Antediluvian Diluvial Delusions

by | Jul 24, 2007

According to news reports:

British scientists say a soon-to-be-released study supports the idea that global warming caused by humans is responsible for this summer’s heavy rains.

Let’s face it, it would be nice to be able to blame somebody for this rubbish summer, with everything from music festivals to electricity being cancelled due to broken river banks. But no self-respecting scientist would be saying anything like this quite so soon after recent events. In fact, the self-respecting scientists behind the Nature paper on which these reports are based make no such claims. From the abstract:

…Here we compare observed changes in land precipitation during the twentieth century averaged over latitudinal bands with changes simulated by fourteen climate models. We show that anthropogenic forcing has had a detectable influence on observed changes in average precipitation within latitudinal bands, and that these changes cannot be explained by internal climate variability or natural forcing. We estimate that anthropogenic forcing contributed significantly to observed increases in precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, drying in the Northern Hemisphere subtropics and tropics, and moistening in the Southern Hemisphere subtropics and deep tropics. The observed changes, which are larger than estimated from model simulations, may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human health in regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel.

Spot the difference anyone?

Would this summer have been any better had humans never got round to experimenting with combustion? It’s impossible to say. What is easier to say is that life (summers included) in a cave is less fun than life on a housing development that sits on a flood plain. Yet the search for blame continues. Under the headline “A 21st Century Catastrophe“, the Independent writes that

Flood-ravaged Britain is suffering from a wholly new type of civil emergency, it is clear today: a disaster caused by 21st-century weather. This weather is different from anything that has gone before.

What has gone before – and is different – is a significant number of articles in the Independent telling us to expect hotter, drier summers, apparently contradicting the current message. So why are they suddenly confident in this attribution of blame? It’s far too early to start making statements about what is to blame for July’s weather – let alone climate. Yet journalists will attribute any phenomenon to anthropogenic global warming if it’s an opportunity to etch the political messages of environmentalism into our minds, even if it flatly contradicts what they told us yesterday.

Contrary to what Michael McCarthy writes in the Independent, John Kettley (is a weather man, a weather man, a weather man) tells us in ‘Global warming? No, just an old-style British summer‘ that

This year’s apparently extraordinary weather is no more sinister than a typical British summer of old and a reminder of why Mediterranean holidays first became so attractive to us more than 40 years ago… In my view, none of the severe weather we have experienced is proof of ‘climate change.’ It is just a poor summer – nothing more, nothing less – something that was the norm throughout most of the Sixties and has been repeated on several occasions more recently.

There is no doubt that July’s weather is a disaster for people living in areas which have flooded. But it is a disaster caused not by the weather, but by a failure to plan. Well before we start looking at what climate conditions were playing out, we ought to be looking at changes in land and river use, and why Britain’s civil infrastructure cannot cope with anything but mild summers and mild winters. Schools are shut, roads melt and trains are stopped by falling leaves, sunny spells and ‘the wrong type of snow’, and of course, we get floods every other year. Perhaps the nation’s planners are investing too much confidence in what they read in the pages of the Independent and the Guardian. Still, it’s nice weather for quacks.

1 Comment

  1. John Nicklin

    And then there was the flooding in 1947, but the media doesn’t consider that. Maybe global warming works retroactively as well.


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