Happy new year.
“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.