Published in The Times on 9 January 2013
This was the story that the scientists “tried to bury”; yet more evidence that global warming is at a standstill — or so it seemed to climate sceptics.
The reality about the Met Office’s new decadal forecast is more prosaic, and also more complicated: it has indeed issued some predictions for how global temperatures might change between now and 2017, but these are not like long-range weather forecasts. They are experimental projections assessing the probabilities of different temperature outcomes averaged out over the whole globe.
Nor is it true that these show a downgrading of global warming. Although five years is a short time period for assessing a changing climate, it is still likely that the planet will continue to warm and that new temperature records will be set. The Met Office also make clear that warming is driven by increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, not natural fluctuations.
This is not to say that it will definitely be warmer in 2017 than it is in 2013, but that global warming certainly makes it more likely to be so. Probabilistic forecasts emphasise that we are loading the climate dice in a warming direction — you can still get a cool year, but they become less and less likely as time passes. The danger for all of us is that we see a spell of cold weather as evidence against global warming: no one actually experiences “average weather”.
The global warming debate has become a cover for a fight between left v right world views. Many greens see evil corporations gambling the future of the planet and call for drastic statist measures, while many sceptics allow themselves to be blinded to scientific truths about atmospheric physics that are now as well-established as Darwinian evolution.
As a result of all this hyperbole, the voices of scientists get lost in the noise. The scientific consensus, echoed by every major academic institution in the world, is that increased greenhouse gases are warming our planet, and we reject this knowledge at our absolute peril. Global warming happens on a slower timeline than politics, but its physical reality is undeniable. Over the next century we are now more likely than not to see temperatures rise higher than they have been on Earth for more than 50 million years. I find that prospect terrifying.
Scientific dissent absolutely has a place, but we must not end up being derailed from the primary mission, which has to be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve a relatively habitable climate for our children.