Raised above a grocery store and trained as a scientist, the Iron Lady saw environmental realities through the prism of her own experience.
Tributes to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died recently at 87, are focusing mostly on her achievements revitalizing the British economy and prevailing in negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Today we join our colleague James Murray of UK-based BusinessGreen.com in paying tribute to Thatcher’s role as a pioneer in the fight against climate change.
Three important speeches
“Between 1989 and 1990,” writes Murray, “Thatcher used three high-profile speeches to warn of the threat posed by man-made climate change and argue that investing in tackling the problem would represent ‘money well and necessarily spent because the health of the economy and the health of the environment are totally dependent on each other.’”
In her speech at the Royal Society in 1988, Thatcher noted her training as a scientist and the gathering evidence of changes in the atmospheric chemistry.
She studied chemistry at Oxford, where one of her instructors was Dorothy Hodgkin, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. In the late 1940s, working as a chemist for the food manufacturer J. Lyons & Co., Thatcher helped invent soft-serve ice cream.
In 1989, she spoke on climate change to the U.N. General Assembly and said the U.K. would support the newly launched Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.
In 1990, she dedicated the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research with a speech that included the warning, “We would be taking a great risk with future generations if, having received this early warning, we did nothing about it or just took the attitude: ‘Well! It will see me out!'”
Today, politics and economic challenges have taken over the climate change debate, but in Thatcher’s day, “conservative” did not automatically include aversion to environmental issues.
Point of view based on personal experience
Thatcher’s views of the natural world may have stemmed from her childhood as the daughter of a grocer, in tune with the ups and downs of weather, crop yields and prices.
As she said, her training as a chemist gave her an important perspective on the gathering of CO2 and other atmospheric numbers around the world.
Thatcher’s story is another example of the importance of personal experience in attitudes on environmental issues.