The Iron Lady’s Strong Stance On Climate Change

By Douglas Fischer via The Daily Climate

Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of British politics who died Monday at the age of 87, is being lionized as the woman who tilted British domestic and economic policy to the right.

Less noted is how seriously she viewed the threat of climate change and the robustness, more than 20 years ago, of climate science and United Nations body tasked with assessing state of that science.

In a 1990 speech at the second World Climate Conference, in Geneva, Thatcher compared the threat of global warming to the Gulf War, which was then just escalating following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

And Thatcher, who spent 11 years as the United Kingdom’s prime minister, called the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “remarkable” and “very careful.”

‘Real enough’

“The danger of global warning 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,” she told delegates, according to a transcript of the speech archived online at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. A short video also survives.

“Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community,” she said. “We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.”

Thatcher goes on to highlight the work of several institutions that have been savaged in recent years by conservative radio, think-tanks and others denying that humans can influence the climate or that such influence can have negative consequences.

She touts the work of the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and the IPCC. All three continue to be plagued by the so-called “Climategate” e-mail controversy of 2009.

Science was clear

To Thatcher in 1990, at the end of her tenure at 10 Downing Street, the science was already clear.

“Our immediate task is to carry as many countries as possible with us, so that we can negotiate a successful framework convention on climate change in 1992,” she said in that 1990 speech. “To accomplish these tasks, we must not waste time and energy disputing the IPCC’s report or debating the right machinery for making progress.”

That 1992 convention, the Rio Earth Summit, set the stage for a series of annual global meetings on climate change that 20 years later has yet to produce a meaningful accord limiting emissions.

This piece was originally published at The Daily Climate and was reprinted with permission.

25 Responses to The Iron Lady’s Strong Stance On Climate Change

  1. Brain Hertz says:

    Often forgotten, but Margaret Thatcher had a degree in chemistry from the University of Oxford.

    It’s unfortunate that we (collectively) have so few politicians who are scientifically literate.

  2. Ed Leaver says:

    No higher personal tribute may be paid to the late Prime Minister than to read her Address to the Second World Climate Conference in its full.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    “All we have is a full tenancy with a life repairing lease.”

    Is that what a property lawyer would call our property rights on the Earth, on the atmosphere?

    Property rights, and responsible property management are supposed to be conservative touchstones, aren’t they?

  4. Mike says:

    Unfortunately, in her last book “Statecraft” she recanted her position on global warming. I’m not sure just what her state of mind was or to what degree “assistants” may have influenced the text. See page 449.

  5. M Tucker says:

    No one on either side of the pond remembers her for this. Not a single remembrance in the media mentions her words on climate disruption. It is not thought to be a big deal. They have brought up the Falklands and how Argentina is making noises again. Now there is your media ‘big deal.’ If you can’t solve it by dropping a bomb on it, it ain’t worth mentioning. If you can’t solve it by instituting a ‘shoot to kill’ order it is no more important than her choice of hat. If it can’t be remembered as an anecdote to how tough she was no one is interested.

  6. M Tucker says:

    Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, wrote an Op-Ed in the NYT on 1/15/13. In that piece he said, “Scientists’ voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren’t being heard.”

    “…distinguished scientific minds at our research universities and other national labs — provide advice that is routinely ignored.”

    He means ignored by the public and our leaders.

    “…ideological biases have become so ingrained in Washington that scientific realities are subordinated to political intransigence.”

    “Until science and data become central to informing our public policies, our civilization will be hamstrung in confronting the gravest threats to its survival.”

    And what happened to Maggie’s strong talk on climate disruption? I have learned a little more about the iron lady.

    “Thatcher, in her 2002 memoir, rejected former Vice President Al Gore and his “doomist” predictions.” (see Climate Central or the Guardian)

    There you have it. Yeah, she was an iron lady but not really an advocate for future generations…just an advocate for union busting and war. As far as Thatcher is concerned we need to ignore the science, scientists and those who try to bring their message to a wider audience.

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    She didn’t ’tilt’ anything. She, along with Reagan, dragged the GLOBAL economy, kicking and screaming, into economic rationalism. She might have been ‘good’ on climate but her economic policies were in direct contradiction, prioritizing the value of money, promoting corporatism, tightening the screws on hierarchy and forcing people into competition and self interest, all of which are the forces which acted to rapidly increase FF use, denial and greed, ME

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I can’t believe all the eulogizing rubbish I have been hearing and reading about this monster. She was one of the major players who turned our world into the ‘meaner and nastier’ place it has become. It’s almost as if we have lived with this reprehensible system for so long now that we are suffering from ‘old lags syndrome’, if so, we are doomed to live in prison for ever, ME

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I don’t believe in the ‘Speak no ill of the dead’ canard, particularly in regard to political figures and even more so in this case.’Rejoice! Rejoice!’I say, and ‘Remember the Belgrano’ amongst numerous other atrocities.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Excellent news. I was quite concerned for years that there was this one shining exception to the creature’s utter awfulness, and now, thank God, that weight has been lifted from my mind.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Typical of the Rightwing MSM. The one exception to her record of misanthropy, visceral class hatred, social cruelty and belligerence, and the propaganda system buries it straight down the ‘Memory Hole’, and sings her praises for her otherwise unparalleled awfulness.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Well said ME. Thatcher possessed that lower middle class hatred of working people that propelled other Rightists to power, to an extraordinary degree. And, in her fanatic determination to destroy unions, the miners and their communities, to allow the security forces to operate in cahoots with Protestant death-squads in Ireland and to transfer wealth from the many to the few (there was a 10% drop in the share of GNP going to labour and an unparalleled rise in poverty and inequality under her malign rule)she displayed not just a savage indifference to the suffering of others, but a positive exultation in it.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, I was very sorry to hear she developed dementia. I would have preferred she had been haunted by every gory detail of her appalling choices every day of her life, ME

  14. Bhan says:

    I couldn’t agree more. We need more politicians, whether they be liberal or conservative, who are scientifically literate. Her degree in Chemistry gave her the knowledge she needed to push for a ban on CFCs. In fact, that ban might not have happened without her.

  15. Chris Winter says:

    So it appears that she might have talked a good game on climate change, but fought for policies that worked against any action to combat it.

    Perhaps this explains why TVMOB was, or claimed to be, one of her advisors at some point.

  16. Martin Vermeer says:

    Yeah, it’s disconcerting to see people deviate from their caricatures, right?

  17. Merrelyn Emery says:

    You can’t believe a word he says Chris, ME

  18. onyerlefty says:


    Within the last decade Thatcher succumbed to free-market propaganda published by the Exxon-funded “Reason Foundation”, which claimed in 1997:

    “It is widely acknowledged that the potential temperature changes predicted by global warming theory do not pose a direct threat to human life. Human beings, and a myriad of other organisms, exist quite comfortably in areas with temperature ranges more extreme than those predicted by global warming models.”

    Thereafter she became more known as a Lord Monckton denier-ally, and for her claim that the international effort to tackle climate change “provides a marvellous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism.”

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    When a ‘caricature’ is true, in every detail, to the life, I hardly think it remains a caricature.

  20. Spike says:

    Worth remembering that for all the fine words her cabinet was stuffed with climate change deniers including the execrable Peter Lilley and Nigel Lawson.

  21. Bill says:

    Yes I agree – she famously stated in 1987 that there was “no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.” A statement that fundamentally opposes collective action.

  22. Chris Winter says:

    Margaret Thatcher: an unlikely green hero?

    Posted by John Vidal, Tuesday 9 April 2013

    Vidal observes that Thatcher made a series of speeches during the late 1980s warning of the serious nature of the problems climate change would bring. Then it notes:

    But her enthusiasm for green issues soon evaporated. She opened the Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research in 1990 but did not attend the Rio Earth summit, leaving her successor, John Major to formally sign up Britain to forest, climate and other agreements. In retirement she had nothing more to say about the environment until her 2002 memoirs, when she rejected Al Gore and what she called his “doomist” predictions.

    Both TVMOB and Christopher Booker have touted Thatcher’s late-in-life rejection of climate science. But the actions detailed by Vidal make it clear that her commitment to solving those problems was never very deep.

  23. Michael YEllin says:

    I don’t know much about Thatcher’s stance on global warming, but I do know that deniers claim she usurped global warming in her cause to crack down on the coal miners’ union. As claimed in this drivel written by a journalist who consistently attacks climate scientists and misrepresents the scientific data, global warming was “a political movement from the start.”

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    She was a typical Rightwing misanthrope-she hated other people, particularly if they were different from herself. She supported apartheid South Africa and called Mandela and the ANC ‘terrorists’, but didn’t raise a squeak over Reagan’s death-squad wars in Central America. Her few ‘green’ utterances were carefully contrived diversions, designed to placate a rising tide of environmental concern even in the Conservative Party. Meanwhile her real policies, that prioritised road over rail, that privatised water, that imported coal rather than mining it, that burned up North Sea oil as fast as possible, that imposed IMF and World Bank and Structural Adjustment Plans on poor countries, to their immense ecological damage, etc, point to the real Thatcher-green sheen, for a minute, and deep, deep brown on the inside.

  25. David Lewis says:

    Things were different in 1988 when Thatcher responded to the call from an even at that time very unified climate scientist community that civilization needed to act to limit climate change.

    The way the Hadley Centre describes things, it was the Toronto conference on the Changing Atmosphere in June 1988 that brought climate change as an issue “to the notice of politicians”. The particular politician who most affected Hadley history was Thatcher.

    Thatcher didn’t come to the issue because she had been studying climate science, although she had some background at university level studying science and retained a basic respect for science.

    She was responding as a leading politician to an urgent call from the leaders of U.K. and world science.

    At that Toronto conference Hadley historians point to, 400 delegates from 40 countries spent four days of intense discussion hammering out a statement intended for heads of state. Thatcher read it.

    The way I heard things at the time, after the Toronto conference got her attention, she walked into one of the offices of what evolved into the Hadley Centre to see what was up.

    She discovered that the climate models in use at the time in the UK were of such coarse resolution because of a lack of computing power that a minor detail like the entire United Kingdom did not appear on the output maps. This was unacceptable, the story went, so Thatcher prevailed on her political colleagues to fund a world class Hadley institution.

    Great Britain would at last appear on the output of climate models. People didn’t think Thatcher had some great insight into climate science.

    Basically, the political right generally respected science and scientists at the time. They hadn’t generally bought into the idea that they could just deny the obvious until more sh*t hit the fan.