us. They want to restrict car use by 80%. They think it’s OK for governments to force people to use public transit. They think energy rationing – a temporary wartime measure that was hated by the public – should become the norm.
The WWF is in the business of stoking alarm. It is not a source of rigorous, dispassionate information. Unfortunately, civil servant Alex Hill’s objectivity regarding the future of skiing in Scotland is also called into question – as is the objectivity of every one of his co-workers.
Hill’s current boss at the Met – indeed, everyone’s boss at the Met – is chairman Robert Napier. Napier used to be a WWF executive. In fact, he is the former CEO of the British branch of the WWF. (See Bishop Hill on Napier’s other conflicts-of-interest here.)
The British public is surely entitled to wonder why a government body would hire an environmental activist to serve as its chairman. It is surely permitted to feel some discomfiture on learning that, when the WWF UK named its subsequent chairman in May 2007, that gentleman told his flock:
…one of our main tasks is engaging with [the UK federal] government so that we can influence its own thinking. We are seizing similar opportunities with the new administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well. [bold added]
A central purpose of the WWF is to influence government. It cannot be inconsequential therefore that, between October 2006 and May 2007, Napier appears to have worn both hats simultaneously. He was directing a branch of the world’s wealthiest environmental group and he was serving as chair of the Met Office. Evidently, no one demanded that Napier firmly set aside his activism before taking up the reins of a government body.
In a milieu in which these events could take place, where even the appearance of propriety and professionalism seems to have been the last thing on anyone’s mind, is it likely that Hill (the Met’s Scotland advisor) would say anything to the media that conflicted with the views of the WWF?
So Jenny Haworth, the journalist, interviews a person from the Met Office who works for a former WWF executive. Despite an apparent dearth of scientific credentials, she tells us this person is a leading climate expert. She then backs up his remarks by interviewing a current WWF executive. The only other person she quotes is a marketing manager of a ski resort, who doubtless employed the scientific method prior to concluding that: “Our winters have become far less predictable than they were.”
There is, in other words, nothing to this news story. It is as thin as gossamer. It contains only opinions, rank speculation, and casual comments. That is not how a news story is supposed to get written.
No one knows whether or not Scotland’s ski industry will disappear within a few decades. But there are three things we do know:
In effect, the WWF has infiltrated the British government. Out in the open. In broad daylight. And nobody noticed.
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