Many people are commenting on the irony that, not two weeks after the Copenhagen summit to discuss the warming of the Earth, Britain and other parts of Europe are experiencing an extreme cold snap (see “Cold Is Weather; Heat Is Climate,” below). Parts of the U.K. have come to a standstill as temperatures have plummeted to -17 degrees Celsius (about 1 degree Fahrenheit). Schools have been closed, there is gridlock on the roads, flights have been cancelled. During Copenhagen, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown made grand statements about protecting future generations from the effects of global warming; now he is calling on British people “to support each other” in this “difficult” time of freezing weather.
Yet if you comment on this irony, far less ask awkward questions about what it might reveal about the global-warming thesis, you are apparently an “idiot.” Green commentators have attacked those who ask “if the planet is warming, why is it so bloody cold?” “Britain’s cold snap does not prove climate science wrong,” declares the Guardian, bemoaning the “national outpouring of idiocy every time some snow falls.” The Guardian says climate and weather are not the same thing, and “the ability to distinguish trends from complex random events is one of the traits that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.” (In short, if you idiotically think cold weather disproves global warming, you’re not fully human.)
Now, I’m no climate scientist (thank God), and I don’t know if Britain’s extraordinarily cold weather is indicative or not of any broader trend. (I do know, however, that it is a pain to be subjected to non-stop, very expensive TV and radio warnings about the future warming of the planet by a government that can’t even make the trains and buses run during cold weather in the here and now.) However, there is a hilarious irony in being lectured by greens against using random weather events to make a point about broader trends, for that is what they do all the time. Indeed, greens have personified and moralized random weather events, interpreting them as Nature’s vengeful fury against wanton and wasteful mankind. How idiotic can you get?
The same Guardian newspaper that now complains about “the national outpouring of idiocy every time some snow falls” has previously interpreted floods as instant evidence of global warming and a form of punishment for our greedy consumerist lives. When there were floods in parts of Britain in 2007, caused by the complex event of increased rainfall (and poor flood defenses), a Guardian correspondent said: “The drumbeat of disaster that heralds global warming quickened its tempo this week.” He argued that “behind the gathering clouds, God is busy,” punishing humans for our addiction to fossil fuels.
The Guardian described floods in October 2000 as evidence of “the connections between climate change and our unsustainable lifestyles.” The environmentalist author Mark Lynas has even evoked the old God of the Sea to convince us that a) random floods reflect broader trends and b) it’s our fault for being such fat, greedy monsters: “Poseidon is angered by arrogant affronts from mere mortals like us. We have woken him from a thousand-year slumber, and this time his wrath will know no bounds.” That makes the average Joe’s question-asking about cold weather during an era of global warming look like rationalism personified.
It is striking that cold weather events are never evidence that global warming isn’t happening, but hot weather events are always evidence that it is happening. During the heatwave in Europe in 2003, when there was a long, hot, glorious summer in much of the continent, one headline told us starkly: “Global warming, not just a heatwave.” European experts warned the idiots amongst us who donned shorts and vests to lap up the sun’s rays that “We are observing and suffering the first effects of global warming.” So there is a difference between weather and climate when the weather is cold, but they are one and the same thing when the weather is hot? That’s convenient.
The terrible Australian bush fires of 2009, though caused by a combination of hot weather and arson, were also interpreted as dire signs of “global warming made manifest in the daily lives of ordinary people.” Indeed, one leading Aussie green has welcomed bush fires as a lesson for mankind, writing in 2007: “[W]e in the cities love a good bushfire, especially around Christmas time. As the orgy of spending reaches a climax, we begin to wonder whether we have become decadent. The fireys who battle the elements on our behalf remind us of our true selves.” Once again, complex weather events are not only generalized as evidence of a definite trend — they are also given meaning, intention, sentience, transformed into some God-like punishment for the way we live.
The greens who criticize people simply for asking probing questions about snowy weather events employ dastardly double standards. It is okay for them to interpret every hot summer and occasional flood as evidence that eco–Judgement Day is on its way, but it is not okay for anyone else to say: “Hey, it’s snowing. Maybe the warming of the planet isn’t happening as fast as we thought.” The real problem is not “national idiocy” but the way in which the environmentalist powers-that-be are resurrecting, in secular, pseudo-scientific lingo, the old religious idea that freak weather is punishment for mankind’s follies, and arguing that we must all lower our horizons and change our lifestyles if we don’t want to die in a flood or be burnt to a crisp in a bush fire.
– Brendan O’Neill is the editor of spiked and the author of Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas.