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Floods and gales in the UK are not evidence of climate change

This is my column in the Times this week. I have added
some updates in the text and below.


In the old days we would have drowned a witch to
stop the floods. These days the Green Party, Greenpeace and Ed
Miliband demand we purge the climate sceptics. No insult is too
strong for sceptics these days: they are “wilfully ignorant” (Ed Davey), “headless
chickens” (the Prince of Wales) or “flat-earthers” (Lord Krebs), with “diplomas in idiocy” (one of my
fellow Times columnists).

What can these sceptics have been doing that so annoys the great
and the good? They sound worse than terrorists. Actually, sceptics
have pretty well all been purged already: look what happened to Johnny Ball and David Bellamy at the BBC. Spot the sceptic on
the Climate Change Committee. Find me a sceptic within the
Department of (energy and) Climate Change. Frankly, the sceptics
are a ragtag bunch of mostly self-funded guerrillas, who have made
little difference to policy — let alone caused the floods.

What’s more, in the row over whether climate change is causing
the current floods and storms, the sceptics are the ones who are
sticking to the consensus, as set out by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — you know, the body that the
alarm-mongers are always telling us to obey. And it is the sceptics
who have been arguing for years for resilience and adaptation,
rather than decarbonisation.

Mr Miliband says: “This winter is a one-in-250-year event”
(yet it’s nothing like as wet as 1929-30 if you count the whole of
England and Wales, let alone Britain) and that “the science is
clear”. The chief scientist of the Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo,
tells us “all the evidence” suggests that
climate change is contributing to this winter’s wetness. (Why,
then, did she allow the Met Office to forecast in November that a
dry winter was almost twice as likely as a wet winter?) Lord Stern,
an economist, claimed that the recent weather is evidence “we are
already experiencing the impact of climate change”. [For a thorough
debunk of Lord Stern’s comments on the global
position, see below.]

All three are choosing to disagree with the IPCC consensus.
Here’s what the IPCC’s latest report actually says:

“There continues to be a lack of
evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the
magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.”

Here’s what a paper published by 17 senior IPCC scientists from
five different countries said last month:

“It has not been possible to
attribute rain-generated peak streamflow trends to anthropogenic
climate change over the past several decades.”

They go on to say that blaming climate change is a politician’s
cheap excuse for far more relevant factors such as “what we do on
or to the landscape” — building on flood plains, farm drainage

As for recent gales caused by a stuck jetstream, Dr Mat Collins,
of Exeter University, an IPCC co-ordinating lead author, has revealed that the IPCC discussed whether
changes to the jetstream could be linked to greenhouse gases and
decided they could not. “There is no evidence that global warming
can cause the jetstream to get stuck in the way it has this
winter,” he says, in a statement that raises questions
about Dame Julia’s credibility.

In 2012, the Met Office agreed:

“There continues to be little
evidence that the recent increase in storminess over the UK is
related to man-made climate change.”

So please will Lord Stern, Dame Julia and Mr Miliband explain
why they are misleading the public about the science?

That consensus, by the way, has never said that climate change will
necessarily be dangerous. The oft-quoted 97 per cent agreement among
scientists refers to the statement that man-made climate change
happens, not to future projections [and anyway it has been
comprehensively discredited and described as infamous by a prominent climate
scientist]. No climate change sceptic that I know “denies” climate
change, or even human contributions to it. It’s a lazy and
unpleasant slur to say that they do.

Sceptics say it is not happening fast enough to threaten more
harm than the wasteful and regressive measures intended to combat
it. So far they have been right. Over 30 years, global temperature
has changed far more slowly than predicted in 95 per cent of the
models, and has decelerated, not accelerated. When the sceptic
David Whitehouse first pointed out the current 15 to 17-year
standstill in global warming (after only 18 to 20 years of
warming), he was ridiculed; now the science
establishment admits the “pause” but claims to have some post-hoc

While the green lobby has prioritised decarbonisation, sceptics
have persistently advocated government spending on adaptation, so
as to grab the benefits of climate change but avoid the harm, and
be ready for cooling as well if the sun goes into a funk. Yesterday
Mr Miliband yet again prioritised carbon limits — cold comfort to
those flooded from their homes. Huge sums have been spent on wind
farms and bio-energy, with trivial impact on emissions. The money
has come disproportionately from the fuel bills of poor people and
gone disproportionately to rich people.

Given that there are about 25,000 excess winter deaths each
year, adding 5 per cent to fuel bills kills far more people now
than (possibly) adding 5 per cent to future rainfall totals ever
would. If just a fraction of renewable energy subsidies sluiced
towards wind farms by the climate secretaries Ed Miliband and Ed
Davey had instead been put into flood defences, they would have
done far more good.

Meanwhile, please notice that those lambasting the sceptics work
for you, drawing wages from public bodies supported by the
taxpayer: Lord Stern, Lord Deben, Dame Julia Slingo, Sir Mark
Walport, Professor Kevin Anderson, even a spin doctor called Bob
Ward, and more. Most of the sceptics operate on self-employed
shoestrings and cost you nothing: Andrew Montford, David Holland,
Nic Lewis, Doug Keenan, Paul Homewood, Fay Kelly-Tuncay. There is
only one professional sceptic in the entire country — Benny Peiser
— and he is not paid by the taxpayer.

Despite the fuss, sceptics have had little effect. Renewable
subsidies for the rich grow larger every year. Jobs are still being
destroyed by carbon floor prices and high energy costs. Emissions
targets have not been lowered. At the very most, George Osborne and
his allies may have slightly pinched the flow of funds to
consultants and academics to talk about the subject. Maybe that’s
what makes the great and the good so cross.



1. Some details on the row about the “pause”, which was
furiously denied for a while, then suddenly explained. Whitehouse’s
account is well worth reading for those interested in the history
of the subject. Whitehouse was accused by Mark Lynas of the New
Statesman of being ‘wrong, completely wrong’, and
‘deliberately, or otherwise, misleading the public’. So Bob Ward
asked Phil Jones of UEA to put the record straight. He wrote:

“What you have to do is to take the
numbers in column C (the years) and then those in D (the anomalies
for each year), plot them and then work out the linear trend. The
slope is upwards. I had someone do this in early 2006, and the
trend was upwards then. It will be now. Trend won’t be
statistically significant, but the trend is up.”

This last self-contradiction caused much amusement later. Ward
was unable to assemble a rebuttal. Jones eventually stated:

“Bottom line: the no upward trend
has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.”

That point is now well past on nearly all the temperature
records. By 2007, the Met Office was boasting that its new
computer could see a resumption of warming in the

“We are now using the system to
predict changes out to 2014. By the end of this period, the global
average temperature is expected to have risen by around 0.3 °C
compared to 2004.”

In fact, as of now, at the start of 2014, global
temperatures are if anything slightly lower than in 2004.
The pause continues. Attempts to explain it, using volcanoes,
aerosols, natural cycles, missing Arctic heat and ocean absorption
of heat have proliferated, but so far they are extremely

The latest example is the paper by Matthew England et al, on
which Nic Lewis had this to say:

“Matthew England’s paper claims to
show that the hiatus in global surface temperature since around
2001 is due to strengthening Pacific trade winds causing increased
heat uptake by the global ocean, concentrated in the top 300 m and
occurring mainly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. But his study
uses model-based ocean temperature “reanalyses”, not measurements.
A recent study by Lyman and Johnson of the US Pacific Marine
Environmental Laboratory shows, using actual measurements of
sub-surface ocean temperatures (infilling data gaps using a
representative mean), that ocean heat uptake has actually fallen
heavily from around 2002, whether measured down to 100 m, 300 m,
700 m or 1800 m. Indeed, they show an exceptionally large 90% fall
in the heat content trend for the top 300 m between the decades
1993–2002 and 2002–2011. Several other observational datasets for
the more often cited top 700 m ocean heat content also show a
substantial reduction in heat uptake between those periods. So,
unfortunately, ocean temperature measurements completely contradict
Matthew England’s neat explanation for the warming hiatus.”


2. The seasonal forecasting failures of the Met Office are becoming a habit. The Met Office forecast
“drier than average conditions” just before the extremely wet
April-June of 2012. It forecast a warm March last year before the
coldest March in years. It forecast mild winters in 2008-9, 2009-10
and 2010-11: all three were hard and the authorities were caught
unprepared. (Don’t get me wrong – I hugely admire the Met Office as
a short-term weather forecaster, but it’s no better than the Daily
Express at seasonal forecasts).


3. On how to deal with carbon emissions, the most delightful
irony of all is that Lord Stern believes we are doing too much.
Really. Go and read his report and you will find a clear statement
that a Pigovian tax of $80 per tonne of carbon dioxide (equivalent)
should compensate for all the harm likely to be done by carbon
dioxide emissions. If so, as the Adam Smith Insitute’s Tim Worstall points out, then fuel duty is
already 15p a litre too high and other taxes on fossil fuels about
right. So let’s give him another knighthood, cancel all the wind
turbines and declare job done. Then there might be some more money
for flood defences.

as Worstall puts it:

“We can go further as well. As My
Lord Stern has pointed out (and as have eminences like Richard Tol,
William Nordhaus, Greg Mankiw and, in fact, just about every
economist who has bothered to look at the issue) the correct
solution to the results that come from the IPCC is a carbon tax. Of
some $80 per tonne CO2-e in fact according to Stern. And it’s well
known that UK emissions are around 500 million tonnes. And also
that we already pay some swingeing amount of such Pigou Taxes: the
fuel duty escalator alone now makes petrol a good 15p per
litre more expensive than it should be under such
a tax regime. And there are other such taxes that we pay, so much
so that we are already, we lucky people here in the UK, paying a
carbon tax sufficient to meet Lord Stern’s target (which is, it
should be noted, rather higher than what all the other economists
recommend: we’re not stinting ourselves in our approach to climate

We don’t quite pay it on all the
right things as yet, this is true, but the total amount being paid
is about right. We just need to shift some of the taxation off some
products and on to others. Less on petrol and more on cowshit for

That is, according to the standard
and accepted science of climate change we here in the UK have
already done damn near everything we need to do to beat it.

This, in turn, means that we now
have to fire everyone who disagrees with this application of that
accepted science. Which means we get to fire Ed Davey for
suggesting more windmills for example. We don’t need any other
schemes, plans, subsidies, technological boosts nor regulations. As
Stern and all the others state once we’ve got that appropriate
carbon tax in place then we’re done, problem solved. We just then
sit back and allow the market to churn through the various options
now that we’ve corrected the price system for externalities.”



By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist  the-times