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The cold spring weather and what it means

I wrote The Spectator diary column this week:

We’ve discovered that we own an island. But dreams of
independence and tax-havenry evaporate when we try to picnic there
on Easter Sunday: we watch it submerge slowly beneath the incoming
tide. It’s a barnacle-encrusted rock, about the size of a tennis
court, just off the beach at Cambois, north of Blyth, which for
some reason ended up belonging to my ancestor rather than the
Crown. Now there’s a plan for a subsidy-fired biomass power station
nearby that will burn wood (and money) while pretending to save the
planet. The outlet pipes will go under our rock and we are due
modest compensation. As usual, it’s us landowners who benefit from
renewable energy while working people bear the cost: up the coast
are the chimneys of the country’s largest aluminium smelter —
killed, along with hundreds of jobs, by the government’s unilateral
carbon-floor price in force from this week.

There were dead puffins on the beach, as there have been all
along the east coast. This cold spring has hit them hard. Some
puffin colonies have been doing badly in recent years, after
booming in the 1990s, but contrary to the predictions of global
warming, it’s not the more southerly colonies that have suffered
most. The same is true of guillemots, kittiwakes and sandwich
terns: northern colonies are declining.

It’s not just here that the cold has been relentless. Germany’s
average temperature for March was below zero. Norwegian farmers
cannot plant vegetables because the ground’s frozen three feet
down. In America snow fell as far south as Oklahoma last week. It’s
horrible for farmers. But in past centuries, bad weather like that
of the past 12 months would kill. In the 1690s, two million French
people starved because of bad harvests. I’ve never understood why
people argue that globalisation makes for a more fragile system:
the opposite is the case. Harvest failures can be regional, but
never global, so world trade ensures that we have the insurance
policy of access to somebody else’s bumper harvest.

Gloriously, the poor old Met Office got it wrong yet again. In
December it said: ‘For February and March… above-average UK-mean
temperatures become more likely.’ This time last year it said the
forecast ‘slightly favours drier-than-average conditions for
April-May-June, and slightly favours April being the driest of the
three months’ before the wettest of all Aprils. The Met Office does
a great job of short-term forecasting, but the people who do that
job must be fed up with the reputational damage from a computer
that’s been taught to believe in rapid global warming. In September
2008 it foretold a ‘milder than average’ winter, before the coldest
winter in a decade. The next year it said ‘the trend to milder and
wetter winters is expected to continue’ before the coldest winter
for 30 years. The next year it saw a ‘60 per cent to 80 per cent
chance of warmer-than-average temperatures this winter’ before the
coldest December since records began.

At least somebody’s happy about the cold. Gary Lydiate runs one
of Northumberland’s export success stories, Kilfrost, which
manufactures 60 per cent of Europe’s and a big chunk of the world’s
aircraft de-icing fluid, so he puts his money where his mouth is,
deciding how much fluid to send to various airports each winter.
Back in January, when I bumped into him in a restaurant, he was
beaming: ‘Joe says this cold weather’s going to last three months,’
he said. Joe is Joe Bastardi, a private weather forecaster, who
does not let global warming cloud his judgment. Based on
jetstreams, el Niños and ocean oscillations, Bastardi said the
winter of 2011–12 would be cold only in eastern Europe, which it
was, but the winter of 2012–13 would be cold in western Europe too,
which it was. He’s now predicting ‘warming by mid month’ of April
for the UK.

David Rose of the Mail on Sunday was vilified
for saying that there’s been no global warming for about 16 years,
but even the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
now admits he’s right. Rose is also excoriated for drawing
attention to papers which find that climate sensitivity to carbon
dioxide is much lower than thought — as was I when I made the same
point in the Wall Street Journal. Yet even
the Economist has now conceded this. Tip your hat
to Patrick Michaels, then of the University of Virginia, who
together with three colleagues published a carefully argued
estimate of climate sensitivity in 2002. For having the temerity to
say they thought ‘21st-century warming will be modest’, Michaels
was ostracised. A campaign began behind the scenes to fire the
editor of the journal that published the paper, Chris de Freitas.
Yet Michaels’s central estimate of climate sensitivity agrees well
with recent studies. Scientists can behave remarkably like priests
at times.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist  spectator