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Truth-teller about global warming

11 April 2014

Adam Ford admires a scientist who studied the weather systems

Passionate about global warming: Sir John Houghton, with Lady Houghton, at Buckingham Palace after receiving his knighthood in 1990

Passionate about global warming: Sir John Houghton, with Lady Houghton, at Buckingham Palace after receiving his knighthood in 1990

In the Eye of the Storm: The autobiography of Sir John Houghton
John Houghton with Gill Tavner
Lion £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT127 )

MISCONCEPTIONS and ignorance still stalk through the public's perceptions of science in our modern world. The illusion, for example, that scientists deal only with factual certainty, or that they pursue their work alone in sterile labs, is part of the image. Even worse, perhaps, is the assumption that all scientists are on an atheist mission to rid the world of religious faith and belief, fuelled among many Evangelical Americans by the suspicion that the theory of Darwinian evolution is part of a plot, a conspiracy, to overthrow God.

Sir John Houghton, by telling his own story, deftly puts the record straight. In the Eye of the Storm focuses mostly on his incredibly busy professional and scientific career as director general of the Meteorological Office (balancing the intrinsic uncertainties of weather forecasting while wading through the treacle of bureaucracy), as founding member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and as a tireless campaigner for the truth.

He is non-political, and passionately concerned that society should understand the evidence for global warming, and the part that humans play in it. Team work - which he clearly enjoys - has been the hallmark of all his research.

Houghton's scientific research spans an immensely important period in the history of science: the development of space technology and the exponential growth of computing power have transformed what we can do in seeking to understand the workings of planet Earth, its weather systems, and global climate.

He reveals himself to be equally adept when working with a team designing an experiment such as the "Selective Chopper Radiometer" as he is at steering difficult meetings of the IPCC to find the right balance of words, in statements meant for public consumption, about global warming. He is appalled, incidentally, by the dishonest lobbying methods of some climate-change deniers.

Explaining his belief in God, he writes that he has always found the analogy that God is the fifth dimension helpful. "I was baffled that science and faith are so often seen as contradictory."

The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul's School for Girls.


AFTER giving up church ministry, having been a priest for 16 years, Mark Silversides read Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. His experience of church was different from the view expressed in the book, and so he decided to get to grips with Dawkins's views, and, using his analysis as a starting-point, to ask what is the place of Faith in the Age of Science. He concludes that there is such a place (Sacristy Press, £9.99 (£9); 978-1-908381-04-0)

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