Magazine article The Spectator

The Thin Green Line: Cross It at Your Peril

Magazine article The Spectator

The Thin Green Line: Cross It at Your Peril

Article excerpt

It was when I saw an internet tweet comparing me to Nick Griffin - with 2,000 people signed up to it - that I realised just how much trouble I was in. My sin: I had written an opinion piece entitled 'Is global warming hot air?' I'd wanted to see if my 18,000 architect readers agreed with the line now adopted by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) that 'man-made' climate change is the greatest challenge facing the profession. Given that about a third of them have lost their jobs in this recession and some will never work again, I wondered if the institute might not have some more immediate issues to address.

Privately, many architects question whether the emphasis on making all homes 'zero carbon' by 2016 while ignoring the carbon that is produced during construction is the best solution. But even if the earth is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame, there is still disagreement about how to tackle it.

As rival magazines started to crank out the usual unquestioning pieces in the run-up to Copenhagen, I doubted if all architects agreed with their institute's line.

I had recently talked to a scientist, newly retired from the Met Office, who said he thought the emphasis on CO 2 concentration was 'misplaced' and told me, off the record, that the Met's new computerised climate models did not tally with the old models.

I wrote my column suggesting that the reason so few architects had turned up to listen to Hillary Benn, the Energy Secretary, was 'a weariness with a government that trots out the same line year after year - that climate change is predominantly manmade - without allowing this claim to be challenged, and despite the growing wealth of scientific evidence that it is not'.

The reaction was swift and shocking.

The UK Green Building Council - an organisation whose role I'd always found a mystery - finally had a target. Me. Its chief executive was incandescent and wanted 'right of reply'; while its head of advocacy sent the first of many emails ticking me off for my bad behaviour. How could I be so out of touch with our elected public servants?

I went out for a lunch and later received an email from the Guardian's architecture correspondent, Jonathan Glancey:

'Well done questioning climate change orthodoxy.' Presumably not a sentiment he can openly express when he's in the office. Late on a Friday night the bloggers, fortified by a few drinks, really got going. I soon realised that what I saw as provocative journalism had put me in the camp of the climate change deniers - a sort of outer darkness from which you can only come back if you undergo 're-education' and a public apology. …

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