Thursday, July 26, 2007

Could the Scientists Tell Us If Floods Are Caused by Climate Change Please?

Isn't it nice when two people on the same side of the argument put forward entirely contradictory viewpoints on climate change. These two quotes are from columnists for the same national newspaper. Could anyone prove to us what the science REALLY says, please? Isn;t it strange, I thought the scientists were all agreed. At least, so we were told...
Most of the scientific evidence suggests these summer rains are highly
likely to be a consequence of global warming
; at the very least, global warming science predicts more turbulent weather, including more heavy downpours
- just what has happened.”
Jackie Ashley - Monday July 23, 2007, The Guardian
“It wasn't meant to happen like this. The climate scientists told us that our winters would become wetter and our summers drier. So I can't claim that these floods were caused by climate change, or are even consistent with the models. But, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, they offer us a glimpse of the possible winter world that we will inhabit if we don't sort ourselves out.”
George Monbiot - Tuesday July 24, 2007, The Guardian

The trouble is that nowadays it is tempting to attribute any freakish weather event to climate change. If the 1987 storms happened again, or the 1976 hot summer, both would now be attributed to climate change. These events have always happened, as has climate change. What we need to work out is this: are they occuring more frequently than in the past and are they all attributable to man-made climate change. George Monbiot apparently thinks not.


Jonathan Sheppard said...

The phrase climate change is to say the least hardly helpful - as that's what the climate has always done - changed.

Some argue that global warming will move the gulf stream which has led to the rain over the last few weeks. When you hear that its the worst flooding in 60 years you firstly have to say - aha - they had floods like this 60 years ago? Was that down to man made climate change - or is it just freakish weather?

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

Don't spend too much time reading articles in The Guardian. They are not really meant for thinking people like us, more a sort of therapy for lefties who like to talk amongst themselves.

Hughes Views said...

"Could the Scientists Tell Us If Floods Are Caused by Climate Change Please?" No of course they can't. The earth's climate is a highly complex set of systems and consequently hard to analyse. You meeja types like certainty: I'm right, he's wrong sort of thing don't you? But reality ain't like that. Scientists deal in probabilities not in certainties...

Ed said...

The simple answer is that nobody has the answer. The climate changes - in Roman times it was warmer in England than it is now, in Victorian times it was cooler.

There is nothing as consistent as change!

Whether CO2 adds extra factors into the equation is anyone's guess really. I can see the point that CO2 is a greenhouse gas but how much does our own activity vary the levels? Do the changes in the levels we've seen in the last 50 years contribute to the temperature changes we've seen in the last 20?

Anyone's guess. That said, we should cut down on fossil fuels because they will run out sooner or later.

James said...

This just highlights that we need to keep researching and debating climate change (global warming doesn't seem quite so appropriate at the moment).

But just because we are not 100% sure doesn't mean we should all carry on as before, we should always act on the best information/research we have while endeavouring to make that better at the same time.

David Lindsay said...

Younger readers should note the use of the word "weather" in this post. "The weather" is an archaic term for what is now called "climate change".

I have no idea whether or not the current flooding is because of global warming, although I do wonder what, in that case, caused floods in the past. But I have noticed how this phenomenon is apparently capable of being the cause of absolutely any and every undesirable weather condition.

If it only caused heatwaves, then I might understand. But it is now blamed for floods as it was previously blamed for heavy snowfalls, and no doubt will be again. All in all, if it is a truth, then it is anything but an inconvenient one.

I have also noticed how, in marked contrast to 'he Great Global Warming Swindle', 'An Inconvenient Truth' has scarcely a scientist in it. We are really only treated to the old man who taught the General Science component of Al Gore's AB. But woe betide anyone who points out any of this.

There is, you see, a "consensus" (a political, not a scientific, concept) against the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs of the working class, and against both the economic development of the poorer parts of the world, and the permission to travel of anyone except George Monbiot and Al Gore.

For whom, how very convenient.

Lilith said...

Well, my garden thinks its Spring Summer and Autumn at the same time. I have cowslips and snowberries and japanese anemomes..and sweet peas...The conkers are nearly ripe and the boston ivy is turning red...the climate is certainly different to previous years...

Chris Paul said...

Er, both regularly overstep their understanding on such matters. They are both wrong.

Man in a shed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Man in a shed said...

Iain - science doesn't answer questions like that in a definite way. Scientists may do so - but they are simplifying and hoping not to be questioned to closely.

They may also feel that explaining the underlying uncertainty in the situation will stop the course of action they would like being taken - hence they are economic with the truth.

Where the 1949 floods climate change ?

the joker said...

The floods of 1947 and big freeze of 1946? may have been to climate change (duh) but global warming is another matter (by what exactly)
China and the global economy?

Personally I blame Dave Cameron for going to Rwanda.


Hannibal said...

Hughes Views,
You pronounce that "scientists deal in probabilities not in certainties", and that's certainly been the traditional view. Why then do we now here of "settled science" and "consensus", and find sceptics labelled as deniers?

Peter said...

Well Iain before you get too green with naivety try asking when rivers were dredged and how much silt is slowing down the flow of water.

Then ask how much silt is in the rainwater drains and how many dykes are in top condition.

Lincolnshire has areas around Holland with drainage dykes from the time William of Orange had land reclaimed from the sea....if you don't keep the dykes clear of vegetation and silt they don't function properly

Global Warming is lazy but it suits a non-thinking age of soundbite mediocrity

Steve said...

have the wheelscome off the global warming bandwagon? Any argument bought hook line and sinker by politicians should be treated with extreme scepticism

Hughes Views said...

hannibal - because meeja types corrupt the science...

Richard Havers said...

They had some climate 'expert' on BBC news tonight who said. "There's an indication that summers will generally become drier. There's also an opposite indication that when we have rain then these rain events will be heavier."kiyon

fr said...

Next winter, if it is freezing cold, will be cited as indisputable evidence of "climate change", or global warming, as we used to call it.

molesworth 1 said...

do not vex me all you arts students, hem-hem.
scientific consensus, not a conspiracy theory...seme's you should have paid more attenshun in stinks and phys.
attributing single extreme events to long-term trends in a chaotic system....chiz, chiz, should've done last term's maths. prep on stats. (and of course the assosciated philosophical paper"...more stats. and damned lies!")
bad science indeed,hem-hem...

Sea Shanty Irish said...

Lots of good comments - beginning with Iain's post - on the inadvisability of drawing cosmic conclusions from a few events. Indeed, one swallow does not a summer make!

That said, find it both amazing and encouraging that the Right Wing in both UK and US is lashing itself to the mast of the Good Ship Nonsuch when it comes to global warming . . . DESPITE THE FACT that MARGARET THATCHER positioned the Tory Party perfectly on this emerging issue years before it was a political biggie!

The (now) noble lady was most definitely NOT an arts student. She understood the science and the implications . . . political as well as environmental.

This is very much like the way the wackos in the GOP (Yes, Virginia, not all Republicans are nutbags!) are leading the charge against W's efforts on immigration reform. Bush's main goal is to secure the future of the Republican Party by making the GOP more appealing to recent immigrants and their progency (just as he'd done in Texas as Governor).

Fat chance!!!!

Johnny Norfolk said...

The truth is that our climate is and has always changed. It used to be called weather.

We have had cooler and warmer periods in our history and they tell us it is now warmer apart from this summer of course.

There is not a lot we can do about it. It makes sense not to polute and waste thing but they must stop frightening the population as if the world is going to end. The government love it as it is a way to keep us worried so we dont look at what they are doing to much and they can increase more taxes to save the planet.

I try and do my bit but take no notice of the scare mongers. Do you remember how they frightened us about the hole in the atmosphere. You dont hears about it anymore as the hole filled in, they were wrong then and they are wrong now.

Try and use your common sense about this. We are just far more aware of what goes on in the world

The Difference said...

If you want to survey some of what the scientists have being saying this year, you could scan down the climate change posts at The Difference. If you just want a quick "taster" summary, go straight to More Global Warming Evidence.

iCowboy said...

Johnny Norfolk wrote:

'I try and do my bit but take no notice of the scare mongers. Do you remember how they frightened us about the hole in the atmosphere. You dont hears about it anymore as the hole filled in, they were wrong then and they are wrong now.'

Actually you couldn't be more wrong if you tried.

The ozone hole is caused by the action of chlorine radicals on ozone molecules in the stratosphere. The major source of these radicals were chlorofluorocarbons and their relatives - all manmade chemicals. Unlike most chlorine compounds, CFCs are sufficiently stable to survive until they reach the stratosphere, there they are broken up by UV light and begin to tear ozone molecules apart. A hypothesis that this might happen was put forward by Rowland and Molina in 1974, the ozone hole wasn't reported until 1985.

When the World agreed to phase out CFC production the amount of chlorine entering the stratosphere began to decline. There's still major man-made ozone depletion over the Antarctic, but the conditions appear to be stabilising if not slowly improving. There is still plenty of research in the field and specialised journals regularly report on ozone depletion at both poles.

So the chemists were correct, climatologists were right, the solution proposed was also correct and we've made a good attempt to fix the problem.

As for global warming the consensus is that British summers will become more extreme - warmer and drier for much of the time, but when it rains it will rain heavily.

But people here are confusing climate - a long term process with weather - a very short term process. The climate might be becoming warmer and drier, but the weather can still have cold, wet periods. To give an extreme example, this January it snowed in Tucson, Arizona - a weather event. That doesn't stop Tucson from being in the Sonoran desert and having a desert climate.

javelin said...

Weather is always changing - mostly because of the sun.

The wet weather is because the jet stream is lower this year. The jet stream is strongly effected by the Sun's electromagnetic force. Which is why the environmental lobby don't really want this summer to happen because it shows the most extreme weather since record began has been caused by the Sun.

Johnny Norfolk said...


As I said the hole is filling in. thats what I said thats what you said. Why am i wrong.

Peter said...


You pose a good question in your blog title, but what is the point of then looking for answers from two hacks? - neither of whom are science journalists.

If you want to know the answer, turn to proper science journalists, instead of opinion hacks.

My guess is that climate science is not sufficiently advanced to work out if any one event is caused by increased carbon in the atmosphere. But I'm no scientist - ask one!

Chemist said...

I am a scientist (A rare breed these days)
What appears to be happening these days is that there are too few proper scientists left. They are being replaced by opinionistas and politicos who long ago realised in the post thatcher landscape that being truthful and knowledgable does not progress a career. Bullshit and lies does.

In the world of soundbites and personality everyone is looking for instant certain answers. Science by its very nature cannot provide them. Why? because scientific method dictates that you can observe something, possibly prove it to your satisfaction, but once your theory is out in the open it is fair game to have holes poked in it. The other side of the coin is that the detractors are also fair game etc etc etc.
So if you ask a scientist does gravity exist, they should say that no we haven't conclusively proved it, but we haven't disproved it either. We use our current understanding and that seems to work for all intents and purposes for now.
What this means that because the science of climate change is still quite new, and not necessarily well understood, there are still a lot of egos being seen. We're still in the set up and knock down part of the job.
The whole is also being stoked by politicians who are starting to realise that oil now comes from nasty countries, run by nasty people, and that there are finite resources. That is not a good combination on any count

bgprior said...

George has been remarkably honest, given the opportunity to take a cheap shot and his passionate belief in the threat of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). All you have to ask, to answer your question, is who has more motive to lie about this. It's not in George's interests to lie about this. Of course he's telling the truth (and deserves a lot of credit for that) and Ashley joins that growing band of knaves and fools who have linked this weather with AGW. Does no one remember the warnings last year about droughts becoming more frequent in the South-East in summer? That is indeed the forecast of those models that drill down to regional and seasonal behaviour. I have posted a map of predicted changes in precipitation across the country in Summer and Winter, 2020, 2050 and 2080, over at Picking Losers. It was produced by the UK Climate Impacts Programme, DEFRA, the Hadley Centre and the Tyndall Centre - in other words the great and the good of British climate science. And it shows clearly that precipitation is forecast to decrease significantly in England in summers.

The trick all the commentators play is to take annual averages, and probably a wider geographical area as well. The trend in annual average precipitation across the whole of the UK may well be upwards in the models, but that would only be because the increase in winter rainfall outweighed the decrease in summer rainfall.

Tonight's Leading Edge on Radio 4 had a discussion with Dr Peter Stott, one of the authors of the paper published in Nature this week, which claimed to have identified the hand of man in changes in rainfall patterns. This is the paper that has had The Independent, The Times and probably many others spouting nonsense about how this weather must be the result of AGW - because that paper observed that average annual precipitation had increased in the Northern Hemisphere between the 50th and 70th latitudes (in which we lie) and that this increase correlates closely with climate models only when human activities are included in those models. Geoff Watts asked Dr Stott "the kind of floods that we've seen in the past ten days two weeks, is this, do you suppose, a manifestation of the kind of changes that you are talking about". Stott replied "So this is where it gets actually rather trickier, because now we're talking at a much smaller scale than the paper addresses, and also we're trying to disentangle the changes expected in summer from those expected in winter. So whereas the paper is pointing to saying that at very large global scales north of fifty degrees latitude there has been an increase of rainfall and along with that will come more extreme rainfall events, when we come down to the scale of the UK and look at events we're experiencing recently, then we need to do more research to understand and disentangle the roles of variability from the roles of climate change." This is a reasonable attempt at a fudge, and they then tried to fudge it further, but it is clear from this that Stott does not dare claim that the recent weather is a symptom of the effect he has described. Because it's not. Plain and simple.

Thank you for asking the question, Iain. This has been driving me berserk, as more and more people (Messrs G.Brown and M.Campbell for two) jump on the bandwagon of claiming this weather is a symptom of AGW. As George Monbiot demonstrates, you don't have to be a sceptic to admit that this weather is not consistent with the models, you just have to be honest.

Roger Thornhill said...

Of course the floods are caused by climate change - the climate changes every day and every year for crying out loud.
Britain has ALWAYS had a weird and unpredictable climate so we call it "the weather" and talk about it non-stop.

The Greens are like Shamans and their gods. "The Great Volcano is ANGRY!!!!" and all that.

The other day the new Boeing airliner was criticised for being more economical as that would "encourage more to fly". Back to the Stone Age, then.

Electric cars were criticised recently too, as they "increase pollution in certain areas" - oh yeh, but they reduce it in cities, numbnuts!

The climate is changing. The FIRST thing we should be doing is preparing for that change, not thinking we can reverse it. Of course, efficiency measures can be taken, but the first task ahead should be contingency planning and infrastructure enhancements. Water storage, energy, resisting immigration waves, food supply. Everything else is like praying in the hope that the volcano stops rumbling.

Dr.Doom said...

half the streets in London are named after a global warming episode and Britain was joined to Europe once before the great flood.

All because of global warming and climate changes.

It's known that too many cars and power stations fueled by coal, may have been responsible.

Personally spaeking, I believe in the theory of solar eruptions and Earth rotation to fall into line occassionaly. I gather there is a 300 year delay in solar activity reaching earth.


The Magpie said...

To answer your question,
you need to read the following books you can get from

'Have we got Scares for you'

and also:

'Sorry, wrong number'

Lastly, science is the discipline of categorising and understanding the mechanism of how life and out world works. It's not Soothsaying!

BlueTulipRoseRead said...

O who cares. If monbiot stopped writing a few forests would be spared and the planet would be better off. My house in Oxford is still under water but I attribute that to the fact we've had shit loads of rain and every 40-50 years my part of Oxford floods. I accept that climate change is happening and conventional wisdom suggests it's man made but that doesnt mean it is necessarily. At the end of the day, George Monbiot has a nice dry house from which to pontificate his uncertainties whereas I am definitely slopping out effluent. What we need is a little less monbiot and a little more flood defences.

Serf said...


I was fortunate to attend a lecture by the head of the IPCC, a few weeks ago.

His view was that it was wrong to link specific weather events to rising global temperatures, as there was no evidence to support such claims.

He also said that it was unfortunate that the media prefered to publish alarmist hacks rathers than a real analysis of the problem.

His view is rather more moderate in that Global Warming is a problem, but one that has a solution that doesn't involve a return to the stone age.

V said...

The Flooding is man made, but not because of the climate! Its happened because we don't seem to do land management any more.
We also seem to spend our flood defence money on other things.

Finally, what land we have got as flood lands (the land that can flood without damage) we stick houses on so we don't damage the value of the nice politicians houses already in the green belts.

The whole issue of global warming / climate change / unexpected weather is so political that it doesn't seem possible for there to be a sensible debate where hidden agendas are not brought to the table!

Finally, when you do finally have some kind of debate, the lack of education in science and maths in the UK becomes blatantly obvious!
From the use of statistics that fit when you suppress the data that doesn't through to misunderstandings of the term Theory and consensus the whole thing is a joke!

Roll on the recession and an end to easy money from government sources !!

Jim said...

V said

Roll on the recession and an end to easy money from government sources !!

July 27, 2007 1:47 PM

Wishing or hoping that OUR country goes into economic meltdown in the hope of furthering your political cause…..How nice and patriotic. David Cameron hasn’t a chance because his core supporters are still as vindictive and nasty as ever….AND THE REST OF US KNOW THIS. !!!!!!!! A pigs ear masquerading as a silk purse

V said...


Maybe if you understood economics you may understand the core of my comment.

Rather than add a long economics article, lets just say by saying that Governments can only make the economy worse. The best way of getting the economy working is by leaving it alone! The current government is a labour government, who have a reputation for making things worse (think 1970's!)

If we are going to have a recession (which we will!) - its going to be their mismanagement which causes it!

Jim said...

V said

....The best way of getting the economy working is by leaving it alone!

Oh you are funny. You mean like Major and The Witch, only 3 recessions between them in 18 years.

machiavelli said...

I'm a great admirer of your blog, Iain, but I am increasingly amazed at the lack of knowledge you display on the climate change issue.

To answer your question: individual weather events are caused by the weather. Changes in trends in weather patterns are caused by climate change.

You cannot claim that a particular weather event is the "result" of climate change, but you can say that a change in the trend in weather patterns are - that is, by definition, climate change.

Does that help? It's A Level Geography if you want to look into it a bit more.

Helen said...

If the last time this country had floods on this scale (and more, as I understand) was in 1946, no storms since 1987 and no real heat-wave caused drought since 1976, why do you think these freak events are occurring more frequently than before? What is your evidence for that?

andanotherthing said...

Spot on Iain.
Do you remember at the beginning of the year the Met Office predicted that this was going to be the hottest year on record and it was a direct consequence of Man Made Global Warming? (They later apologised for the inaccurate forecast!)
Well this week i heard someone from the same Met Office say that these floods were caused by Man Made Global Warming!! Got that? So if its Hot, its because of Man Made Global Warming but if its wet....its STILL Man Made Global Warming. So they have their bases pretty well covered there!!

andanotherthing said...

Spot on Iain.
Do you remember at the beginning of the year the Met Office predicted that this was going to be the hottest year on record and it was a direct consequence of Man Made Global Warming? (They later apologised for the inaccurate forecast!)
Well this week i heard someone from the same Met Office say that these floods were caused by Man Made Global Warming!! Got that? So if its Hot, its because of Man Made Global Warming but if its wet....its STILL Man Made Global Warming. So they have their bases pretty well covered there!!

Heiko said...

The forecast is that the return period for 50 year extreme 1 day summer precipitation events will either stay the same or increase slightly with climate change. So, there's little basis for claiming that climate change is responsible for the floods, or that it's made these particular floods more likely.

You can try to make the argument as Monbiot does that it's a sign of what to expect in winter, hmm, because, 50 year return periods will go down to 35-45 years.

javelin said...

Funny how the demand to decrease our consumption of oil has coincided with it running out? One target this Government can't f*ck up.