Thursday24 July 2014

Should we question green orthodoxy?

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Readers are split in their responses to last week’s leader calling for a debate on climate change

“Dangerous and depressing” thundered Paul King, chief executive of the Green Building Council, in reaction to last week’s leader. The organisation, which includes architects, developers and engineers, said: “through this editorial BD has positioned itself alongside an ever diminishing number of sceptics… We have a very short space of time indeed to prevent climate change’s more extreme consequences”.

This too was the view of the Centre for Alternative Technology, which spoke for many when it said “there is now overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity.

The issue is no longer ‘out for consultation’ ”.

But other readers disagreed and a war of words broke out on web and in the blogging community.

A number of comments defended the right to have debate. Robert Adam said “it is important to question all accepted wisdom”, while Austin Williams, an architect and director of the Future Cities Project, said that by not citing scientific “evidence” in her leader Baillieu was opening herself up to “a baying mob of outrage”.

“She should realise that architects have come to rely on the get-out-of-jail card of ‘evidence’ which can then be used to justify their work. Evidence shows that meagre space standards are often more carbon efficient; evidence shows that reducing carbon makes you happier; evidence shows that you cannot possibly have an ‘opinion’ because you have to cite ‘evidence’ to back that opinion up.”

The scientists have also weighed in. James Dent (see Letters, page 8) said “many professionals are uneasy at the totalitarian approach adopted by the media and government to force acceptance of climate change ‘initiatives’”.


Full marks for having the courage to raise probably the most controversial issue today (other than race). The idea that you shouldn’t question accepted wisdom because you “don’t know” sounds a bit like book burning to me. There are lots of people out there, including droves of architects, who take on the accepted view and know absolutely nothing about global warming, so why should they silence debate on the basis that the person who disagrees also doesn’t know. This is just a new religion where heretics are to be silenced.

Robert Adam
Robert Adam Architects

Regrettably and incorrectly sustainability/energy conservation as the sole cause of global warming has become the new “sacred cow” which is only very rarely questioned given the risk of general derision. The herd instinct remains strong. The Breeam regime would be funny if it wasn’t so alarming and wasteful. Why have we seen the birth of a new politically correct politburo who have taken over what is essentially such a sensible idea.?

Brian Ormerod

Is there a direct, causal link between man-made environmental impacts and global warming? I’m afraid the really inconvenient truth is that in terms of universally accepted, irrefutable scientific evidence, we may never know the answer. Some scientists believe the case to be proven already whilst others do not — this illustrates the complexity of a data collection and analysis process which is still at a relatively early stage.

As a teacher, researcher and co-author of the Green Guide to Specification, part of the Breeam programme, and as a writer of many articles and academic papers on green issues, my commitment to reducing the environmental impact of property is self-evident. But perhaps surprisingly, my environmental commitment is not dependent on this particular debate being settled and neither should the adoption of tough new environmental laws and targets at the Copenhagen summit.

David Shiers
Architect and university lecturer

I admit to being a climate change sceptic. The majority in my view are simply getting on the band wagon without really knowing what it is all about — particularly politicians.

I believe in energy saving of fossil fuels but no one talks about the world population explosion which negates our efforts. It will have to be talked about one day but it is not PC yet and no politicians dares to.

Ken Peasland
KCP Designs

As a journalist Amanda Baillieu is observing, reporting and questioning... that’s what I’d expect her to do. I’m not a climate change scientist, but if current orthodoxies are being challenged what is the problem if you’re on solid ground? Make the case, don’t recoil with moral shock and awe.

Pam Newall
Architect, Shrewsbury

Al Gore’s famous propaganda An Inconvenient Truth has been proven to be misleading, manipulative and incorrect yet is still the basis of green brigade facts and figures. The “hockey stick”, the flagship to the warming alarmists has been scientifically proven to be incorrect yet is simply ignored in favour of deliberate lies.

Recently a UK judge agreed and stopped schoolchildren from watching this film yet do we hear about this in the media? Do we hear that the IPCC panel is made up of a small proportion of scientists and even fewer climate experts? Even Gore has backtracked and stated that carbon is not the main problem! I have yet to see a piece of legitimate evidence for man-made global warming.

Jonathan Knox
Interior architect

The environmental movement is a beating stick used by governments. All you believers will be in for quite the shock when you cannot afford to turn on the heating or even have a drink of water, because you cannot afford it.

For the record, many scientists have the opposing view. Go to www. oism.org/pproject

Andrew Lownie


It is one thing for a journalist to be provocative, it is another to deliberately and mischievously mislead. There are no reputable scientists still seeking to disprove man-induced climate change, or climate-chaos (as it should be more appropriately called). The theories the climate deniers have put forward have all been disproved. There are plenty of propagandist around, most of whom have been shown to be in the pay of the petrochemical industries.

Kate Macintosh
Vice president, Scientists for Global Responsibility

Amanda Baillieu is utterly wrong. The evidence that the global climate is changing at an unprecedented rate is overwhelming. There will always be debate about the exact mechanisms and how much of the change is a direct consequence of mankind’s activities, but that is the nature of science. If anything, the real evidence shows that the changes will be more dramatic and that the actions needed to mitigate these effects are even more drastic and urgent than ever. The property sector has an enormous role to play in reducing emissions and helping to combat the impacts.

Dave Farebrother
Environmental director Land Securities Group

It seems so reasonable to call for debate on this issue, but this is a flawed view. Unless you are a climate scientist yourself, you are a fool to doubt the overwhelming consensus of those who are. Calling for debate on this issue is like calling for debate on evolution. The debate is settled.

George Morgan
Part II architectural assistant

You and I are not climate change scientists. We can only interpret the modelling, analysis and advice of others. On reading the opening few sentences I was expecting reference to amazing new evidence that global warming is a myth. But the only justification seems to be that “global temperatures (have) failed to warm”. I guess you’re referring to the current La Nina cooling effect which is taking the edge off the undoubted trend for long-term warming. But others can do better justice to the science than I can.

I’d strongly recommend you read Michael Pawlyn’s (Exploration Architects) recent debate with Bjorn Lomborg.

Read the transcripts at http://tinyurl.com/yfj2hcz

John Alker
UK Green Building Council

Nothing wrong with questioning orthodoxy if there is evidence to cause that questioning. Unfortunately, the majority of sceptics that I have encountered also happen to be the ones that just don’t want to make the effort on transitioning to a low carbon, sustainable world. So their scepticism is indeed religious, they base it not on evidence but on their wish to be in heaven (ie not have to make the difficult choices and changes). But I remain open to being convinced otherwise, so please, provide the evidence and I will look at it like I have the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Nik Potter

We should be conserving world resources and the real difficulty comes in deciding how to do this. It is too easy to adopt policies that penalise the weakest such as people in the developing world and the poor everywhere.

The question should not be about whether the science is right or wrong, but the tougher questions of who is going to have to pay for reduction in consumption and how this will be done. The RIBA is surely right to insist that, as a start, we adopt good environmental standards for buildings for in general it is the richer people of the world who will be paying for this.

Peter Kellow

There is a well travelled quote that says: “The issues of global warming and climate change are far too important to be left in the hands of politicians.” With respect Amanda, your editorial leads me to conclude that, in addition, these issues cannot be left in the hands of journalists.

Richard Ferraro
ECD Architects


Readers' comments (20)

  • What a manipulative headline. This so called debate is not about the right to question any orthodoxy. I sleep in a question mark and have publically criticised just about every aspect of the Governmen't Code for Sustainable Homes, Zero Carbon and BREEAM. My outrage is fueled by journalists who make off the cuff unsubtantiated statements of fact about things that matter. In this case that there is a - " growing wealth of scientific evidence" - that climate change is not man made. I am not calling for the actual evidence in BD that climate change is not man made, wrong forum, but for evidence that there is a 'growing wealth of scientific evidence'. This would be newsworthy. And please David Bellamy doesnt count, even though he used to be on the telly. If human CO2 emissions are shown not to be an issue then I'll start booking cheap flights to all the places I'd love to see before I die. I won't be out of work as a sustainable building designer because enough people want to live and work in comfortable resource efficient buildings and are willing to embrace chunky window frames to achieve that. Perhaps thats the fear, buildings will have to look different and that is something that hits a nerve.

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  • I think it's great that the recent discussion on the great climate change diversion has had such a range of very passionate responses from both sides. Now if we can have the same passionate debate in support of all the current out of work Architects, Technicians and Graduates who's futures in the industry are going down the toilet right now that would be good. Perhaps the government could spend billions of dollars on a super computer to predict with some accuracy when we might start working again?

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  • Odd - is that a BD logo at the bottom there? http://sustainabilitynow.cmp-info.com/q/11y9OjcIlIjK38jZ/wv

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  • THE REAL TRUTH: Most of you who believe in man-made global warming have good intentions, but it must be said that the majority have not investigated the issue in any real depth. Spending a few days investigating the topic will reveal that it has little to do with 'global warming', but is really about such matters as Global Governance, Increased Taxes, Authoritarian Control, Reducing Freedoms and Population Reduction. Widely believed predicitions have often been way off the mark, as far back as Thomas Malthus in the 19th Century. In the future when we are paying huge CARBON TAXES, sitting in unheated houses with no fuel, we will be hoping for our slice of the predicted 'warming'. Satire is a good measure of the environmental agenda: "Save the planet, Kill Yourself"

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  • Al Gore: “I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it [anthropogenic global warming] is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are.” Is this a discription of the type of pseudo science that the "no's" take their beliefs from?

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  • People will doubt things forever and day, subjective viewpoints will always produce differing levels of engagement with this issue. I will add one thing though. James Lovelock's latest Gaia book illuminated this issue most clearly for me. He illustrated the highly complex interconnected nature of the worlds eco system and the flowing balance of collective biological and climatic systems working together. This is not currently factored into any of the large scale climate models that calculate used by the the atmosphere in isolation as though it existed separately from the rest of the living world. In fact the ecosystem of the earth interacts with its atmosphere on many complex levels. Such simplification was startling to me and reminiscent of the computer stock trading models that appeared around a decade ago that sought to calculate future stock trading patterns and invest ahead of them. Such machines worked well in a balanced isolated virtual markets but never fared nearly as well in real life stock trading as they ignored the incalculable human element of the live stock market. I fear we may be hugely over simplifying the worlds climate if we expect it to rise consistently in line with our increasing CO2 output into its atmosphere. Surely the reduction of pollution in any form is to our long term benefit of us all and this trumps any economic or politically based short term issues.

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  • Roughly counting the responses to the intital hot air leader article, you find approx the following: 32 Critical of scientific accuracy of article 6 Endorse science/ agw scepticism in article 11 Support principle of journalists asking questions. Asking questions is great journalism, reporting falsehood as fact is terrible journalism.

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  • This is a welcome debate in BD. There is no evidence that CO2 levels whether from man or nature drive world temperatures or climate change, rather the relationship is the reverse. Honest scientific study refutes the CO2 driver theory and the 'Global Warmers' refuse to debate actual science. Do have a look at presentations and videoes at our Oct 28th WeatherAction.com conference in Imperial College to which the 'GW' side refused to present their case. See WANews No 80 ( http://www.weatheraction.com/displayarticle.asp?a=103&c=1) and No 87 (associated links) for example via News archive on www.weatheraction.com. Thank you Piers Corbyn:

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  • Should we debate the science? Of course, but only if we're climate scientists, not architects, not politicians and not journalists. Climate science is complex and those of us who are not climate scientists simply don't know enough about it to actually have a debate that would mean anything at all. In any case, science relies on falsification, not debate. As to how we address it, that is another issue, one which should involve the wider community. Unfortunately, the science and the politics have become extremely muddled, to the benefit of neither.

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  • Science is a subject invented by humans so has human limitations. Regardless of whether we are the cause of climate change or not it is obvious that we should try to pollute as little as possible as we can see without being scientists the effects on rivers, streets and local areas. Also reducing running costs of buildings is a real possibility by being 'more green' and also helps reduce pollution.

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