Just The Science, Please

by Andrew Stuttaford

From the London Spectator:  

If a tabloid used a single spell of cold weather to try to pooh-pooh the theory of global warming, it would rightly be accused of unscientific nonsense. Yet Sir John Beddington, the government’s scientific adviser, has proposed that the government do the same in reverse. In a report entitled ‘International Dimensions of Climate Change’, he calls upon the government to use weather-related disasters as ‘policy windows’ to push through unpopular policies to cut carbon emissions.Every time there is a flood in Bangladesh, in other words, we can expect another couple of pence of duty on a litre of unleaded.

Sir John Beddington’s job is to advise on science. Instead, he appears to have appointed himself minister for propaganda. Even the Met Office accepts that individual meteorological events cannot be attributed to climate change. Drought and tempest were with us before industrial civilisation — though to read Sir John’s report it might be easy to imagine they were not. On half a dozen occasions he brings up the subject of Hurricane Katrina as supposed evidence of climate change. He must know that Katrina was far from the strongest storm to hit the US coast — it was only category three out of five by the time it landed, and there have been 15 stronger ones in the past 100 years, the strongest back in 1935 — but it struck a particularly vulnerable city.

The destruction caused by bad weather is only partly a function of the weather itself. Human disasters are more often caused by too many people living in one place with poorly engineered defences. Improve those defences, and lives can be saved. That is a subtlety lost on Sir John Beddington. Britain has no end of green pressure groups, but only one chief scientific adviser. He would better earn his £165,000 a year by sticking to his remit.

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