The year: 1990. The venue: Palais des Nations, Geneva. The star: Margaret Thatcher, conservative icon in the final month of her prime ministership. The topic: global warming.
Thatcher went to the Second World Climate Conference to heap praise on the then-infant Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and to sound, again, the alarm over global warming. Not only that, her speech laid out a simple conservative argument for taking environmental action: "It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now," she said, "than to wait and find we have to pay much more later." Global warming was, she argued, "real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations."
The Iron Lady's speech makes for fascinating reading in the context of 2013's climate acrimony, drenched as it is in party politics. In the speech, she questioned the very meaning of human progress: Booming industrial advances since the Age of Enlightenment could no longer be sustained in the context of environmental damage. We must, she argued, redress the imbalance with nature wrought by development.
"Remember our duty to nature before it is too late," she warned. "That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe."
On climate change, Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday at age 87, was characteristically steadfast, eloquent, and divisive. "The right always forget this part of her legacy," Lord Deben, a member of the House of Lords and chair of the U.K.'s independent Committee on Climate Change, told Climate Desk on Monday. Lord Deben served in the Thatcher government and said she was crucial in raising the profile of climate negotiations around the world, even when it was deeply unpopular amongst her colleagues. "She was determined to take this high-profile position," he said. "She believed it was her duty as a scientist." (Thatcher studied science while at Oxford University.) Barring a few members, "the rest of the cabinet were not convinced," he said.