David Richardson: I’m a climate change agnostic

Where do you stand on climate change? Do you believe it is man-made and that international efforts to cut emissions of greenhouse gases will mitigate its effects? Or do you think changes in the world’s climate are a natural phenomenon that we will have to live with – or not as the case may be?

To begin with, I was a believer. I read books and listened to lectures given by distinguished climatologists (some of them from the University of East Anglia, down the road from here) and became convinced. They all showed graphs of how average world temperatures had increased steeply in recent years in the famous hockey-stick shape. And they compared this with the parallel rise in carbon and other gaseous emissions caused by human activity around the planet.

It seemed an open and shut case, particularly when they went on to explain how layers of stratospheric gases that have protected us from the worst effects of infrared rays from the sun were disintegrating and glaciers around the North Pole were melting at unprecedented rates.

If I’m honest, it also suited my book to believe the theory. Climatic changes would almost certainly make farming more difficult around the world. Combined with the inevitable increase in world population and the associated extra demand for food, it made an even stronger case for our industry to be taken seriously and to be allocated greater resources internationally.

But then I started reading other books and listening to other lecturers who had the opposite view. They reminded me that 40 or 50 years ago we were warned by some of the same university departments of an imminent ice age. They suggested that some of the evidence being used to promote the concept of man-made climate change was being distorted to make the case. The more I read and heard, the more confused I became.

Recent disclosures that some research data that didn’t fully fit politically correct theories – together with the discredited stories concerning melting Himalayan glaciers, which aren’t melting after all – have added to that confusion. Indeed, anyone who is not confused by all the conflicting stories must be badly informed.

So, where does this leave people like me? Do the climate change arguments still hold good, despite the strange and possibly unethical behaviour of some scientists? Or do we now follow the sceptics, forget the doom-watch scenarios, and carry on as before?

It may appear wimpish, but I prefer agnosticism. I have decided I am not totally convinced either way nor am I expert enough to join either side. But I will continue to listen to all arguments in the hope of reaching a more definite decision.

In the meantime, I fully concede that it cannot be sensible to carry on as before. Whether or not climate change is a reality, the world is running out of crucial resources. Chief among them is fossil fuel, on which we rely for so many everyday needs, and the shortage of which is in danger of causing it to become unaffordable.

So, for economic reasons, we must find ways to use less of it and continue to seek viable alternatives. Some of those alternatives will probably be farm based so our industry has an important role to play. As we do so, we can take comfort in the fact that even if climate change is real, we should not have made it worse.