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“Future forecast – changeable and probably getting worse”: the UK Government’s Early Response to Anthropogenic Climate Change

Agar, JE; (2015) “Future forecast – changeable and probably getting worse”: the UK Government’s Early Response to Anthropogenic Climate Change. Twentieth Century British History , 26 (4) pp. 602-628. 10.1093/tcbh/hwv008. Green open access

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Abstract

In this article I reveal that there was an earlier, significant history to the UK government's response to anthropogenic climate change. I argue that from the 1970s to early 1980s, officials within government gathered and assessed claims about climate change, and, eventually, made their concerns known to ministers. The story is complex, not least because the major institutional representative of climatological knowledge, the Meteorological, or Met, Office, was, for reasons that are explored, sceptical of long-term change. My account is therefore organised in three stages. After a section that orientates the reader to the main institutional players, I will, first, show how a particular confluence of contingent factors, especially a burgeoning interest in longer-term, futurological study, provided an opening within which it was possible to make climate change meaningful within Whitehall. Second, I trace the struggles over interpretation as claims about climate change were assessed. My main point here is that the Met Office’s conversion to investment in massive computer modelling of future climate had more to do with maintaining its control over climatological knowledge and with providing an alternative evidence base to American claims, than with a conviction that global warming was underway. Nevertheless, in the third stage I show that, despite Met Office opposition, an official consensus on the likelihood of climatic change was ready at the time of the transition from Callaghan’s to Thatcher’s administration. Furthermore, the response of the Conservative government was distinctly cool.

Type: Article
Title: “Future forecast – changeable and probably getting worse”: the UK Government’s Early Response to Anthropogenic Climate Change
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1093/tcbh/hwv008
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwv008
Additional information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Twentieth Century British History following peer review. The version of record [insert complete citation information here] is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwv008.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1463457
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