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Yes, cold weather is just weather. But that’s the point.



I have an op-ed in today’s Times on the subject of whether the
man-made climate signal is going to be visible against the weather
noise. Here is the gist of it, with some links.

I have just cleared fresh snow in my
back yard for the ninth day in a row. Powder lies 13 inches deep on
my lawn: I probed it with a tape measure. Ten years ago David
Viner, a climate scientist from (inevitably) the University of East
Anglia, told us that within a few years
winter snowfall would become `a very rare and exciting event’ and
that `children just aren’t going to know what snow is’. My children
have seen more snow in Northumberland in the past 11 months than I
had before in any year of my life.

That’s not a trend. It’s not
climate change. It’s weather: just a cold snap. But that’s
the point: the climate is just not changing very fast. We have now
had a third of a century of man-made warming. This was meant to be
the fastest bit – the curve is logarithmic – and yes, it has
warmed, but not even enough to make winter noticeably different
from 1978, let alone cause catastrophe.

Last week saw the coldest 28thNovember
Britain has ever experienced, and Wednesday was the coldest 1st
December. By contrast we have not broken a heat record for a
particular date since 10 May 2008. Yet, with weary predictability,
in October the Met Office’s shiny new £33m supercomputersaid there was a high probability of a warmer
winter for the east of England and Scotland, just as it did last
winter and the one before, with a `barbecue summer’ in between.
They should ask for their (or rather our) money back at PC

The climate `experts’ sternly
admonished anybody who even hinted that last winter’s cold might
not fit the global warming creed. `It is really stupid,’ said Peter Inness of Reading University in
January, `to say that the current cold weather proves that climate
change is not happening.’ Yet when somebody prays in aid the
Pakistan floods, Hurricane Katrina, or the hot summer of 2003, you
hear not a peep of complaint from the scientific establishment.
When it is cold, it is just weather. When it is warm or stormy, it
is `linked with climate change’.

Case in point: Oxfam’s
shiny new £40,000-a-year `climate change press officer’ (I
saw the adsaid this week that climate talks are urgent
because `21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the
first nine months of 2010 – more than twice the number for the
whole of 2009′. This is blatant cherry-picking. Take less than one
year’s number, compare it with one other year’s number and draw a
trend? Seriously? Even though the events in question have – they
admit – no proven connection with climate change, only with
weather? And expect reporters to fall for it? (Oh: they

You probably got the impression from
the Oxfam press release that weather-related deaths are on the
rise, maybe even at an all time high. Let us look at a longer trend
to see if this is true. That figure of 21,000 weather-related
deaths is lower than the annual average for the nine years
2000-2008: 35,000. It is also lower than the annual average in the
decade before that: 33,000; or the decade before that: 66,000; or
the decade before that: 54,000, or the decade before that:

You get the gist. The average number of
people dying each year in weather-related events has been going
down ever since the 1920s, when it stood at a terrifying 485,000 a
year. It is down by 93% since then, or 98% as a proportion of the
population. (In the decade 1910-1919, the average yearly death rate
was supposedly about as low as 2010 – but one suspects
statisticians had man-made disasters on their minds

I owe these numbers to a forthcoming
paper from theInternational Policy Network written by a
scholar called Indur Goklany, who collated them from the EM-DAT
International Disaster Database maintained by the Université
Catholique de Louvain – a database that, if anything, understates
older death rates. Goklany finds that, even so, compared with the
1920s, deaths from drought are down by 99.97%, and compared with
the 1930s deaths from floods are down by 98.7%. This puts Oxfam’s
trick into perspective, does it not? The risk the average human
being runs of dying because of weather is just 2% of what it was 90
years ago.

The reason for the huge fall in the
death rate from weather over the past century is not that the
weather has changed but that the human world has changed. Better
transport now enables supplies to reach people affected by
droughts, better housing enables people to survive storms and
better communication enables people to escape floods.

When a cyclone hit impoverished and
despotic Burma in 2008, it killed 200,000 people, whereas an
equally strong one in middle-income Mexico the year before killed
nobody. In the same way, this week’s snowstorms would have killed
thousands of rural vagrants before the eighteenth century, and
starved thousands of peasants when their cattle died. Economic
development is what helps human society to adapt to weather and is
what will help it to adapt to climate too.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  the-times