It's That Monbiot Again…

by | Jan 3, 2012

Happy new year.

Over in the Grauniad today, George Monbiot gets his new year knickers in an unfestive knot over the failure of the Daily Mail’s prediction of a cold winter.

“Brrr-ace yourselves! Britain to shiver in -20C in WEEKS as councils stockpile extra grit”. So the Mail on Sunday warned us in October. Blizzards, snowdrifts, locusts with the faces of men and the teeth of lions: we would become, it cheerfully assured us, prey to every nightmare nature could devise.

Last week the story flipped. “December has sprung! Spring blooms arrive early and autumn blossom lingers… so what happened to our winter?” I scoured the text but could find no mention that the Mail had forecast the polar opposite.

The issue for Monbiot is that the Mail takes a more sceptical view of climate change than the paper he writes for.

This is the newspaper group which led the crowing about the barbecue summer that never was. In April 2009 the Meteorological Office announced that “summer temperatures across the UK are likely to be warmer than average and rainfall near or below average for the three months of summer”. In the event, the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth. From its offices on Mt Ararat, the Daily Mail called down the wrath of God on the weathermen, who had been proven “hopelessly wrong” and were now “left red-faced”.

According to Monbiot, the UK Met Office had refused to confirm predictions of a cold winter given by the then Secretary of State for Transport, Phil Hammond at the Conservative Party conference in the Autumn. The Met Office, of course, had been embarrassed by a slew of precisely wrong long-range weather forecasts about mild winters and ‘barbecue summers’. The Mail, and other papers, had sought instead forecasts from private forecasters.

Who are they, and what are their credentials? I have been trying to obtain answers from Exacta since 20 December, without success. Among other questions, I asked whether it is true that the company consists of one undergraduate student and a computer.

You have to admire the bravery, tenacity and a tonne of other virtues possessed by this noble investigative journalist. OTHER NEWSPAPERS ARE GETTING THE WEATHER WRONG, AND I’M FINDING OUT WHY…

It’s not FAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIR, discovers Monbiot.

Unlike the Met Office, the alternative forecasters are neither roasted nor frozen out when they get it wrong. In 2010, for example, the Daily Mail announced that “the country really is on course for a barbecue summer”. This time, it told its readers, the prediction “comes from a forecaster with a somewhat better record on the subject than the poor old Met Office”. This was PWS – which has no published record at all. PWS told the Mail that “there will be stifling temperatures, making it possibly the warmest UK summer on record”. In fact it was an unremarkable summer, but there were no “red faces” at PWS. Nor has Philip Hammond been denounced as “hopelessly wrong”.

Monbiot seems to think that it is remarkable that there should be no outrage when an independent forecaster gets the weather wrong.

There is a subtext at work. The Met Office, like the BBC, is the subject of intense tabloid hostility, because it refuses to accept the consensus in the rightwing press that man-made climate change is a myth. Perversely, it prefers to rely on data. The incompetence of the Met Office and the superior skills of other forecasters are now part of the litany of climate change denial. Weather forecasting, in the hands of the press, has become a political science.

Well, by ‘right wing press’, Monbiot means only the Daily Mail. And it would be hard to detect a ‘consensus in the rightwing press that climate change is a myth’. There is no such consensus evident on the pages of the Times, for instance, nor the Telegraph, nor the Sun. The Telegraphs own environment correspondent, Louise Grey gets to hang out on Greenpeace’s ship with pop stars. What ‘consensus in the right wing press’?

There is no consensus, of course. What Monbiot does is imagine that the other newspapers have as inflexible editorial lines as The Guardian, and confuse his own need to conflate the issues of weather and climate for theirs, also. The two things being established in his own head as equivalent stories, any story about the weather which doesn’t contain a climate change narrative is, by fact of this omission, delivering ‘a subtext’. The problem for Monbiot is that his own subtext is far more noisy.

It was of course that the BBC and Met Office routinely used the weather to talk about climate change that drew the ire of sceptics. And rightly so. Warm winters and hot summers (oh, for a hot summer!) were canaries in the coal mine, harbingers of doom, and were causing the extinction of rare creatures on these shores. And even when the weather misbehaved, and was, erm, as it had been before climate change, there was still an opportunity for the climate message to be shouted. In January 2009, Monbiot wrote,

I have spent the last two evenings skating. Last night we laid lanterns out across the ice and swooped and swung and fell flat on our faces on this silent lake in mid-Wales, for hours by moonlight. I should have been in bed – I have a chest infection and a cold – but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

For the exhilaration of this primal game was shaded with sadness: all of us knew that this time might be our last. It is many winters since most of the lakes in England and Wales have frozen hard enough to support a skating party; with every year the chances of another one recede. The fuss this country has made about the current cold snap reminds us how rare such events have become.

A year later — in the middle of another very cold winter, Monbiot teamed up with the resident eco-ethicist, Leo Hickman to snap that

This is called weather, and, believe it or not, it is not always predictable and it changes quite often. It is not the same as climate, and single events are not the same as trends. Is this really so hard to understand?

By the return of the winter that year — which was extremely cold, once again — Monbiot needed a new narrative.

That snow outside is what global warming looks like
Unusually cold winters may make you think scientists have got it all wrong. But the data reveal a chilling truth.

Yes, Britain had suffered three record cold winters in a row… because of global warming.

And this year… There is not yet the severe cold that there has been in the previous years. And yet somehow… somehow… Monbiot has managed to spin a climate change story out of it!

On his own site, the subtitle to his most recent article pronounces that ‘weather forecasts became a political issue’.

If it is true, it was not the ‘rightwing press’ which politicised forecasts. It was the Guardian, the BBC, and the Met Office. The British have a fascination with weather, probably because it is so variable, which is why the Mail would have run the story. The failed weather forecast that the story covered, about which Monbiot now complains was not ‘politicised’. The story is politicised now, by Monbiot. It is he who gives it significance; he reads ‘subtext’ into a fairly uncomplicated article about the winter.

Delving deeper into the Climate Resistance archives, we find Monbiot making other claims about the Met Office and their predictions…

In 2008, Monbiot’s colleague, James Randerson wrote that,

This year is set to be the coolest since 2000, according to a preliminary estimate of global average temperature that is due to be released next week by the Met Office. The global average for 2008 should come in close to 14.3C, which is 0.14C below the average temperature for 2001-07.

The Guardian, of course, wanted to explain that this didn’t mean that global warming wasn’t happening… (read more here)

Monbiot saw the reaction to the article on the papers website, and threw a tantrum

The most popular article on the Guardian’s website last week was the report showing that 2008 is likely to be the coolest year since 2000. As the Met Office predicted, global temperatures have been held down by the LaNiña event in the Pacific Ocean. This news prompted a race on the Guardian’s comment thread to reach the outer limits of idiocy.

According to Monbiot, the commenters below the line were an army of unthinking drones, as was pointed out on this blog.

Monbiot is frustrated that he has failed to convince people of his perspective. But rather than reflect on his own argument, which, as we can see is constructed out of sheer bullshit, he finds ways to show faults with people – ordinary, normal, everyday people, not just ‘bloggers’ – and damns the entire human race in the process. We are unthinking automata, objects, blindly obeying the forces that surround us. Only he knows the truth. But the truth that most people can sense is that Monbiot uses the status of scientific factoids, such as the Met Office’s dubious ‘prediction’ to convince people in the same way that a caveman seeks to persuade people with a club.

The Met Office had predicted the decline in temperatures, so that meant that the ‘evidence’ belonged to the global warming narrative. Equipped with The Official Truth, Monbiot was now free to pronounce on the mental acuity of the online masses, who saw things differently: they had been brainwashed.

But as had been pointed out here, the Met Office had not ‘predicted’ the cold temperatures.

At the beginning of 2007, the Met Office had predicted that the year would be one of the warmest yet. The BBC and Guardian covered the story credulously. La Nina turned up to upset them all.

The weather is our immediate, and perhaps our only day-to-day interaction with concept of ‘the climate’. Everything else in the climate debate is highly abstract, and removed from our experience by statistics. There was a desperate need to connect environmentalism’s claims to real life. Thus, climate alarmism emphasised the likelihood of increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather. Any outlier or other anomaly was explained as ‘a taste of things to come’. Monbiot pondered about ice-free winters. All the hopes for the future that environmentalists had were pinned on things like the progress of Arctic sea ice. Environmentalism needed a real-time event to give itself some purchase in the world — pictures to feed the rolling news world. It needed a 9-11, or a Cuban Missile Crisis, or maybe a tsunami. But Environmentalism’s Hollywood moment simply hasn’t materialised, as Monbiot lamented in 2007.

We see Monbiot here claiming to be an optimist and to have a positive view of human nature. He’s only kidding himself. The Met Orifice and perhaps others have learned their lesson: nature will not obey forecasts. Monbiot, if he’s learned that lesson, still has to remember that he cannot un-write the past. It’s still all there, in black and white, and available to anyone capable of reading. It was Monbiot and co who politicised weather forecasting. He was the one foretelling doom, and saying that we must urgently prepare ourselves for The End. He was the one crying ‘fools’ at those who did not believe him, and claiming that the non-believers had been brainwashed by evil, mind-controlling forces. He was the one making weather — and weather forecasts — the centre of his moral and political argument. He can’t now pretend that it’s the ‘rightwing press’ who are ‘politicising’ weather forecasts by not politicising it.


  1. David C

    Happy new year Ben.
    Good piece as usual – but – though I can understand the frustrations that cause you to call Hickman a moron – it doesn’t help!

  2. Latimer Alder

    It’s very simple.

    If a commercial company consistently gets the weather forecast wrong it will run out of paying customers. Only those that have a good track record will survive.

    If only that were true of the Met Office. They have little commercial incentive to be right…merely to be a money sink and push their Global Warming agenda.

  3. Hengist McStone

    Thanks for the Monbiot vid, hadn’t seen that one.
    Interesting that you say “nature will not obey forecasts”. I expect that from a warmist, not from an advocate positioned as skeptic. The subtext to that statement is that the atmospheric system is inherently unstable. Why does an advocate positioned as a skeptic such as yourself offer such optimistic forecasts for climate if you concede that Nature doesnt obey forecasts?

  4. SayNoToFearmongers


    What Orwellian nonsense – the entire warmist fearmongering movement is predicated on the conceit of its (unprecedented) ability to forecast global doom using models which have been repeatedly shown to be entirely devoid of skill.

  5. Ben Pile

    David C. I have removed the offending word, as it seemed to prevent the person it was attached to from taking any notice of the points made in the article.

    I am surprised that people are so offended by the term. Wikipedia has some interesting history:

    “Moron” was coined in 1910 by psychologist Henry H. Goddard[3] from the Ancient Greek word μωρός (moros), which meant “dull”[4] (as opposed to oxy, which meant “sharp”), and used to describe a person with a mental age in adulthood of between 8 and 12 on the Binet scale.[5] It was once applied to people with an IQ of 51-70, being superior in one degree to “imbecile” (IQ of 26-50) and superior in two degrees to “idiot” (IQ of 0-25). The word moron, along with others including, “idiotic,” “imbecilic,” “stupid,” and “feeble-minded,” was formerly considered a valid descriptor in the psychological community, but it is now deprecated in use by psychologists.[6]

    ‘Idiot’ seems to be a more acceptable term in everyday language, but refers to a more severe condition than ‘moron’. It’s a bit like saying ‘oh stop being daft’, only to discover that ‘daft’ is a bit like ‘****’, in some circles.

    You’re right, however, to say that I find Hickman and Monbiot’s vacillation and intransigence frustrating. I have to wonder if it is deliberate, or whether it is… erm… intellectual mediocrity… which prevents them from developing and committing themselves to a consistent and coherent position, and accounting for what they have written.

  6. Ennis Cardew

    Hengist: I have never understood Ben to offer optimistic forecasts about the weather/climate. He does offer the hope that mankind has always had the ingenuity to overcome whatever the climate may throw at us if only we would redirect the resources, presently used to try to control the climate, towards adapting to it.
    Ennis Cardew

  7. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    The thing about Monbiot is not what he says, but how he says it. He is acting. The therapist in the armchair telling us how to give up our addiction.

  8. Mooloo

    The subtext to that statement is that the atmospheric system is inherently unstable.

    You mean inherently unpredictable. Chaotic perhaps.

    The only valid way to predict the weather of the UK is to get some satellites out and see what is coming. That is the “prediction” you will see on tomorrow’s news is actually a reading of what is coming, rather than a true prediction of what will happen.

    Any attempt made a predicting anything a week out from what is already on the way is no better than reading entrails.

    We all know that. Why pretend otherwise?

  9. TomFP

    Nice piece, Ben. One editorial point – when you say:

    “The BBC and Guardian covered the story incredulously.” – don’t you mean”credulously”?

    [BEN: Yes, I did. Thanks for pointing it out.]

  10. dougieh

    happy new year Ben

    Monbiot, as you say is the warp that weaves the yarn using the weft, still sat at his spinning wheel thinking it’s pure silk.

    google “warp” if you think i’m nuts :-)

  11. Edward.

    Nah, you’re right Ben, Hickman is a moron and his mate is, losing the plot.

    Monbiot, heaven help me, give it up George – your supposed to be a bright lad.

  12. kevin king

    It’s worrying to think there are so many simpletons like Monbiot running around endangering the future prosperity of the world through their misguided campaigning for a non existent problem. It demonstrates that to get a job with a national newspaper in the UK, intelligence and critical thinking are not pre-requisites. Rather the opposite…a non questioning attitude and a tendency to be sanctimonious will get you a long way.

  13. Alex Cull

    I like the “locusts with the faces of men and the teeth of lions” line, which George takes from Revelation 9 in the Bible – a fine barb against overblown alarmist rhetoric. The only thing lacking, perhaps, is a modicum of irony, given the number of fantastically scary articles about climate that have issued forth from the Guardian and Independent over the years, much like those Biblical locusts he references.

  14. chant

    “Yes, Britain had suffered three record cold winters in a row”

    no it hasn’t

  15. Lewis Deane

    I can only add to others, beautifully told and happy new year! I must tell you, there are moments of the greenest envy when I read your posts. It is your mastery of detail, a mark of that ‘training’ of the best of ‘your’ ‘school’.(?!) I can never look that ‘far’, because too much ‘anxiety’ might make me completely topple over. Continue paying attention to the details for us. (You remind me of a very famous revolutionary whose ‘attention’ to detail somewhat befuddled him!) As for Mombiot, isn’t it time we dispensed with such an intellectual lightweight. The fact that he is the ‘heaviest’ of the lightweights, notwithstanding. I ‘feel’ for him, his sometimes attacks of ‘honesty’. But really! Is that all they have!

  16. Lewis Deane

    Yes, I’m going to say something absurd, so excise this ( By the way, my Dad, bless him, is such a stupid mutt, that on my mothers and his 5’th wedding anniversary, he gave her the Moscow Publishers, Lawrence & Wishart, third volume of Das Kapital! The third volume? Ah, that book!) but my concern is not, actually, the weather but people like Mombiot being concerned about the ‘weather’, much like you. I was thinking of that old ‘Naked City’ (?) idea of there are seven million people in the naked city, each with their story to be told. Except, now, there are seven billion people. I think what ‘intellectuals’, like Mombiot, and the many, many others, should agonise over is how to tell those stories. A lifetimes work but more ‘real’ than ‘predicting’ the weather.

  17. Lewis Deane

    Even more strange an addenda, which you must excise but I wanted you to see it, at least. I mean, carrying on from the seven billion untold stories, one can’t tell every story but one can ‘represent’ a good number of them. You know the definition of a ‘poet’: he can ‘feel’ the ‘representative’ person. In other words the most democratic human being that could exist. What does he have to do with Kings, Tyrants or even fools like Mombiot? Nothing:

    But I can’t sleep
    I’m full of bile and hatred
    And disgust
    But I can’t sleep
    I’m full of hope, of wonder,
    Of desire
    But I can’t sleep
    The lightning struck me
    I was about to speak
    But I can’t sleep
    I dreamed my mother
    Came to me
    She said ‘No, no, no.’
    But I can’t sleep
    Secretly I smile, you know,
    At the corner of my mouth,
    A crooked smile
    But I can’t sleep
    So I dream, openly,
    In the blazing day,
    In the fire of the sun
    But I can’t sleep
    Merely to begin
    Is enough
    And more than enough
    But I can’t sleep
    And to end,
    A joke
    For others
    But I can’t sleep.

  18. Dunwich

    You write

    “Yes, Britain had suffered three record cold winters in a row… because of global warming.”

    which is simply untrue. Britain has not suffered three record cold winters in a row. The facts are easily checked monthly. You’re clearly not interested in the facts.

    Apart from this the article is a nasty little slag off which makes no substantive points.

  19. Ben Pile

    Dunwhich: which is simply untrue. Britain has not suffered three record cold winters in a row. The facts are easily checked monthly. You’re clearly not interested in the facts.

    I have to wonder whether it’s being an idiot, a pedant, or both that might make someone say that. Either way, your link doesn’t work.

    If you don’t think the previous three winters were colder than winters prior, sufficient to qualify as a record, then you must be an idiot. If your point is, ner nerrr nerrr nerrr nerrr nerr, they weren’t the coldest winters ever, then your point is simply and pointlessly pedantic. The point was that they were out of kilter with both Monbiot’s consistent doom-mongering, and the Met Office’s climate change narrative.

    Here’s what the Guardian Said.

    British winter was the coldest for 31 years
    Met Office figures recorded a December-to-February mean UK temperature of just 1.51C, while the 1971-2000 average is 3.7C

    And this is what the Met Office said.

    Winter 2010/11
    The UK mean temperature for the winter as a whole was 2.4 °C, making it less cold than winter 2009/10 which was 1.6 °C but still the second-coldest winter since 1985/86 with 2.3 °C. Over Scotland and Northern Ireland it was the second-coldest winter since 1985/86 and 1978/79 respectively, with again only last winter having been colder. Over Northern Ireland it was equal sixth-coldest winter in the series from 1910. Over England and Wales it was the second-coldest since 1995/96, with only last winter having been colder.

    Apart from this the article is a nasty little slag off which makes no substantive points.

    Hmm. Straight back at you.

  20. Mooloo

    Don’t worry about the haters Ben. While they can focus in on one word, “record”, and rubbish your whole argument based on their reading of that, you have one great plus they don’t. You’all lived through those winters, and know that they were cold. And that is what really gets up the haters’ noses.

    Meanwhile Summer has still not arrived properly in New Zealand. Global warming stories have, unsurprisingly, disappeared off the radar. I know it’s only weather, but it is very annoying how they wait for a hot spell before trucking out the alarmism.

  21. Mailman

    Moonbat is an idiot and is totally deserving of his nickname.

    The sad thing is that its journalists like moonbat who have made the atmosphere toxic to anyone who dares question the religion of Mann Made Global Warming ™. Even though climategate 1 rocked him to the very core of his being, it doesnt take much for him to show his true colours and revert back to his natural state (a raving lunatic).

    Had journalists like Moonbat actually done their job and highlighted the very real and very serious failings of the various IPCC reports AND the utter failures of the various inquiries to actually make any inquiries about the corruption of climate science we might have been able to get to the bottom of whats going on.

    Instead all we get is business as usual, the burying of fingers in ears, the aversion of eyes and the same old mantra of “denialist!”

    Mean while, the earth ISNT getting close to be catastrophically hot and people will continue to die in their tens of thousands thanks to the cold.



  22. Tom F

    I found it absolutely hilarious (in that vid), that Monbiot can sit there calmly requesting us to turn our TV’s off, and yet he’s sitting there being interviewed while there are two table lights on, next to each other at the same time! What a twerp!

  23. Mooloo

    I guess those councils that stocked up on grit and salt and refurbished their snow ploughs are really sorry now!

    Moonbat said “Ours was, as it turned out, the second warmest autumn on record, while temperatures in December were a little higher than average.” That’s nice. How’s February working out for you George?

    It’s true that the Daily Mail predicted colder December and January (though only 2 degrees below average) and failed. They did get February right though: so they are not always wrong.


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