Wednesday 12 August 2009

Frits Böttcher

Roots of Dutch climate skepticism series, part 5
Next in the history of Dutch climate skeptics series is a man with an extraordinary CV : Carl Johan Friedrich (Frits) Böttcher.

After WW2, Böttcher (1915-2008) was a professor at Leiden University where he was teaching the remarkable combination of Chemistry and Graphology.

He had to give up the latter though around 1960 because by then the pressure of the academic world, considering graphology to be pseudo-scientific nonsense, became too big.

Somewhere in the 50's Böttcher also found the time to become a part-time scientific advisor for Shell. A position he'd keep for the next 30 years.

European Science and Environement Forum Frits Böttcher
European Science and Environment Forum
The Club of Rome
In 1963 Böttcher, having professional contacts with the Dutch ministry of education, told them he was surprised there was so little interest in the forthcoming conference of the just found OECD. This ultimately resulted in the ministry asking him to lead the delegation.

By that time he also became the first president of the Dutch Advisory Board for Science-Policy. In this position, he and some delegation- leaders from other countries were invited by the OECD to a conference on the results of population growth.

As a result of this involvement, Böttcher would become one of the founding fathers of the resulting Club of Rome, which in 1972 would publish the famous Limiths to Growth report.

It's considered to be one of the world's first expressions of a serious ecological concerns towards the future. It would also be one of the first to be attacked by environmental skeptics :-)

The quote
When his membership of the Dutch scientific board ended (1976), Böttcher started The Global Institute for the Study of Natural Resources. The financial resources for the institute were Shell and the automobile industry.

In the beginning of the 90's, Böttcher became a vocal climate skeptic. After a TV-debate in which Böttcher declared there's no CO2-problem, Lucas Reijnders said to Frits Böttcher : "You know very well yourself what you said is incorrect" to which Böttcher gave the legendary answer "yeah i know, but i'm against nuclear energy"

Big Tobacco Lobby
In 1994 (at age 79 !) Böttcher started the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), together with Roger Bate and John Emsley. ESEF declared that, in order to remain independent, it would only accept funding from the sales of its publications. Two years later, Roger Bate would ask Philip Morris for a £50,000 grant.

ESEF is linked, via shared staff (Julian Morris and Roger Bate) and a shared web server, to the International Policy Network and the Sustainable Development Network.

ESEF can be considered as a European version of Steve Milloy's The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). The aim of the now defunct ESEF was to bring tobacco advocacy into a larger field of environmental issues, like the ban on growth hormone for livestock (in Europe, it's illegal), restrictions on pesticides, etc.

In 1998, the academic members of lobby tool ESEF contained a lot of well known climate skeptics. Read and weep : Sallie Baliunas, Robert C. Balling, Sherwood Idso, Patrick J. Michaels, Harry N.A. Priem, Michel Salomon (the author of the Heidelberg appeal), S. Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Gerd-Rainer Weber, while Richard S. Courtney was listed as a bussiness member.

Böttcher in his turn would become a member of the advisory board of S. Fred Singers Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

Böittcher would publish two books on the subject of climate change :

  • Science and fiction of the greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide, The Global Institute for the Study of Natural Resources, 1992,
  • CO2, Klimabedrohung oder Politik? (in English : CO2, climate fraud or politics?), samen met H. Metzner, Paul Haupt, 1994
Böttcher called global warming a conspiracy involving a few hundreds of scientists and politicians.

The Heidelberg Appeal
It is in this environment of Big Tobacco lobbygroups like ESEF & TASSC that the Heidelberg Appeal would arise. Which is material for the next episode in the series.

The Heidelberg Appeal would lead into a Dutch division called Stichting Heidelberg Appeal Nederland (stichting HAN) which would become one of Hollands prominent anti-environmental groups.

HAN soon start to coöperate with Böttchers aforementioned private tool The Global Institute for the Study of Natural Resources and in 1997 they would start the Science and Society Forum (SSF). In a 2007 interview Böttcher stated the global institute still existed on it's own with one employee.

Frits Böttcher passed away on november 23, 2008.


  1. Thanks. I'd seen him mentioned at SEPP, but never knew his background.

    have you any insight into what might have flipped him from "Club of Rome" view to "SEPP view"?

    (I've been trying to build models and taxonomies of why people who might reasonably be well-infomred go off into anti-science.)

  2. Well, there's something that might help : There's a 1996 article by the Dutch organisation 'Environemental Defense' which deals with the question what is driving Böttcher. Of course, reading the article one has to keep in mind ED is a "green" organisation. On the other hand, they don't seem to be aware of his ESEF/SEPP-connection

    The article they published in their magazine is titled A born Contrarian

    Some key passages are :

    The dissidents, the loners going their own way, they are the ones determing scientific progress, Frits Bötcher says, being called a dissident himself, a heathen, a scientific clown. He considers them to be "Geuzen"name
    (In the Dutch language the word geuzennaam is used for linguistic reappropriation: a pejorative term used with pride by the people called that way. J)


    ED cites an ex-colleague (J. Mulder) of Böttcher:
    he was always lookin for a new challenge. As soon as he constructed something, he'd leave it behind. He wasn't interested bringing his scientific career to the maximum, he never belonged to the incrowd of his own scientific area

    after his emeritus in 1980, he focussed completely on his own research-bureau "The Global Institute for the Study of Natural Resources" In reality, the institute never became big. They cite Wieger Fransen, who now works for the Dutch weather service KNMI. Fransen was working at the institute as a civil alternative for his military conscription, and he's quoted saying : "i sort of was the only employee"

    Böttcher himself on his work with the Club of Rome :
    "With the Club of Rome, we deliberately created a frightening picture to provoce fast decisions. In our opinion, the approach of the governments was too slow, because of all the bureaucracy in national governments and institutions like the EC and the UN"

    But this doesn't make Bötthcer a doomsday thinker. Contrary, as one of the few, he already believed in technological progress, which would prevent the need to make big changes in the way society is organised.

    Mulder (the ex colleague) says he didn't join the Club of Rome because of his personal commitment, but rather out of scientific curiosity. Mulder : "the Club of Rome was using huge models to make worldwide predictions and this must have awoken the interest of theoricus Böttcher, himself working with models on micro-scale.

    Böttchers accusations towards climate scientists are severe : "they are using public corncerns about the greenhouse effect to generate research-funding. climate models are way too rude to make predictions with any certainty [this last sentence being the Henk Tennekes vision, whom he probably must have known J.]. The CO2-problem is a matter of supply & demand. And there is a demand for a CO2-problem, from politicians side, from environemental organisations and the nuclear lobby".

    His way of communicating shows Böttcher is acting more from a will to provocate than from scientific doubt. For criticism on the content itself, he's depending on others. And he'll repeat that criticism of others until it's totally rebutted, after which he simply adopts another point to critise. Or then he starts questioning the reliabity of IPCC, which was created by the UN, which indeed results in a strange mixture of politics & science. On other occasions, he's argumenting the greenhouse effect only in a few countries is an issue on the political agenda.

    It gives the impression Böttcher is a dissident just for the sake of being dissident.

  3. (cont)

    Another illustration for him the scientific discussion is less important is shown by Paul Borderwijk, who promoted under Böttcher. Borderwijk doesn't think the position Böttcher choose is important, but his quest for new challenges : "if Böttcher would have been defending whole-hearted the opposite side of the CO2-debate, I wouldn't have been surprised either"

    Climate scientist don't take Böttcher serious any more, and that's his own fault. He doesn't appear on congresses and doesn't participate in the scientific debate.
    KNMI's Fransen says : "if you question him, he will only repeat what he just said or give an answer like 'you just wait and see'. If he'd be saying earth is flat, it would be impossible to alter his mind.

    That sort of criticism doesn't bother Böttcher. The position of an outsider in his eyes is nothing but a pro. He claims it's a necessity that experienced scientists from outside the specific scientific domain take a birdview-look onto the subject.

    His views do find an audience in politics though, as politicians like phrases like'a rise in CO2 is good for plants'. VVD-member Te veldhuis, one of the members of the commission on climate change in the Dutch parliament, looked at the subject and is convinced his fellow party-member Böttcher, who for years was the president of the Leiden-division of VVD, is right

    Böttcher does all he can to erase the greenhouse problem from the political agenda : "the scientific research of course should continue, but for a political debate it's way too early ", Böttcher says on a tone of the wise old scientist who wants to keep his younger collegues from hubris. It is this hubris which makes them give politicians 'handles' to act. "politicians only need to know one chemical formula : CO2" is what he wrote in the magazine The Engineer [i don't have the article and don't know in which context he wrote this sentence, J]

    What keeps Böttcher going, what's his driving force ?
    "other environmental issues are more urgent" he says, and then he names the same ones as the Club of Rome already did : overpopulation, scarcety of raw materials, loss of fertile soils, water-scarcety, ...

    Böttcher is also known for his fear of nuclear power and his fear sometimes is mentioned as the motivation for his position in the climate change debate [follows : the TV-debate anekdote mentioned in my post, J.]

    But above all, Vanity seems to be Böttchers most important motivation : he's scared he will no longer be heared as a prominent scientist. Böttcher grabs every single possibillity to be a scientific dissident and as such there's nothing wrong with that. He's doing it in an inventive way, which you can admire. But a scientific clown has his funtion within the scientific circus, things go wrong if he wants to be taken serious outside the arena.

    I translated 90% of the ED-article; and it does give some good impressions.
    Looks like, probably without realising it, ED in '96 already discovered the emeritus-problem ?

  4. Above that, there's an interview in Dutch ( with Böttcher when he was 91 and where he looks back and which could be interesting too.

    he says one of the first things he did was auditing if the science-policy in Holland was money-well spent or not. Something which not everyone appreciated. As p.ex. he said 'fagricultural research' was overfunded.

    Then there were subjects that were completely taboo, like auditing TNO (dutch research centre) or ZWO (dutch foundation for research)

    He had immediate contact with the top of Dutch politics at the height of his career.

    Yet all in all he seems satisfied with the results of his work in commisions serving directly under the different ministers he served. Which doens't mean he's not criticising both some people and bureaucracy.