LATER this week the Met Office will bombard us with one of the most bizarre pieces of propaganda since the Iraqi information minister tried to convince the world that Saddam’s forces were driving out the infidel even when US planes were clearly bombing the city behind him.
We are going to be asked to believe that 2010 was either the hottest or second hottest year the world has ever recorded. I don’t know why anyone would trust the Met Office’s statistics on global temperature given that they are still compiled by some of the same scientists who were caught trying to use “tricks” to adjust previous data.
But it is even less credible coming at a time when Europe is in the grip of the coldest December for decades, the US eastern seaboard has experienced one of its most severe December snowfalls and other parts of the Northern hemisphere are also shivering.
A better guide to global temperatures is the wholesale price of gas, which always spikes when demand rises in a cold spell.
Last week it peaked at 70p per therm, double what it was this time last year, itself in the middle of an exceptionally cold winter. For the consumer it means yet more misery. The price comparison website energyhelpline.com has recorded a 52 per cent rise in consumer prices this month with quarterly bills set to hit £658.
The implications of the cold weather combined with a spike in energy prices should not be under- estimated: thousands of people in Britain will die as a result. Deaths always rise in winter but in a severe winter they soar, partly due to hypothermia but more due to heart and respiratory diseases, both of which are aggravated by cold and damp. In the past two winters, both of which were exceptionally cold, the number of “excess winter deaths” recorded by the Office for National Statistics between December and March were 36,450 and 25,400.
Disgracefully, the chances of succumbing to the cold are higher in Britain than in Finland where temperatures of minus 20C are common. Yet no government in recent times has taken the issue of winter deaths seriously. While millions have been poured into preparing us for the supposedly hotter summers which we will encounter as a result of global warming the real killer – the British winter – has been overlooked.
Even if average temperatures did rise by two degrees Celsius the British summer would not remotely present the threat that does a typical British inter. During the heatwave of 2003 – in which Britain recorded its highest-ever temperature – the number of excess deaths was fewer than 2,000.
Neither does hot weather cause the transport system to collapse as it did during last week’s snows, with inevitable consequences for the economy. So why is government policy so obsessed with the prospect of hotter summers and so complacent about that of cold winters? A fortune has been spent establishing a Committee on Climate Change which last September came up with its emergency plan for adapting to higher temperatures – by fixing shutters to British homes and planting trees in the streets so we can walk in the shade.
Yet planning for cold winters has been woefully deficient. An official report into transport failures last winter concluded that, beyond building a bigger stockpile of grit, we didn’t really need to do much to cope with cold winters because they would become much rarer in future. It has taken just five months to expose the folly of basing transport policy on predictions for climate change. But even more scandalous has been the failure of the past two governments to build better gas storage facilities to protect consumers from the surge in prices caused by cold weather.
It has been obvious for years that Britain is hugely exposed to fluctuations in gas price and supply. We have enough storage facilities to cover 14 days’ worth of national consumption. Germany has room to store more than three months supply and France, which is less reliant on gas because of its large number of nuclear power stations, can house nearly four months’ consumption.
So France and Germany can stock up in summer when prices are low, protecting people from a winter price surge.
When Labour decided back in March not to increase Britain’s gas storage capacity the Conservatives attacked the decision. But now they have failed to support Centrica in building more storage capacity beneath the North Sea.
It is only right that some thought should be put into the possibility of a warmer climate – this is especially true of the threat posed by flooding which might be expected to increase in a warmer world. But it is scandalous not to make better preparations for cold weather. You can just imagine the lectures ministers would be giving us about global warming if a heatwave killed a fraction of the number of people who will succumb to this winter.
In fact, ministers should consider the possibility that the Met Office might be wrong and that the past three winters might herald a prolonged cooling of the climate. If it wasn’t already obvious, the past month of freezing temperatures should be enough to convince ministers that no one yet knows enough about the myriad influences on weather and climate to make sensible predictions for 50 or 100 years hence – any more than they can foresee a “barbecue summer”.
Ministers warn against complacency on global warming but they are complacent about the prospect of the opposite.
Source Link: express.co.uk