EU Referendum

Climate change: one to savour


A great many of us remember with some affection the proud announcement on 20 March 2000 of Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia.

Courtesy of Charles Onians of the Independent, we were told that, "within a few years winter snowfall will become 'a very rare and exciting event'". Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside were all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture.

In an attempt to save the paper from embarrassment, the report is missing from its carefully nurtured archive. But these people never seem to understand that the internet never forgets. It can be found on the Wayback Machine, there for all time to mock the innocence of climate scientists.

From this debacle, however, these innocents have learnt their lesson. Instead of making predictions that can be falsified in the space of a few years, they now point to years in the distant future. That way no one can call them out until they are safely retired.

A classic example of this tendency now graces the Guardian, telling us: "Rain to replace snow in the Arctic as climate heats, study finds", with the sub-heading: "Climate models show switch will happen decades faster than previously thought, with 'profound' implications".

At the very least, one has to acknowledge the chutzpah. As reports from the Arctic tell of a healthy ice-extent, and an increasing trend since 2012, Michelle McCrystall, at the University of Manitoba in Canada, has been leading "new research", using "the latest climate models" to predict that with all the Arctic's land and almost all its seas will be receiving more rain than snow before the end of the century if the world warms by 3ºC.

No doubt this scary story has been produces to keep the faithful pushing for their 1.5 ºC by the turn of the century. But, to up the ante, the period when the rain starts has been cut from 2090, as previously predicted, to an earlier but still safe 2060 or 2070. It is then that the autumn rains it the central Arctic will become rain dominated if carbon emissions are not cut.

Impacts for the region are, of course, dire. They include the melting of vital ice roads, more floods, and starvation for herds of animals. When rain falls on snow and then freezes, it stops the animals feeding. Reindeer, caribou and musk oxen won't be able to break through the layer of ice, so they won't get to the grass they need to survive and will suffer huge die-offs, says McCrystall.

Not to be outdone, though, the modern-day Independent has moved away from snow (and rain) predictions and is now telling us "why climate change could make flights a whole lot bumpier".

The layer of atmosphere closest to Earth, the troposphere – we are diligently informed - has been rising by around 164ft per decade because of climate change. Interestingly, the paper has failed to convert this into metric, possibly because 164ft sounds more impressive than 50 metres.

According to the paper, it is in the troposphere that all the turbulence occurs, as opposed to the stratosphere above it, where passenger jets tend to fly in search of smoother air. So now, it seems, aircraft will have to fly, on average, 164ft higher otherwise their passengers may occasionally get a bumpier ride.

Even this paper, though, admits that the troposphere varies in depth from five to nine miles (approximately 25-50,000 ft), so one wonders how these wondrous climate scientists manage to estimate an impossibly accurate figure of 164ft.

Nevertheless, Bill Randel, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has no uncertainties about what this all means. He calls it an "unambiguous sign" of changing atmospheric structure, the study which calculated the magic figure providing "independent confirmation", in addition to all the other evidence of climate change, "that greenhouse gases are altering our atmosphere".

However, this pales into insignificance compared with the news that divorce rates amongst albatrosses are increasing due to climate change. These seabirds are known for their loyal monogamous relationships, with only 1-3 percent of pairs separating. But now, according to a new Royal Society study, the warming water temperature has pushed up the separation rate to 8 percent.

Researchers, we are told, say lack of food due to warming waters, working longer hours to find food, and logistical difficulties faced by a travelling partner, may cause stress hormones to rise and eventually lead to break-ups.

In the same vein, climate change has caused older seal mothers to give birth to pups earlier. This observation, we are told, favours a hypothesis that climate affects phenology by altering the age profile of the population.

Warmer years are also associated with an older average age of mothers, the scientists found. Grey seals typically start breeding around 5 years old and can continue for several decades after. But the older the seals got, the earlier they gave birth.

Then there is the dreaded news that polar bears are inbreeding due to melting sea ice, posing risk to survival of the species. Despite earlier predictions that the species has been on the verge of extinction, ever since Al Gore took an interest in climate change, it seems they are not dying out fast enough. In fact, rather embarrassingly, overall numbers are increasing. Global population is now almost 30,000 – up from about 26,000 in 2015.

Thus, "scientists" are having to turn to a loss of genetic diversity, brought about by the "rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice". As the ice has melted, the polar bears' habitat has become fragmented, resulting in an equally rapid increase in genetic isolation and inbreeding among regions due to reduced contact with polar bears from the outside.

Meanwhile, as much of the country has just been through a period of early snow – with more forecast - the chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, is warning that homeless people "are feeling the awful effects of flooding and heatwaves". Horror of horrors, rough sleepers have even had their tents washed away in flash floods this summer.

The point to take on board from all this is that, even while other events dominate the headlines, this sort of climate dribble goes on – a steady drumbeat of alarmist stories with no apparent attempt to filter out the many absurdities and contradictions.

With such endless propaganda, it is unsurprising that so many people are gulled into thinking that the end of the world is nigh. The Guardian piece, though, is one to savour. If Wayback Machine still exists in 2060 or 2070, it would be such fun to revisit today's piece and see if it betters Onians for its predictions.

Also published on Turbulent Times.