Hubert Lamb: The scepticism of CRU’s founder
Feb 25, 2014
Bishop Hill in Climate: CRU

This is a guest post by Bernie Lewin.

The Wikipedia article on the founder of CRU, Hubert Lamb,states:

At first his view was that global cooling would lead within 10,000 years to a future ice age and he was known as “the ice man”, but over a period including the UK's exceptional drought and heat wave of 1975–76 he changed to predicting that global warming could have serious effects within a century. His warnings of damage to agriculture, ice caps melting, and cities being flooded caught widespread attention and helped to shape public opinion.

There are a number of oddities about this claim. For one: why would you need to renounce a prediction of an ice age in a few thousand years so as to come around to the global warming scare—which is predicted for the next few centuries, if not decades? But strangest of all is that Lamb never professed alarm about manmade global warming. In fact, from his earliest writing on the greenhouse warming hypothesis until his death in 1997, he was a vocal sceptic. One could even say that he was the original opponent of global warming alarm, vocal in opposition even in its nascent state during the 1970s and early 1980s. 

A hint of Lamb’s scepticism entered the contemporary global warming controversy with Fred Pearce in an introductory chapter of his book about Climategate, The Climate Files. There Pearce quotes a high-profile speech that Lamb delivered in 1984. An addition to the Wikipedia article citing this secondary source represented the first first hint there of Lamb’s scepticism. Within hours this addition was ripped out by the notorious William Connolley.

A minor editorial dispute ensued. In the end, with a small concession, the defenders of Lamb’s virtue were victorious. And so there remains the story (quoted above) of how Lamb’s warning of a warming-driven catastrophe gained attention and brought the public on side. Such heroic actions could not be further from the truth. And the problem is not only with Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, there is a similar fudging in the biography posted at CRU. A search of the internet reveals only a few hints of what was a scepticism of every aspect of the whole darn thing — and a scepticism that persisted across the last three decades of his life. For some time I have been meaning to do something about this, and so, to improve the situation, I have now laid out extensive quotes from Lamb’s main published discussions of the greenhouse warming hypothesis.

In these extracts Lamb expresses scepticism of the theoretical physics, he suggests likely negative feedbacks, he notes that the models are not matching the trends, he outlines how 20th century trends are better explained by natural drives (solar and volcanic), he wonders that some of the warming in the station-based global temperature anomalies are still infected by UHI effect, he puts his hope in satellite data to give better results…and so much more. He also spends some time analysing the funding drivers behind the scare, including vested interests, and other reasons why climate modelling gets so much support.

Lamb completed his memoirs in his final year 1997, months before Kyoto. In it he laments:

It is unfortunate that studies produced nowadays treat these and other matters related to changes of climate as if they are always, and only, attributable to the activities of Man and side-effects on the climate.


Since my retirement from the directorship of the Climatic Research Unit there have been changes there… My immediate successor, Professor Tom Wigley, was chiefly interested in the prospects of world climate being changed as a result of human activities,…After only a few years almost all the work on historical reconstruction of past climate and weather situations, which had first made the Unit well known, was abandoned.

Lamb saw hope in Briffa and others taking up dendroclimatology, but pleaded that this data should be consulted in concert with multiple historical sources. Indeed,it was not, and the story from there is familiar to BH readers.

Extended quotes from Lamb are here. An introductory essay is here, and more here.

Article originally appeared on (
See website for complete article licensing information.