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Yes, heatwaves are getting more intense thanks to global warming, but the alarmism is shameless


On Tuesday this week in Northumberland, the mercury never even reached 16C. I gather from one or two gentle hints on the BBC – sorry, apocalyptic rants – that it’s a bit hotter in the Mediterranean. My point is a serious one: as in most Julys, some places are exceptionally hot, other places a bit cooler than usual. A below-sea-level desert in western China with a fairly new thermometer has broken China’s national heat record, but eastern China is cooler. India is currently cooler than usual, Italy hotter than usual.

Records may well be broken this week in the Mediterranean, but so far most of the predicted new records have failed to materialise – to the palpable disappointment of the BBC. Why not? Given that we have had five decades of greenhouse-gas-induced global warming, I had expected far more records to be broken in recent years. Especially since many weather stations are only a few decades old and are sited in cities experiencing the urban-heat-island effect.


America has also failed to break records. On Monday, Death Valley got close to its (and the world’s) all-time high of 56.6C. But that record was set in 1913, 110 years ago. Remarkably, more than 30 of the 50 American states recorded their highest temperatures in the 1930s or earlier.


A big reason for the failure to beat more records is that greenhouse warming is felt most strongly at night, in winter, near the poles. Milder winter nights are indeed the biggest effect we see in Britain. Given that roughly ten times as many people die of cold as die of heat globally, and that this is true even of countries like India and Italy, warming has meant fewer people dying.

Incidentally, the heat today is nothing to what our recent ancestors probably experienced after the invention of agriculture. There is evidence that, during the so-called Holocene Optimum around 8,000 years ago, British summers were 2C warmer than today, the treeline in Siberia was far further north, Alpine glaciers were smaller, the Arctic ocean was regularly ice-free in late summer and the Sahara was wetter than today.

But yes, of course, heatwaves are getting more intense and longer and some extreme-precipitation events have increased in frequency. However, that is not true of most other forms of extreme weather. The data on this are very clear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently confirmed that there is insufficient evidence to prove a long-term increase in the frequency of floods, cyclones, tornadoes, hailstorms, lightning, or strong winds.

Floods and droughts can get worse in some areas because of other man-made factors, like deforestation, but not (so far at least) because of warming. Climate change provides a useful excuse for politicians to avoid blame for bad policies.

Suppose that Sicily has a few more days over 45C every summer in the future than it did in the past. In a society that already experiences unpleasant, even dangerous heat on a regular basis, this is not “the world on fire” or people “boiling in their own sweat”, as extremists have been saying. Nor is it a reason to abandon economic growth, as the de-growth exponents keep asking us to do. It’s a reason to sell more air conditioners and make sure people have enough water on hot days. Such adaptation has always been needed anyway.

The economist Paul Krugman says that it’s time to “politicise the weather”. Where has he been the past ten years? It’s already happened. Every weather event is now recruited to the cause of net zero in a shameless way. Bizarrely, we are reverting, after a brief century of sanity, to the old habit of blaming somebody for every weather event. In Peru during an El Nino in the 1400s, the Chimu civilisation sacrificed children to appease the weather gods.

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755, in which up to 60,000 people died, was no reason to doubt the goodness of God, said those who espoused theodicy, because Lisbon had earned its punishment through sin – a ridiculous assertion that elicited an angry poem from Voltaire.

We may think we live in enlightened times, but is the BBC’s determination to link any event, however local, to our sinful use of fossil fuels much different? Somebody always has to be blamed, or cancelled.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  climate  telegraph