Global warming: Our survey of MPs shows worrying apathyUnited Kingdom
Only 11% of MPs responded to our email, but they have to respond to you so help us out by chasing them for their views on climate change.
Does the UK's new parliament think global warming is happening and manmade? A simple but important question, we thought, especially as more than a third (232) of the members elected in May are new to parliament. So we sent three "yes or no" questions by email to all 650 MPs. The result? Stunning apathy, mainly. Only 74, about 11%, answered. We are going to need your help, it seems – more on that at the end.
Virtually all who did reply – 70 – were believers and said yes to all three of the questions below. Two said no to all three – hard-core climate sceptics, in other words – and two objected to the phrasing of one of the questions – moderate climate sceptics, if you like. The party breakdown was as follows:
• 7 Conservative MPs: 5 believers, 1 hard-core and 1 moderate sceptic
• 16 Lib Dem MPs: all believers
• 48 Labour MPs: 46 believers, 1 hard-core and 1 moderate sceptic
• 2 Plaid Cymru and 1 SDLP MPs: All believers
It would be wrong to draw many conclusions from this small and self-selecting sample but perhaps considering the response rate is the safest: 28% of the parliamentary Lib Dem party replied, 19% of Labour and just 2% of Tories. That would fit with many observers' ideas of the importance of the climate change issue to MPs in those parties.
We asked the MPs if they agreed or not with the following statements:
1. Scientific evidence strongly suggests the world has been warming since the Industrial Revolution and will continue to do so?
2. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that most of this warming is caused by emissions from human activities? (The two MPs who challenged the question objected to the word "strongly" here.)
3. The UK government should take urgent action to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, in order to meet a target at least 20% lower by 2020?
In our email, and the reminder we sent, we promised not to name and shame individual MPs, but one felt compelled to ring us. Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP, is one of just five MPs, all Tories, who voted against the 2008 climate change bill. He is now chair of the rather important Treasury select committee, but his elevation has not dimmed his sceptical views. He claimed that one-third of scientists do not blame global warming on emissions from human activities. "Stern [Nicholas Stern, the economist who put climate change on the political agenda] is radically wrong," he added, in arguing that acting now to cut carbon would be cheaper in the long run. There was more: "There are lots of armageddon scenarios, all of them fringe views, none are supported by any leading scientists. Most of the world's leading scientists do not support tipping point theories."
Tyrie did have an ally, and a rather blunt one, in the Labour party. This MP dismissed the evidence for climate change as "rubbish", writing: "Volcanoes spew out more crap in a week than mankind and all other forms of life do in a year." When asked if policy should reflect scientific evidence on climate change, he responded: "Are you kidding?"
The climate change and energy secretary, Chris Huhne, climate change minister Greg Barker and energy minister Charles Hendry all supplied three yeses. We're assuming they don't mind if we out them for accepting the science that underpins climate change and supports the policies they spend their days on.
Huhne told us: "The undeniable truth is that there is overwhelming cross-party support in the House of Commons for tackling climate change and making the transition to a low-carbon economy. And that's what this government is determined to accelerate."
Professor Bob Watson, chief scientific advisor at Defra, has more comforting words from inside government: "I am completely assured that the coalition government treats the need to both mitigate against and adapt to climate change as a matter of the utmost importance. I have seen firsthand the commitment of Defra's new ministerial team to tackling this crucial issue, and the inextricably linked problem of the loss of biodiversity. It is encouraging that the vast majority of MPs who have replied to the Guardian survey agree that the science of climate change is solid." A shame then that we got no replies from any of the three Defra ministers in the Commons.
That 11% response rate really does rankle. Martyn Williams, senior parliamentary campaigner for Friends of the Earth (FoE), agrees: "I think it's outrageous that they're not responding." He argues that transparency is an important policy tool as it helps standards improve, as in the case of publishing expenses.
"They are doing some good things like showing on their websites how much energy is used in government buildings," Williams said. "Similarly with the 'big society', they want people to have more of a say in running things and yet actually quite often backbench MPs refuse to tell newspapers their views in surveys – and FoE members don't get responses either."
Of course, there are no regulations stating that MPs must respond to questions from newspapers, but they are obliged to reply to their constituents. And that's where you come in, to try to fill in the missing data. Wouldn't it be great to have a record of the views of every MP on this crucial issue?
Getting involved is easy: find out who your local MP is on Theyworkforyou.com by typing your post code in the search box. You can then email your MP through the site, or of course call, write to or visit them. Let us know the results by filling in our form and we'll put it all together once we have enough replies. Thanks!
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