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22 November 2017 01:11 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

Any weather is evidence for global warming

  • Ivo Vegter
    IvoVegterBW
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

Have you noticed that whenever a skeptic points to weather that calls the global warming orthodoxy into question, it is dismissed as antediluvian science denial, because “weather is not climate”? Have you also noticed that as soon as bad weather can be linked to catastrophic climate change, the alarmists do just that? Who is really being unscientific here?

“Protect our winters!” yells the appeal from 105 of the participants in the 22nd Winter Olympics, currently underway in Sochi, Russia. They want urgent action to arrest climate change. This is “unsurprising”, claims Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a “global climate movement” which campaigns to return the world’s atmosphere to a carbon dioxide concentration level we passed 25 years ago, and which would keep it near its historical minimum.

“Do the Winter Olympics have a future in a warming world?” frets The Atlantic. “Russia's balmy weather could be a sign of things to come, a new study says. We're running out of places cold enough to host the Games.”

That there isn’t a great deal of snow in Sochi shouldn’t surprise anyone. Six months ago, avid followers of sports like curling and bobsledding could read why this “summer resort” made a perfect Olympics venue: “Sochi has been praised as the ‘sun city,’ the ‘magnolia land,’ the ‘Black Sea pearl,’ and the ‘Russian Riviera’.”

The Washington Post previewed the weather one might expect in Sochi, and their charts did not dispel the notion that it is Russia’s warmest city. Average minimum temperatures never drop below freezing, even in February, its coldest month.

Sochi is not the the venue nearest the equator ever, but altitude has much more to do with snow potential than latitude, which is why the outdoor events are to be held in a mountain resort some distance inland from the sub-tropical beach town.

Elsewhere, we were treated to fascinating accounts of how the Russians blew billions on turning a sub-tropical beach paradise into a winter wonderland, including vast quantities of snow collected in previous seasons and stockpiled under insulation high up in the mountains.

The Economist also weighs in, albeit in unflattering terms, calling Sochi the perfect place for the winter Olympics not because of its climate, but because of its reputation for fast dealing and corruption.

So, there’s not much snow in Sochi because there isn’t supposed to be much snow in Sochi, and while Adrian Newell, the skier who led the panic campaign, laments the lack of snow in his native Vermont, the charts show several feet of snow cover in most of that state.

Perhaps that is why only 3.75% of all Winter Olympics athletes bothered to sign up for this “call for action on climate change”.

Whenever unusual weather strikes, as we saw with the sensationalism about Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, we see the alarmist covers and ominous headlines, before reading the buried caveat that, of course, we can’t be entirely certain and we can’t attribute any one event to climate change.

“I challenge Ivo Vegter to come and stand here in Cape Town now and defy the prophecies of Al Gore,” someone tweeted at me. I happened to be in Cape Town at the time, and can’t say I was enjoying the brief heat wave that struck over the weekend. It reconfirmed my undying admiration for the late, great Willis Carrier, who goes unrecognised in history as the inventor of the electric air conditioner, which made it possible for large numbers of people to retire to sunnier climes.

I’ve been in Cape Town in February before, and I seem to recall many hot days. Indeed, historically, it is Cape Town’s hottest month of the year. Over the weekend in question, temperatures approached the mid-30s, which is about two standard deviations away from the average of 27°C. That means statistically it was a day one might expect about 2.2% of the time in February. It is uncommon, but it happens at least once every couple of years.

The UK is suffering a season of heavy rainfall and storms that lead to widespread flooding, and who pops up in the Guardian? None other than Baron Stern of Brentford, the noble scribe of the British doomsday book, the Stern Review. And what does he blame it on? Climate change, of course. “Extreme weather events in the UK and overseas are part of a growing pattern that it would be very unwise for us, or our leaders, to ignore,” he writes, before warning of the “global conflict” all this unsettled weather could cause. The British Met Office has also declared that the recent floods are consistent with global warming.

Not all Met Office scientists agree, however. Mat Collins, a climate systems expert from Exeter University, told the media: “There is no evidence that global warming can cause the jet stream to get stuck in the way it has this winter. If this is due to climate change, it is outside our knowledge.” Others, like Eric Pickles, the UK’s Communities Secretary, have pointed to the reluctance in recent years to dredge rivers and waterways, because of over-reliance on advice from environmental bureaucrats.

Over in the US, this winter features a surprising amount of snow. It caused chaos in Atlanta, Georgia, because nobody there knew what it was. Snow in the Sunshine State caused many Florida residents, angrily dressed in loud shirts and mirror shades, to demand their retirement money back before fleeing to Cuba.

But if anyone dares use the unusually cold northern hemisphere spring, expanding Antarctic sea ice, or a global warming tourism trip that got stuck in pack ice, to poke fun at the pathological fear of global warming, they get lectured by Mother Jones and USA Today.

Of course, the finger-waggers are right. Anecdotal evidence, and especially our subjective experience of weather, proves nothing. Weather certainly does not represent climate. One just wishes alarmists would play by the same rules they demand of others.

The same people who used to warn about “global warming” changed their terminology to “climate change”, and felt driven to add a post-hoc explanation. Later, in 2007, John Holdren, the Obama Administration science czar, who with his close associate and ur-alarmist Paul Ehrlich was once a big fan of population control, coined the term “climate disruption”. Still others blame everything from Sochi to Atlanta on something called “global weirding”.

That way, if weather is common, it can be ignored, and if it is uncommon, no matter what it is, it can be evidence for their theory. No weather can ever disprove it.

A theory that fails when tested against real-world data is merely wrong. It might need adjusting, or it might need to be rejected, but there’s nothing essentially unscientific about a mistaken theory. However, there is a word for an unfalsifiable theory, which in principle cannot be tested against physical evidence because it is consistent with all possible empirical results. And it is not “scientific”. It is “pseudo-science.”

Meanwhile, there are belligerent, emotional, and puerile demands in elite newspapers for climate sceptics to “put up or shut up”. They are, claims Henry Porter, the author, “as often as not, incentivised by simple capitalist gain”.

As if the sceptics are advancing a theory that purports to reliably predict the future of a complex and chaotic climate system in terms of a single measure, temperature. As if the sceptics are proposing to expend vast amounts of your money to try to influence that simplistic measure using a single variable, greenhouse gas emissions.

As if the sceptics claim that their incomplete climate models based on patchy historical data can extrapolate a system as complex as climate far into the future, despite the past failure of most of them to do so. Karl Popper, who gave us the falsifiability criterion for scientific theories, called it “one of the oldest dreams of mankind - the dream of prophecy, the idea that we can know what the future has in store for us, and that we can profit from such knowledge by adjusting our policy to it.”

Porter sneers at “capitalist gain”, as if it is not the very same thing that achieved one of the major UN Millennium Development Goals, of halving poverty, five years ahead of schedule. If he doesn’t care for the riches of English barons and former US vice presidents, surely he can stoop to caring about the poor?

No, a simple schoolyard taunt to “put up or shut up” is hardly a scientific approach, when the burden of proof should fall to those who propose the social engineering they claim is required to avert the apocalypse they prophesy.

It is true that climate changes. No so-called “denier” denies this. It is likely that human activity has some impact on this. Few “deniers” deny this. It is true that changing climate will have economic and policy implications for the future. Hardly any “deniers” deny this.

The question is whether climate change is an urgent crisis, just one of many global challenges, or the least of our worries. The next question is what we realistically can and cannot do, to adapt to our ever-changing world. Once that is answered, we can work on what we should and should not do, which is a different question altogether.

These are not easy questions to answer, although I am of the opinion that climate change happens, but it is not a grave crisis. Given our historical record, I think human ingenuity, technological progress and modern prosperity will suffice to help us both adapt to our environment, and adapt our environment to our needs. I’m of the view that the simplistic carbon reduction mantra promoted by the climate establishment will cost too much and do very little, beyond providing a lovely source of research grants for an academic elite and corporate welfare for crony-capitalists eager to cash in on government subsidies for everything green. Most importantly, I think a technocratic central-planning approach is the most corrupt and least efficient way to solve our problems.

There are those who honestly think global warming is an urgent crisis that requires high priority intervention by the state. That’s fine. Many of them have reasons to think so, and many of them mean well. But if they want to be taken seriously, they really ought to step away from the pseudo-science.

If you’re going to whine about global warming every time there is a heatwave, a drought, a flood, a hurricane, or a retreating glacier, I’m going to dismiss you as an alarmist and laugh when it snows in the sun belt, or a summer cruise hoping to take snaps of global warming gets stuck in an unusually icy Antarctica.

After all, as the global whining brigade keep reminding the skeptics, weather is not climate. DM

  • Ivo Vegter
    IvoVegterBW
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

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