Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Climate change doubts that got me cancelled by fellow scientists


TWO years ago the British Hydrological Society, of which I am a member, asked me to write an article for their quarterly journal Circulation. I chose to write about climate change, which is now a fixed part of our national psyche, as is covid, and perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of features are shared. Perhaps the main connection is that both topics are very dependent on computer models for their illustration and projection, and are widely open to media exaggeration. 

My article was accepted for the online edition, but when it came to the printed edition at the request of some committee members. They did not want to be seen as endorsing the ‘climate sceptic viewpoint put forward by the member’. I was somewhat surprised at being ‘cancelled’. Some other BHS members felt that I should not be prevented from voicing an opinion, and expressed their dissatisfaction, but the committee members prevailed.

I would suggest they were wrong. As scientists they need to be open-minded. The following is a slightly updated version of the article which they rejected.

I would suggest that two things are important. One is that we realise that for the last 12,000 years our climate has been changing gradually after the last glacial advance. Secondly, that during this period there have been distinct warm and cold periods that have persisted for several decades or even centuries. The most prominent of these periods have been warm conditions at the start of the Roman occupation of Britain, the early Mediaeval period and the last 150 years: distinctly cold periods occurred from 350 to 850 AD, the ‘Little Ice Age’ lasting from about 1500 to 1700 and then most of the 19th century. Even within these periods, there were groups of years where warmer or cooler conditions prevailed. Similar fluctuations occurred in relation to wet and dry periods. For most of the time, the main anthropogenic causes postulated for climate change, i.e. industrial development and increasing carbon emissions, did not exist. 

We perhaps should ask what defines climate change as opposed to climate (or perhaps even weather) variability.  In retirement, I closely follow meteorological and hydrological conditions on a daily basis, but I avoid the use of forecast apps and use a variety of official sources which are freely available on the internet. There is a surprising regularity of recurrence of the same places: for example Capel Curig (North Wales) for rainfall, Katesbridge (Co Down) and Altnahara (Sutherland) for lowest temperature and Santon Downham (Suffolk) for extreme diurnal ranges of temperature. There are also regular instances of different weather in coastal areas, with emphasis on temperature and wind, which can be quite significant. At what point do these differences become significant enough to be defined as a micro-climate? A strict numerical definition of micro-climate does not exist as far as I know.

The same problem occurs in quantitatively defining climate change, which relates to many matters other than simply climatological measurements. Growing seasons, crop yields and changes in aspects of the hydrological cycle certainly have to be taken into account. Thus I tend to heave a tired sigh when some earnest person claims that they are ‘measuring climate change’. I was particularly exasperated with an interviewee on the radio a while ago who was enthusing about her research into remote sensing of upper winds. It is very worthwhile to obtain better understanding of three-dimensional wind patterns, but not solely ‘to measure climate change’, as the interviewee claimed. 

Like the predictions of the progress of covid, we need to ask what the limitations are to modelling. Too easily the model output is given the status of truth, and quickly becomes unchallengeable, especially when used by the MSM. Climate change predictions have been commonplace for at least 25 years, but I recently read an agricultural journalist state that in the future, farmers will have to cope with hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters, and that there will be more extreme events. That message has remained the same for years, so have we not yet reached the predicted future? It becomes easy to summarise complicated ideas into meaningless soundbites.

Over the last 15 years I have resigned from two national institutions who have incorporated climate change hypotheses into rigid policy statements, no doubt to prove their ‘green’ credentials. This situation could so easily escalate to the dystopian future depicted in the recent novel The Denial by Ross Clark. Like all the ramifications and issues relating to covid, the danger comes when theoretical projections provide the basis of legislation or define the stance of particular organisations, which are turned into slogans and virtue signalling in reporting. Similarly, dangers arise from so-called ‘environmental’ policies, such as ceasing river dredging and weed clearance, ‘re-wilding’ and abandoning land and road drainage maintenance. Ultimately we could find ourselves regressing to mediaeval conditions where roads and marshy areas become impassable in the winter months. 

Although I have been around a long time, I am not convinced that I am now living in a different climate from that of my early years. Before I was 16, I lived through various extremes. I was born during the middle of the cold, snowy winter of 1947. The summers of 1958 and 1959 were at opposite ends of the spectrum: the first was dismal, cold and wet, but the next summer was hot, dry and sunny, and extended far into autumn: we had to play touch rugby until the October half-term because the ground was so hard. The winter of 1962-63 in Suffolk saw nine weeks when daily temperatures remained below 0 deg C. I don’t think that the last 20 years has seen significantly different extremes. Despite several alarms, no major droughts have occurred to match the four major dry periods of the 20th century. Acceptance or otherwise of climate change theory should be dependent on the judgement of the individual, and professional scientists should be able to accept that.  If not, the logical next step (if not happening already) is for appointments in organisations to be predicated on compliance with a half-baked set of opinions. 

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James Dent
James Dent
James Dent FRMetS worked for many years in various aspects of meteorology and hydrology in UK and internationally. He has been engaged on long-term consultancies for the World Meteorological Organisation and the Met Office.

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