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Hot Air: The fight against the headwind of climate-change denial

Book review: Peter Stott’s expertise includes insider knowledge of the scientific and IPCC processes

Hot Air: The Inside Story of the Battle Against Climate Change
Hot Air: The Inside Story of the Battle Against Climate Change
Author: Peter Stott
ISBN-13: 978-1838952488
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Guideline Price: £18.99

For much of the last century or so scientists were among the rock stars of society, feted as their research delivered a cornucopia of ingenious innovations and inventions, much of which have come to define the modern era.

It was never going to last. As soon as the scientific community began delivering findings that questioned the dominant narrative of limitless economic growth, things began to get ugly. This is most clearly evidenced in the ferocious backlash to climate science from the fossil fuel industry and its political allies.

For the last quarter of a century UK Met Office climatologist Peter Stott has been a central figure in the story of how the scientific community came to identify, with ever-increasing confidence, the existential threat posed by the rapid accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere.

Stott’s particular claim to scientific fame is for his role in detecting and attributing the climate “fingerprint” of a specific weather event for the first time.


His new book, Hot Air, is described as “the inside story of the battle against climate change denial”, but in some respects that misses the real point. While Stott details the various attacks against individual scientists by fossil fuel industry shills, the more compelling story involves the incredible progress made by scientists in both understanding the vastly complex global climate system and ringing the alarm bells about global warming.

Stott chronicles his journey of scientific discovery from the 1990s. By then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had already been established and was beginning to make real headway.

In tandem with this a cabal of well-funded “rogue” scientists supported by right-wing think tanks ramped up a campaign against key IPCC scientists, targeting them for personal abuse and baseless claims of misconduct.


These attacks were uncritically amplified via the editorial columns of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, with the aim of undermining confidence in the entire field of climatology. As Stott was to discover to his personal cost, “having expertise could be dangerous”.

He vividly recalls a bruising experience of attending a scientific conference in Moscow in 2004 which quickly descended into acrimony. “I had been part of a show trial in which well-established scientific evidence had been traduced, attempts had been made to silence me, and our integrity was attacked.”

Among the “experts” invited to Moscow by the newly-installed Putin regime was Piers Corbyn, a noted climate-denier and peddler of “a crackpot theory that had never been published in a peer-reviewed journal”.

Despite the disinformation the scientific evidence supporting dangerous anthropogenic climate change was growing ever more robust. Stott was appointed a lead IPCC author in 2004, which put him at the heart of the complex but robust decision-making process.

This culminated in the IPCC fourth assessment report in 2007, which, for the first time, described human interference in the global climate system as “unequivocal”. Stott’s fly-on-the-wall account of the exhaustive process by which such wording is agreed, line by line, is illuminating.

The deniers, it seemed, had been routed. Then came “climategate”, a faux controversy based around the malicious misinterpretation of four or five words from thousands of stolen scientists’ emails released in November 2009.

By sheer bad luck this coincided with the coldest winter in Europe in 30 years. The weather and fake scandal combined to have a chilling effect on the Copenhagen climate conference that December. After this, “unused to the roughhouse tactics of a re-energised band of climate-deniers, most (scientists) retreated to the safety of their labs and hoped for better times”, Stott recalls.

He later found out that “many editors were accusing their environmental staff of going native with suspect scientists”.


Stott was an invited expert speaker at Ireland’s Citizens Assembly on climate change in 2017, and was clearly impressed by what he describes as “one of the most fascinating exercises in deliberative democracy anywhere in the world”.

After decades of denial, doubt and delay, the evidence of accelerating climate breakdown is now clear for all to see. The deniers are still denying, but few are listening.

Stott’s own speciality of event attribution has advanced to the extent that scientists can now analyse the climate component of a given extreme weather event almost in real time. This too has fundamentally changed the narrative.

While placing himself squarely at the heart of the action, this book could have done with an editor to rein in the author’s over-enthusiastic use of the first person singular voice, which detracts somewhat from the storytelling.

Stott’s book will appeal primarily to climate science enthusiasts, with its rich insider knowledge of the minutiae of the scientific and IPCC negotiating processes, and it is an eminently readable account of both.