Boris Johnson has a message for "scientists and environmentalists". Or at least, it’s addressed to scientists and environmentalists, although if I were trying to reach that particular audience, I might not have chosen the Telegraph. In fact, I’d probably be more likely to try to put an article in the Telegraph if I was trying to reach Tory backbench MPs. But that’s just me.
Boris’s pal Piers Corbyn has used his unique, unpublished weather prediction methodology to tell us we’ve just entered an ice age. Apparently this is a result of measuring sunspots, and it’s entirely coincidental that Piers’s eureka moment appears to have arrived with the first snows of winter.
This predicted ice age isn’t the kind of ice age that requires bearskins and snowshoes, or even a heightened concern for Granny’s chilblains. This is the kind of ice age which allows you to relax.
Boris knows the world is getting hotter, and will continue to do so, and that "of course, it still seems a bit nuts to talk of the encroachment of a mini ice age". But Boris is willing to look a bit nuts, bless his public-spirited heart, because by doing so he hopes to add to the general relaxation of the nation.
This ice age is not a climatic ice age, where the globe cools, it’s a political ice age – one that doesn’t show up in any of the measurements or forecasts of any scientists anywhere, but helps to freeze any possible action to reduce emissions, and to allow herds of trumpeting prehistoric monsters to charge through the division lobbies of Westminster without anyone being rude enough to point out that the changing climate has left them behind, and it’s well past their proper extinction date.
We all know that politicians live in a slightly different reality to the rest of us, and allowances must be made. This is how Blair managed to watch Jackie Milburn play for Newcastle years after he retired, and Cameron was able to buy pasties from Leeds cafes which didn’t sell them. So, brave Sir Boris charges in armed only with ‘empirical’ observations of snow on his barbeque, stating with some confidence that such sights have never been seen before, or at least, certainly not in his lifetime.
Indeed, during Boris’s childhood (1964 - 2007) there was never any snow that outlasted a "single decent snowball fight".
Apart from 1966, when five inches fell in southern England in mid-April. But then Boris was only two and may not remember. 1968, 1969 and 1970 all saw a lot of snow in the UK, but that may have missed Sussex, where Boris attended prep-school. 1976, 1977 and 1978 had quite a bit, and 1979 is described by Netweather’s History of British Winters as "the last really severe, snowy winter", inclining one to believe that, in that year at least, the snow may have outlasted a "single decent snowball fight". But perhaps the playing fields of Eton have under floor heating.
I don’t imagine for a moment that even the most die-hard climate denier expects Boris’s ‘empirical’ observations to hold up to scientific scrutiny, but for tradition’s sake, we’ll assume that someone, somewhere, thinks that Boris might actually be able to out-think the world’s top scientists on an issue he’s completely unqualified in, by sheer force of Latin, and for the benefit of that eccentric individual, we will explain why he hasn’t. Sigh.
The coldest of the recent cold winters was 2010, or, to be unfashionably precise, the first three weeks of December in 2010 were so cold it rated as the coldest December in the UK for 100 years. Coldest December for 100 years! Surely strong evidence of a cooling climate?
Well, the numbers which show you what the climate is doing are synthesised from the numbers which show you what the weather is doing, so if that cold snap was typical of the year, then we might have a year which sticks out against the warming trend, and if we had a few of those in a row, we might start to wonder whether our climate models had missed something. If we had a decade of them, we might start to speculate that the trend had changed, and once the 30-year period over which climate trends are plotted started to show a downward tilt, that would be real evidence of the climate cooling.
Except that, when you include the extremely cold December in the UK, and indeed some extremely cold weather elsewhere in the world, 2010 still averages out as the hottest year on record, globally, ever.
So, Boris’s best evidence for global cooling is three cold weeks in the UK during a year when global temperatures were the hottest on record.
As for the other four winters Boris presents as ‘empirical’ evidence, all of them took place during the top 10 hottest years ever, apart from the winter of 2011 which was only the twelfth hottest year on the Met Office’s 160 year record.
But Boris already knows all this. He knows that every single year since 1985 has been above the 1961-1990 global average. He knows that the 80s were hotter than the 70s, the 90s were hotter than the 80s, and the Noughties (did we ever fix on an official name for the last decade?) were hotter than the 90s, and, even though predicting short-term climate trends is a bit of a mug’s game, Boris knows that the Met Office have predicted that the next few years will be hotter than the last few, and that the warming trend will continue for decades, if not centuries.
He knows that Corbyn’s theory that the warming of the last few decades was caused by sunspots is somewhat undermined by that temperature rise occurring during a sustained drop in sunspot activity, and he probably knows that Corbyn’s theory that a recent drop in sunspot activity is pitching us into a new ice age is slightly undermined by sun spot activity having increased over the last few years. I imagine Boris is also aware that recent cold winters in parts of the northern hemisphere are fully explained by oscillations in the jet stream caused by warmer Arctic waters, caused by, you guessed it, global warming. He certainly should be.
But, regardless of the detail, Boris is certainly fully cognizant that there is no ice age on the way. He doesn’t really believe Corbyn, or Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, or any of their fellow travellers in the Mail and Telegraph. But he’s quite happy for you to do so. Because it might help you to relax.
Not if you actually thought an actual ice age was actually on the way, of course, but because he’s hoping you’ll mis-identify Corbyn as a climate scientist (he isn’t), and that you’ll mis-identify his opposition to climate science as a split or disagreement within climate science (it isn’t), and that you’ll seize on this misapprehension as an excuse to ignore climate change, at least until this latest ‘controversy’ is settled. And when it is (or rather, when Boris’s readers become aware that it was settled decades ago), the denial lobby will be ready with a new ‘controversy’, which won’t convince you, and most certainly won’t convince Boris, but it might be enough for some people to feel that they should perhaps wait just a little bit longer before doing anything because, well, you never know, perhaps this Corbyn chap is onto something, and there’s certainly no need to panic.
Because this is, after all, only the biggest catastrophe to ever befall our species, and we’ve already done almost 5% of what we need to do to fix it, and we’ve got months and months left to do the other 95%, so now is definitely not the time to panic. Not when Boris’s chums are on the brink of cashing in big-time on the fracking bubble, and he needs to keep the Tory backbenches on-side for his upcoming leadership challenge.
No, now is definitely not the time to panic.
When Boris wins his upcoming leadership challenge, that’s the time to panic.