Facing up to inconvenient truths

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Facing up to inconvenient truths

  • Comments 6
  • Likes

If you care about what happens to the millions of species with whom we share this beautiful planet, then you have to face up to some inconvenient truths: intensive food production can harm wildlife populations, inappropriate housing or port development can destroy important habitats, introducing non-native species can lead to species extinctions.  And, most inconvenient of all, our continued dependence on fossil fuels is causing climate chaos with wildlife and the world's poor on the front line.

Some refuse to accept this and instead choose to ridicule those that are trying to find solutions to help us live in harmony with nature. 

In today's Mail on Sunday, James Delingpole, continues to ignore the scientific consensus about climate change caused by human activity driving up greenhouse gas emissions and has attacked the RSPB's position on renewable energy.  He implies that we are in the pocket of the wind industry, citing our new partnership with Ecotricity as evidence.

I think there are many in the wind industry would splutter on their Sunday morning coffee at this news.  Where developers choose to build windfarms in locations which are likely to affect important populations of wildlife or special places, we have and will continue to fight them.  Which is why I am delighted that Ecotricity, who want to build the right renewable projects in the right place, want us to help them.  And, in turn, for every person that switches their gas and electricity supply to Ecotricity, the RSPB will get £60 which we will invest in nature conservation projects.

As I wrote here, we have spent the past fifteen years working with developers and the planning system to ensure windfarms are put in sensible places where they are unlikely to cause harm.  This is consistent with how we work with other developers from the housing sector, port and indeed with individual farmers.  I am proud of the RSPB's record at influencing smart development.

In his piece Mr Delingpole is selective with his facts and has chosen to ignore the large body of science that supports the principle that appropriately located windfarms have negligible impacts, and instead highlights a few studies from other parts of the world that are deeply misleading when extrapolated to windfarms in general, or indeed windfarms in the UK.

I am not surprised that Delingpole has not looked into the evidence in a balanced way. He has already made his mind up about windfarms – dubbing them ‘bird-blending eco-crucifixes’ –  as he has on climate change, and he was looking for further evidence to support this conclusion rather than investigating the issue for real.  His article goes beyond the realm of an investigative journalist.  He has a personal agenda (see here, here and here) and the Mail on Sunday has chosen to support it.  He quotes us in the article but didn't try to track down any of the many independent scientists who would back our line. They have no links with us, the "green lobby" or energy companies. Instead he chooses one, with whom he is presumably well acquainted as a fellow sceptic, and presents him as representative of independent science.  This is shabby stuff.

With every year that goes by, I am more and more concerned about the very real impact climate change is already having on wildlife. Our global climate is increasingly destabilised and, on average, is continuing to warm; wildlife is on the front line of these changes and is already feeling the crunch. Last year, we were horrified by the impact that the extreme rainfall throughout spring had on birds attempting to breed on our reserves, whilst the evidence that increases in North Sea temperature have disrupted the food chain and are causing declines in seabirds continued to stack up.

The RSPB exists to save nature for current and future generations. Nature conservation is for the long-term; each nature reserve we create, species we save, wetland we protect, is a gift for future generations as much as it is for this one. Unbridled climate change threatens to take away these gifts, reverse our successes, and leave future generations with a natural world that is profoundly undermined, even dysfunctional.   This is not me saying it, there is a weight of evidence in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. 

This is, to say the least, inconvenient.

It is also why I believe that if you want to save nature then we must address climate change, and windfarms, in the right place, can offer a small but significant part of this effort.

And this is why I have switched my electricity supplier to Ecotricity and have chosen for 100% of my electricity to come from renewable sources.  I encourage you to do the same.

  • Good to hear from you pjl20.  A little digging has shown that Dr Soon is a physicist who has been paid considerable sums of money by the oil and gas industry - www.guardian.co.uk/.../climate-change-sceptic-willie-soon.  His work has mostly been published by climate sceptic organisations rather than in peer-reviewed journals –

    www.desmogblog.com/willie-soon.  For anyone seeking an objective syntheses of the science of climate change I would recommend the Royal Society’s summary (royalsociety.org/.../_ or the IPCC 4th Assessment report www.ipcc.ch/.../publications_and_data_reports.shtml

  • Good to hear from you pjl20.  A little digging has shown that Dr Soon is a physicist who has been paid considerable sums of money by the oil and gas industry - www.guardian.co.uk/.../climate-change-sceptic-willie-soon.  His work has mostly been published by climate sceptic organisations rather than in peer-reviewed journals –

    www.desmogblog.com/willie-soon.  For anyone seeking an objective syntheses of the science of climate change I would recommend the Royal Society’s summary (royalsociety.org/.../_ or the IPCC 4th Assessment report www.ipcc.ch/.../publications_and_data_reports.shtml

  • Martin Harper is incorrect with his assertion about a 'scientific consensus' concerning the reason(s) behind climate change.

    Whilst no-one of sound mind would deny that Earth has experienced profound changes in climate throughout the regions since the last ice age, a dispute still exists about whether the cause includes increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, now hovering at about 395ppm or just under 0.04%.

    Dr Willie Soon a Professor of Astrophysics and Geophysics, delivered an hour-long lecture entitled 'Global warming in not man-made' at the University of Minnesota earlier this month (April). He made two profound statements of fat (1) CO2 is a bit player in AGW/climate change and (2) Climate models cannot be trusted.

    Dr Soon's lecture is available on-line for all to see and to comment upon. Being a Harvard Professor, his assertions are sure to raise a controversy.

    James Delingpole may also have a response to make, following Martin Harper's attempt to refute what he himself has been saying now for several years.

    Comments?

  • Red Kite...in 1986 I saw a FoE briefing from a US Professor based in southern USA (at the other end of the Gulf Stream) that predicted the "fading" of the "North Atlantic Drift" and far colder weather for Europe.... The Baltic Sea Ice is undoubtably due to the increased prevalence of northerlies and easterlies this winter. Your last paragraph you should really have another look at....given the decrease of Arctic sea ice etc etc the shift in the jet stream we need to move fast and your generations concerns over "landscape" will diminish.

  • I am sure you are right Martin when you say the Mail on Sunday has been selective in its facts and therefore has put forward a misguided and misleading article There is no doubt that the threat of climate change especially on our wildlife is real, cannot be ignored and must be mitigate. However we do need to recognise that wind farms are very controversial in the eyes of the general public. They are noisy close to and very much dispoil the landscape in my view, where ever they are located, on or off shore. I would certainely not want one built near me.

    However I accept that they are necessary at this stage, but a "necessary evil".

    I would hope that given time other technolgies will over take them and render them obselete so that they can be removed. other technologies hopefully will include CCS (carbon capture and storage), solar panels as well as well designed and located tidal turbines (not barrages).

    I would therefore strongly caution regarding the RSPB being seen, in the eyes of the public, as being too closely associated with the wind farm industry. More articles such as the one in the  Mail on Sunday will very quickly give that impression, whether it is right or wrong.

    Finally, it is worth noting that currently the ice in the Baltic is the thickest and most extensive ever recorded. The North Sea temperatures are also, presumably, considerably lower than usual. However I agree we cannot make a judgement just on the current cold conditions in North West Europe at one instant in time, we have to consider worldwide conditions over a period of time.

  • I have been with Ecotricity for a while; I believe that their strategy will help insulate my bill against falls in the value of the pound or rise in the global price of gas; its actually a simple strategy that chimes with my view of the UK national interest and our energy independence.

    It is quite extra-ordinary given our drift towards a climate more akin to Nova Scotia and our northerly latitude that the Daily Mail can print this sort of arrant rot. Maybe the author should talk to a farmer as to their view of the past 5 summers and the increasingly deepening erratics of our once temperate climate; it is worth noting that the vaguaries of the "jet stream" are but a precursor to the chill we in the UK will feel if the Gulf Stream follows it example and fades to a more southerly "drift".

    Delingpole is not a man who cares for the green and temperate England that we were so fortunate and blessed to inherit.