Amanda Baillieu’s BD editorial is full of hot air

Here’s what I’m saying in this week’s AJ in response to Amanda Baillieu’s editorial in last week’s BD.  Please post comments below.

I’m all in favour of a good debate. And maybe that’s what Amanda Baillieu, editor of Building Design, wanted to spark with last week’s editorial deriding the current government and the RIBA’s position on climate change. However, suggesting that we should seriously consider ‘the growing wealth of scientific evidence’ that climate change is not man-made, is utter nonsense. Thousands of international scientists have contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) research which documents the changing climate. In September, the United Nations Environment Programme released its Climate Change Science Compendium 2009 which states that the rate of change is more rapid even than that predicted by the IPCC. The vast majority of peer-reviewed scientific research concurs.

Public perception does not necessarily follow suit. HSBC’s global Climate Confidence Monitor shows fewer people citing climate change as a primary concern, down to 34 per cent in 2009 from 43 per cent in 2007. So let’s bring on the debate, air the sceptics’ views and set the record straight. I am not a climate scientist, but it doesn’t require detailed scientific knowledge to see that we are living beyond our means. I applaud the RIBA’s position on climate change and wish that more of the profession would heed its wake-up call. I would even say that the RIBA has been slow to champion the green agenda. Under Sunand Prasad, it endorsed the Global Commons Institute’s Contraction and Convergence framework, published its climate change toolkits and launched the speaker series, of which secretary of state for environment Hilary Benn was part.

Benn’s speech, on 28 October at the RIBA, was not the prophecy of doom that Baillieu ascribes to him, but rather an intelligent and articulate presentation of the facts on how climate change is likely to impact the UK and what government is doing about it. Benn may not have filled the hall, but it is a journalistic leap to conclude that this was due to evidence that climate change is not man-made. Weariness with sustainability is a serious matter. We all tire of claims that every new project is the latest low-carbon exemplar. Yet I am encouraged by the fact that despite the financial crisis, the appetite for low-carbon design has not diminished. The AJ has published numerous inspirational examples, including Michael Pawlyn’s Sahara Forest product, Baca Architects’ LifE project and Bennetts Associates’ Ashburton Court.

Journalistic endeavour would be better spent showcasing pioneering projects and disseminating best practice. It’s alarming to see a widely-read journal do otherwise.

Please post a comment below.

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35 Responses to “Amanda Baillieu’s BD editorial is full of hot air”

  1. Sadly Amanda Baillieu has added to the rumour of a ‘growing wealth of scientific evidence’ without providing any evidence.

  2. Here, here. I am still boiling over “that” editorial. I was irresponsible and childish. There are many challenges in additions to the greenhouse effect - how about soil and water? We need to see the big picture in order to avert catastrophe for future generations.

  3. Good to see the AJ taking a sensible line one this. Baillieu should be ashamed for giving credence to unfounded, and frankly dangerous ideas. If you a tell a lie often enough people start to believe it and in this case that could lead to catastrophe.

  4. I think perhaps in good faith Amanda confused growing climate scepticism amongst the general public and growing popularity of arm-chair sceptics with actual scientific opinion, which of course is going the other way towards greater certainty over man-made climate change.

    However, I really can’t understand the lack of rigour in uncritically promoting some of the sceptics’ classic “facts” which have been torn to shreads by peer-reviewed science. The ‘global warming stopped in 1998′ claim is a beauty, which Baillieu repeats in her response to my comment ( Wow. Let me respond on these pages instead. Here’s what the Hadley Centre says and it’s worth quoting in full (my capitals):

    “The evidence is clear – the long-term trend is that global temperatures are rising, and humans are largely responsible for this rise. Global warming does not mean that each year will be warmer than the last. Natural phenomena will mean that some years will be much warmer and others cooler. You only need to look at 1998 to see a record-breaking warm year caused by a very strong El Niño. In the last couple of years, the underlying warming is partially masked caused by a strongLa Niña. DESPITE THIS 11 OF THE LAST 13 YEARS WERE THE WARMEST EVER RECORDED. […] Over the last ten years, global temperatures have warmed more slowly than the long-term trend. But this does not mean that global warming has slowed down or even stopped. It is entirely consistent with our understanding of natural fluctuations of the climate within a trend of continued long-term warming.”

    Crazy left-wing scientists purely in it for government grants? Secret conspiracy by the establishment to raise our taxes and take our freedom? Or putting more “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere actually causes warming, which could prove dangerous if left unchecked. Hmm.

    Keep up the good work AJ.

    John Alker
    UK Green Building Council

  5. I agree with all the comments above. Good work, AJ!

  6. I’m delighted that the AJ is using its pages to publicise an article in a rival magazine – a first I think. Despite the line trotted out by among others the Green Building Council that there is no debate, there clearly is one otherwise why would the AJ be running with it? I am also delighted that there is a range of views on this issue and wonder if you have read the comment by AJ’s former technical editor Austin Williams on who points out that, while man made climate change is the be all and end all for the global warming industry, there are far more important health issues facing the world. At the same time there are many people, including scientists, who do question whether the emphasis on CO2 is not misplaced, but with so many organisations with a vested interest in the science only pointing one way, it is difficult for their voices to be heard.
    I take exception to being called a climate change denier, a term that, with its implicit reference to the holocaust, is deeply offensive. I am not a climate change denier; I am a sceptic – as all journalists should be. The climate is changing and it always has, it’s just what is making it change that I am questioning, as are many other people.
    Meanwhile, it’s always seemed wise to use energy sparingly, to consume sensibly and to wear jumpers when it gets cold.

  7. Well done AJ for maintaining the highest standards of professional journalism.

  8. Amanda Baillieu’s editorial in BD came to me as a breath of fresh air. It appears to me that there is something very unhealthy about the way the climate change lobby do what they can to limit debate. I am a sceptic also and I think I have every good reason to be.

  9. Good work AJ. There’s a lot of this going about. Quite disturbing.

    But it’s good to see that people are willing to take it on and challenge it.

  10. The problem with the climate change vs sceptics debate (like many highly-moralised, partisan clashes) is not whether or not we know the answer, but rather whether or not we are really asking the right question.

    By pinning everything on climate change, we’ve created a very fragile case for change - because if, somehow, it should turn out that climate change is not man-made - it opens the door to a load of people who’ll say, “right, we’re carrying on business as usual”.

    Climate change is not the only sympton of man’s crudely designed industrial-economic complex; we could also include loss of biodiversity, poor health, pollution, poverty, obesity, depression or ‘affluenza’…. There are infinite other reasons for eliminating our dependence upon fossil fuels. Pretty much every building or system should be designed better - not just to ‘fight’ climate change - but because it’s dumb not to. And that means thinking more deeply than just reducing what’s coming out of the exhaust pipe. A tree doesn’t dig for coal… because it doesn’t have to; it’s better designed than that. We should wean ourselves off fossil fuels not just because they release CO2 too fast, but because we are now (I hope) less simplistic.

    Thanks Hattie and Amanda for raising the debate - I think the level of interest should be taken as an indication that ‘journalistic endeavour’ should NOT be confined to ’showcasing best practice’. It should be as much as possible about questioning assumptions and anticipating change - questioning what ‘best’ practice might be. Otherwise it is little more than protracted advertising.

  11. Seems like another nail in BD’s coffin.

  12. I am very unhappy how the word ’sceptic’ is being hijacked by contrarians and conspiracy theorists. I’m a sceptic and proud of it. I’m open to the possibility that anything I believe could be wrong and rather too often this proves to be the case.

    However in order to be able to still tie my shoe laces in the morning I am happy to have a working hypothesis based on the weight of evidence and act on that. Randomly questioning stuff I don’t like is a great way to get out of doing stuff.

    In terms of the day job, my commitment to the highest levels of energy and water efficiency is independent of any belief in climate change.

    If man made climate change is just a load of hot air I’ll be celebrating with a flurry of flights but I’m not likely to be suggesting we make buildings that waste energy and are less comfortable to live and work in.

    I’ll stop before I repeat what others have said better than I could.

  13. Much has been said about this BD editorial. I support the view of Michael Pawlyn in the BD letter pages today. My own “non-sceptic” views on the subject are fairly well known.

    But… let’s pretend for a moment that climate change isn’t the issue. What about future supply problems associated with oil and gas? It’s been reported that the International Energy Agency, which advises numerous governments (including our own), is considering downward revisions to its already harsh predictions for future fossil fuel supplies into the world market. For example, they are addressing the question of when is the date of “peak oil production”, beyond which the world supply of oil inevitably declines with higher unit cost? Answer… sooner than is comfortable!

    We have recently experienced major disruption to the world economy. The UK is in massive debt, and we cannot afford another dose of similar disruption for years to come. However, due to progressive reductions in the supply of fossil fuels, energy prices continue to rise. If there is an unpredicted jump in the unit cost (this has happened before!) - perhaps caused by unexpected interruptions to supply - then our economic vulnerabilty will be exposed very quickly, probably with dire consequences.

    My point…? Whether you believe in “human driven climate change” or not, there is a compelling economic argument that we must rapidly reduce dependancy on fossil fuels. To do this we need cost effective alternatives that are more secure and local to the point of consumption. We must also reduce energy consumption per capita - not to tackle demand would be absurd.

    I conclude that the drive to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 is entirlely compatible with the need to reduce risk to the world economy. It’s simply a no-brainer! So, as a profession, can we stop wasting time and just get on with it please?

  14. As a practice we firmly believe we have a duty to our clients and users to design buildings that minimize energy consumption and are comfortable to work and live in over the next 50 or so years. That means we need to understand how our buildings will perform in a climate that is getting warmer based upon the irrefutable evidence the scientists are telling us.

    The problem with the BD’s debate is that it gives credence to the idea that the world is not really warming up or, if it is, it is doing it of its own accord and we can do little about it. Maybe that was the reason why the BD chose not to publicise our own BREEAM Outstanding office building that we are currently constructing. We are investing in this because we recognize that we need to do something to minimize our dependance upon fossil fuels. Perhaps the BD thinks it is wrong to do so, or to want to go a step further and try and obtain all of our electricity from fully sustainable sources.

    This debate appears to be a rerun of that in the US in the early 2000’s and we know the government turn around that followed.

  15. Of all the available subjects that there is to debate I can think of more valuable ones than how to convince climate change sceptics of the folly of their position. I had little intention of shelling out for a BD subscription before that article, now I have none. There has never been a large climate change sceptic lobby among scientists, there has always been a small and well funded sceptics lobby paid for by the oil industry to undermine the evidence and get as much media attention for their position as possible. Debate? The debate is how to get ourselves out of the mess we are in as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. More importantly the debate is about where to expend our effort, time and money, and I cannot see that that this article in BD helps that in any way.

  16. Love him or loathe him, George Monbiot’s blog is well timed:

  17. I have supported Amanda Baillieu’s editorial not because I necessarily agree with it but because I support the principle that all ‘accepted truths’ should be questioned. I am quite sure that none of those who have commented above and who have howled down Amanda’s attempt to put a very unfashionable view across are in any way in command of the evidence that they rely upon to suggest that she should not have written what she did. Nor am I. I think it is clear that there is a majority scientific view that there is such a thing as life-threatening man-made climate change. I think it is also clear that there is another, possibly quite respectable, contrary view. It is no more ‘wrong’ for the inexpert to take one view or the other and I think it can be positively ‘right’ to challenge an almost religious orthodoxy from the similarly inexpert - if only to get them to sharpen up their act. Equally, there is a long history of ‘accepted truths’ - particularly those that involve long to medium term predictions - actually proving to be incorrect (only very recently evidence has emerged for a much more dramatic drop in worldwide fertility rates than even the rare optimists in this field predicted).
    I take the view that it is probably wise to act as if the prevailing view is correct, as this is a better insurance policy if it turns out to be at least substantially correct, but remain sceptical. Rather like the dying atheist receiving absolution. We should, however, remember that without scepticism there is no scientific advance.

  18. If a layperson decides to take an interest in climate science, they will first spend a few weeks of their spare time amazed at the quantity of information available. it seems that there is a huge array of theories and a great degree of uncertainty in the science. A few more weeks or months and things start to become a bit clearer.

    I don’t think Amanda is any different, the trouble is, she is the editor or BD. She is writing about a subject she has not had enough time to research properly.

    I hope now she spends her time looking into the science, rather than focusing on defending her writing (as above) to date. Or she could open an architectural debate on the pros and cons of brain surgery.

  19. Re Amanda’s comment above, if somebody publishes a load of nonsense in a magazine, and then a mass of readers respond in an attempt to correct the falsehood, this does not mean there is a debate, and does not justify the article!

  20. Just checked out Amanda’s Twitter page:

    “Basically believing in man made climate change is a bit like hoping that fairies live at the bottom of the garden.”

    “The fact the scientific establishment backs global warming doesn’t make it true”

    Amanda please enlighten us as to your sources!

  21. All the discussion here is about whether human-made climate change is happening or not, but the real problem with the orthodoxy on climate change is that it gets mixed up with other orthodoxies which are definitely plain wrong. So many measures taken to combat climate change (e.g. wind farms, climate change levies, carbon trading) are misdirected or inadequate. The measures we really need do not happen. There are three essential areas:

    1. Economic Model. The current, universally-used, economic model only works if we have continual growth. Remember a 3 per cent growth (not much) means a doubling of output in 24 years. Whatever else we do we can never reduce pollution unless we adopt an economic model that does not require growth

    2. Transport. We are doing very little to move away from private transport. We continually create built environments that will require private transport as long as they remain in existence. (“suburbia” and “industrial parks”) and there is practically no determined move anywhere to give the necessary priority to public transport and bicycles and to plan cities accordingly

    3. Globalisation. The continual drive to concentrate certain industries in certain countries produces massive inefficiencies of production as regards world resources. Even worse is the expansion of shipping which, because international, rarely shows up on normal measures of energy consumption

    None of these primary factors are ever seriously discussed. Carbon emissions are almost a sideshow.

  22. I agree with Robert Adam that accepted truths should not be above question, but I really doubt that those howling Amanda down are any less in command of the evidence than she is. On matters science, I the reckon the New Scientist’s debunking of climate change myths (deniers) is substantially more grounded in balanced evidence than BD’s trite contrarianism. The majority scientific view is not something like a 60/40 split, but rather more like (at least) 98/2 – not blind orthodoxy, but challenging, evidenced, reviewed and discomforting scientific research. BD talks of increasing evidence, but seems only capable of trotting out clichés about opening debate and questioning orthodoxy, without actually putting any real or balanced evidence on the table. Its position is little more than lazy, sensationalist tabloid journalism masquerading as something much more noble.

  23. Wow the BD have got themselves a bit of attention.
    We train code for sustainable homes assessors. I agree with a couple of postings thus far. I am not sure Amanda has read all the science. I also agree with Richard Ferraro but for different reasons.

    Lets ignore climate change for a moment. What else do we get when a more sustainable house is built - lower bills, less fuel poverty, better air quality, less overheating, a healthier home, better daylighting, lower water bills, less chance of flooding.

    At a macro level this means less nuclear power stations and less wind turbines, less reliance on foreign fuels and less expense for the tax payer.

    The future is low carbon partly because of climate change. It is also the future because that future is brighter in itself.


  25. Amanda Baillieu:

    > Despite the line trotted out … that there is no debate, there clearly is one otherwise why would the AJ be running with it?

    Dear Amanda, try claiming that polystyrene is good for load-bearing joists and see what response you get. Just because people point out you’re saying stupid things does not mean the things you are saying are not stupid!

    You’ve very clearly been getting your climate ’science’ from anywhere other than credible sources. Your claims are a compendium of the long-debunked nonsense found on Denier blogs. Try the Royal Society or NASA or any other national science academy of any industrialised nation on the planet - they all say the same thing. Or are you suggesting that the thousands of climate scientists represented by these organisation are all in on some fiendish global conspiracy? Do you have evidence for that?

    In fact, do you have evidence for anything that you’ve written?


    Repeating Hal Jones, from Baillieu’s Twitter feed:

    > “Basically believing in man made climate change is a bit like hoping that fairies live at the bottom of the garden.”

    > “The fact the scientific establishment backs global warming doesn’t make it true”

    That’s an astonishing display of basic scientific illiteracy, ignorance and delusion! It beggars belief that someone so bonkers has the position she does. What else does she believe? AIDS is a hoax? Evolution is a hoax? Smoking does not cause cancer?

    Pfft! You can prove almost anything with science!

  26. I don’t know why I gave up smoking 30 years ago because my son-in-law tells me “there isn’t scrap of empirical evidence to prove a link to cancer”. I am getting him a membership for the Flat Earth Society for a Xmas present.

    I stopped getting BD a while back – this saga has not helped any resolve to re-apply for it – and especially to pay for this stuff.

  27. She says “it’s hard not to have this debate without be being labelled a climate change denier” and yet that is what she is:

    “Basically believing in man made climate change is a bit like hoping that fairies live at the bottom of the garden.”

  28. ….And believing we can continue to consume energy per capita at the current rate, in particular fossil fuels, is a bit like playing russian roulette with 5 out of 6 barrels loaded.

    As I’ve already said in this column, if you don’t believe in ‘human driven climate change’, so be it… but don’t use that as an excuse for ‘business as usual’, with the built in assumption that fossil fuel extraction can maintain current output and price. From all points of view, that is a dangerous and indefensible position.

    As a postscript… I’m one of 3 people who started ECD in 1980, with a self imposed remit to address over dependancy on fossil fuels in the built environment, energy conservation, waste reduction, and respect for the environment. It scares me to think that, in that time, the UK has all but used up our reserves of North Sea gas. It took the world 25 million years to create that resource, and we’ve used it in just 25 years.

    Is that clever? I think not.

  29. My comments on Building Design Editorial 6/11/09 DEBATE - CLIMATE CHANGE:-

    BD editor, you say:- “…As global temperatures fail to warm….” “scientists are questioning how quickly warming is happening and whether humans are actually leading the cause…”

    Editor, you must be pulling our legs, for the sake of provoking debate. This is bad science, without references. You have got this very short-term variation, out of proportion. There will always be dissenters like vested-oil-interest George Bush, who at least recanted after the IPCC Report

    “You should not look at trends over a particular year. Over a long period the trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of global warming. The climate on average is warming, even if there is temporary cooling…We are confident that the record temperature of 1998 will be beaten when La Nina is ended” - “There will always be variability
    (eg La Nina causing temporary global cooling in 2008)”
    [eg did it rain more last year than this?]

    Google:- “IPCC UNITED NATIONS CLIMATE CHANGE 4th REPORT 2007 (AR4)” ( by IPCC:- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This was a United Nations panel advising world policy makers, and was comprised of thousands of specialist climate and similar scientists, from dozens of countries, who, amazingly, were able to AGREE!! this Report,.

    See also:- developments following the 3 preceding IPCC Reports of 1990, 95, and 2001). There are helpful “Executive Summaries”.

    This IPCC Report said:-
    - “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal”

    - Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid 20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [= man-made] green house gas concentrations”

    Criticisms of this Report are:-
    that it UNDER-states rather than over-states the urgency and magnitude of changes already occurring. (see web:- Wikipedia/ IPCC AR4)

    Eg:- Sea ice is melting 30 years ahead of the IPCC Report, worst case scenario. This has led to rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events.

    ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Al Gore’s film, says it is mainly non-scientists, not scientists, who disagree, including journalists etc, who have not sufficiently understood or read the evidence.

    separate from climate change:-
    That we do not have the right to use up most of the world’s resources of fossil carbon, and nuclear/uranium, within a few generations. Because these took millions of centuries of solar energy to create. We are living extravagantly, now, by borrowing from the future world resource stock, like a toxic mortgage, with no way of paying the resources back to our children, to whom the resources belong.

    James Lovelock says, if we do nothing:- “the world will adapt, but humans may not survive.”

    “What will this country [UK] look like if we do nothing?…like a very poor, third-world, country”. (said Mayer Hillman, see G Monbiot, “Heat”, Penguin )

    Architects are today designing, the further 25% Part L energy, and Part G water use, cut required in april 2010. BD should be in the forefront of solutions to climate change, not leading the retreat. Our children’s, children’s, children will not forgive us, using up most of their resources, as they have to revert to a mediaeval, renewable-energy, life-style.

  30. I am relieved by the amount of sensible responses this column is finally generating. I am frightened only by the thought that if architects think buildings need not pay lipservice to being carbon efficient, then the efforts the rest of us are making to transform older buildings for this purpose are completely wasted. (for older buildings read anything built up to 2008.)
    Facts to concentrate the mind. The world’s oceans are now dangerously acidic. (thought to be down to excessive Co2 in the atmosphere - the ocean can no longer absorb high levels of it) This is effecting life in the oceans, and dismantling coral reefs at an alarming rate. when they have gone, and they are shrinking fast, ocean life will deteriorate sharply. Read any ocean science - its all there. Then tell me attention to carbon outputs is optional.

  31. I respect Baillieu’s responsibility to question aspects of the building industry, but not only do I disagree with her views, I also disagree wth the approach that has been taken by the writer and the website. Her professionalism and credibilty must surely be questioned by the fact that she failed to reference any one of her numerous sweeping statements. I don’t generally blog but I tried to write a response onto Baillieu’s article. Unfortunately none of the comments that I made over the 3 environmental pieces has been published, and the distinct slant in the majority of the posts leads me to think that BD is not trying to lead ‘the debate’, they are just trying to produce propaganda for an issue that has long been resolved in the business and political worlds. On one hand Baillieu says that the debate is not over and that people who are of her opinion are being marginalised - well she can be accused of exactly the same thing by not posting the blog comments of readers who take the time to write responses. You simply can’t have a debate with people who are unwilling to listen or publish.

  32. Neil Brady: ” Unfortunately none of the comments that I made over the 3 environmental pieces that the BD has ran has been published”…”You simply can’t have a debate with people who are unwilling to listen or publish.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

    And I look forward to my own earlier comments on this site being published by Ms Harman.

  33. What saddens me is that the real and real important debate hasn’t even been mentioned!

    There is a genuine science debate: a large and growing number of scientists DO believe that the ‘mass establishment consensus’ is wrong.

    They believe that the situation is much worse than IPCC mainstream. Not better. has an easily digestible summary of this. David Wasdell’s briefing to the APPCCG and book provides detail.

    Perhaps Amanda might like to give air-time to this minority view, for completeness.

    Some may find my blogs on this topic entertaining, and hopefully (carbon-free) enlightening:

  34. I love the smell of vested interests in the morning.

    Perhaps your more open minded readers might care to read some of the materials coming out of the leak of emails and datasets from the CRU at UEA in Norwich. Here are a couple of links:-

    A developing story, as they say.

  35. Thanks for putting up this article. I’m unquestionably frustrated with struggling to search out relevant and rational commentary on this matter. Everybody now goes to the very far extremes to either drive home their viewpoint that either: everyone else in the planet is wrong, or two that everyone but them does not really understand the situation. Many thanks for your concise, pertinent insight.

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