Climate Change Debate: A Famous Scientist Becomes A Skeptic

  • Date: 12/05/14
  • Axel Bojanowski, Spiegel Online

Meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson has long been considered a cool head in the often heated conflict over global warming. In an interview, he defends his decision to join an organization that is skeptical of climate change.

Lennart Bengtsson: "I do not believe it makes sense for our generation to believe or pretend that we can solve the problems of the future."

Lennart Bengtsson: “I do not believe it makes sense for our generation to believe or pretend that we can solve the problems of the future.”

The debate over climate change is often a contentious one, and key players in the discussion only rarely switch sides. But late last month, Lennart Bengtsson, the former director of the Hamburg-based Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, one of the world’s leading climate research centers, announced he would join the academic advisory council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

GWPF, based in Britain, is a non-profit organization and self-described think tank. Conservative politician Nigel Lawson founded the organization in 2009 in order to counteract what he considered to be an exaggerated concern about global warming. The organization uses aggressive information campaigns to pursue its goals.

The lobby group’s views markedly differ from those of the UN climate panel, the IPCC, whose reports are the products of the work of hundreds of scientists who classify and analyze vast amounts of climate knowledge accumulated through years of research. The most recent IPCC report states that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are leading to significant global warming, with serious environmental consequences.

Bengtsson was known for maintaining moderate positions even during the most vitriolic debates over global warming during the 1990s. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he discusses why he made the shift to the skeptics’ camp.

About Lennart Bengtsson: Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson, born in 1935, served as director of the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in England from 1981 to 1990 and then as director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, one of the world’s leading climate research centers. Since his retirement in 2000, he has worked as a professor at the University of Reading in Britain. Bengtsson has been the recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious German Environmental Prize bestowed by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU). His work is focused largely on climate modelling and weather. 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Bengtsson, why did you decide to join the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an organization known for its skepticism about climate change?

Bengtsson: It is important to allow a broad debate on energy and climate. We must urgently explore realistic ways to address the different scientific, technical and economic challenges in solving the world’s energy problems and the associated environmental issues.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you think the GWPF is particularly suitable for that goal?

Bengtsson: Most of the members of GWPF are economists and this is an opportunity for me to learn from some of these highly qualified members who are active in areas outside my own expertise. At the same time, it will allow me to contribute by my own meteorological knowledge, to broaden the debate.

Full interview