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MURRAY: Global warming goes gaga
In England, ideology is tilting the weather forecasts
Question of the Day
It’s the coldest winter on record in Great Britain. Great Britain also has experienced its heaviest snowfalls since the 1920s. The mayor of London, who last year was subjected to a grilling in Parliament over the inability to keep the capital’s roads clear, has asked why the government’s Meteorological Office (“Met Office”) didn’t see this coming. The answer is almost certainly an institutional faith in global-warming models that is starting to conflict with reality. The United States needs to make sure it does not go down Great Britain’s unplowed road.
Almost 10 years ago, the Independent, a leading national newspaper in the United Kingdom, ran a story that has become a joke, circulated by e-mail and on Facebook even among left-wingers. “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past,” was the headline, and some of the quotes will raise wry smiles among Brits shivering and slipping their way to work. “[T]he warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr. David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, within a few years, winter snowfall will become ‘a very rare and exciting event. … Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,’ he said.” This is, of course, the same CRU that became infamous last year as the source of the “Climategate” e-mails.
This snow blindness manifested itself in the Met Office’s predictions for the past three years. In 2008, it predicted a milder-than-normal winter. That winter was the coldest in a decade. In 2009, Met Office scientists once again suggested that cold winters were a thing of the past. One said, “The famously cold winter of 1962/63 is now expected to occur about once every 1,000 years or more, compared with approximately every 100 to 200 years before 1850.” The winter of 2009 was the coldest in 30 years. This year, the Met Office published a map on its website that showed a 60 percent to 80 percent chance of a warmer-than-average winter. This December is the coldest since seasonal records began.
There have been suggestions that the reason for the Met Office’s chronic failure has been that its brand-new $50 million supercomputer is relying on assumptions fed in from global-warming models, leading to a garbage-in, garbage-out “warm bias.” These suggestions have been confirmed to a degree, but the scientists (many connected with the University of East Anglia) claim the bias is small.
Perhaps, then, Britain’s winters are demonstrating a phenomenon that is quite common in science: regression to the mean. It often occurs that scientists document what appears to be a real, significant and observable effect, which passes all scientific tests, that over a few decades simply “wears off.” Indeed, as Jonah Lehrer described in a recent New Yorker article, this is becoming such a problem throughout science that many are coming to the conclusion that an awful lot of scientific consensus is built on foundations that are simply noise. It could be that the latest British winters are just the beginning of people realizing that global warming was a passing phase.
In which case, God help the people of the United Kingdom. Its coalition government - conservatives and liberals alike - is building an energy policy around the science of global warming that could cripple the nation. The policy is likely to raise electricity bills per household by about $800 per year by 2020 while reducing the capacity of the country to build reliable power plants. The carbon tax could reach as high as almost $110 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. As the winter closes in on many Britons, they should reflect on the irony that their government is planning to make their world colder and darker in order to save them from getting too warm.
We in America, however, should not be too complacent. Cap and tax may be dead in Congress, but the administration claims it has powers to impose carbon restrictions administratively. The first restrictions go into place next month. If we went down the British road, an equivalent carbon tax here - applied to transportation also - could raise average household energy bills by about $2,200 a year. Even if global-warming fever wears off, the political disease could be here to stay.
Iain Murray is vice president for strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of “The Really Inconvenient Truths” (Regnery, 2008).
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