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Monday 10 September 2012

Environmental Projection By The Right

While right leaning hacks and pundits have generally welcomed Young Dave’s recent reshuffle, there does not seem to have been much enthusiasm showered over any one of those promoted – apart from Owen Paterson, who has taken over at Environment. Who he? Well, Paterson represents North Shropshire, and has extensive business and management experience.

But it is his perceived views on climate change and renewable energy that have set the right leaning punditerati gushing. He is perceived to be in favour of more use of shale gas reserves and against renewable energy such as wind power, and this has caused James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole to call him “Minister of Sound”. Del boy also throws in gay marriage, because, er, it’s a lefty thing.

Del’s pal Christopher Booker is equally in favour, though making his pronouncement several days later, as is the norm. Paterson is characterised as a “trenchant Eurosceptic” who is “uniquely qualified” because he wrote a book on the Common Fisheries Policy (which, it must be conceded, was generally well received). Booker also cites Paterson’s supposed shale gas and wind farm views.

He also has a snark at the Guardian’s George Monbiot, which is far easier for someone who never manages to be in the same place when there is a discussion on the environment to be had. One suspects that Booker would lose that one badly. But it is equally predictable that Monbiot has something to say. While environment man Damien Carrington merely has reservations, George is explicitly unhappy.

Carrington concludes that Paterson’s appointment leaves the cabinet “less green”, but Monbiot asserts that the reshuffle “is a declaration of war on the environment”, and goes on to ponder the apparently shaky grounds on which Paterson has recently objected to wind farm expansion in his constituency. But none of these pundits actually knows what he will do once in post.

If, as Booker suggests, Paterson is a “show me” sceptic rather than an “I don’t want to know because I’ve already made my mind up” one, then the idea that he will automatically favour shale gas against renewables is not necessarily true. It may go the same way with climate change: once the evidence is put before him, if he’s really an evidence seeker, then he may not be quite what the right want.

After all, the climate change denial lobby thought that Richard Muller was someone they could count on before the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project got going. Now he is reviled by Del Boy and the rest as some sort of turncoat, rather than someone who went where the evidence took him and then came to a conclusion based on the facts.

Owen Paterson may be another case of the same. Be careful what you wish for.

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