TCS Daily

Climate's New Model Army

By Roger Bate - January 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Climate scientists are claiming that 2003 was the hottest year Britain has seen since record-keeping began in 1659; most blame man's emissions of greenhouse gases as the prime cause. The truth is that we still don't know that the warmer summers of recent years are due to man's handiwork. The variation could be natural and there's no saying that the current trend will continue.

Cromwell Succumbs to Warming Disease

After all, the late 1650s were quite warm years during a long cooling period in Europe that lasted from 1525 to 1800, and encouraged the establishment of the Central England Temperature Record in 1659. Indeed, in 1658 the Lord Protector (Britain's all powerful head of state -- a monarch in all important respects), Oliver Cromwell, died from malaria, in a balmy September, preceding a very cold winter.

"Ah!" you might say, "see? High temperatures like those in the 1650s will lead to the return of nasty diseases such as malaria today." And it's true that back then, when malaria was endemic in the marshes of East Anglia where Cromwell lived, temperature did affect the rate of infection as more mosquitoes bred and survived. But for most countries today, including Britain, the key factor is poverty and not temperature. There was no elevation in malaria cases (all cases were 'imported' by holidaymakers, refugees, or businessmen) in Britain this year, even though the mosquitoes that spread malaria still exist in Britain and were no doubt enjoying the warm conditions. Britain is a wealthy country, its people don't live outdoors, and they eat well, hence have strong resistance to disease, and provide no easy haven for malaria. More specifically, there is no 'pool' of human and animal carriers of the malaria parasite that allow the mosquito to pick up and pass on the disease. There is zero chance that today's British leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair, would die from malaria caught in Britain, and because of very good medical infrastructures, he almost certainly wouldn't die even if he caught it somewhere else.

Phew, what a scorcher!

The above headline in the British tabloid newspaper The Sun was certainly apt for much of the British summer just past. The 10th of August was the hottest day ever registered in the UK, 101.3 Fahrenheit (38.5 Celsius) at Faversham in Kent. And the average in 2003 is around 10.65C. The previous highest on record was 1990 (10.63C) and in 1999 (10.62C).

Professor Phil Jones is a leading climate scientist and co-director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia -- in Cromwell country. Jones is part of a climate scientist cabal, not too distant in puritanical fervor from Cromwell's New Model Army. This cabal ignores all counter evidence and regularly pronounces with the certainty that only faith can give that human emissions are affecting the planet.

But Dr. Jones went even further recently. He said in The Independent newspaper that the changes in 2003 could not be accounted for by natural climate variability, and can be attributed to global warming caused by human actions. "The temperatures recorded in Europe [in 2003] were out of all proportion to the previous record," he said. To make such an unequivocal statement is not only unscientific, but smacks of desperation. The Kyoto Protocol is floundering without Russian support, and with growing European business resentment of the cost of compliance, the climate alarmists are in danger of losing the battle. It is therefore not surprising that they are resorting to such extremism. We are approaching the end game for this Protocol and with it, hopefully, the end of policy driven by climate alarmism.

The Best Insurance Policy

Of course, it is quite possible that human emissions will cause the climate to change. If it does so, and where danger is posed due to that change, it is likely to harm only the most poverty-stricken on the planet. Much like the example of malaria above, extreme weather, and disease-enhanced warmth are only threatening to those with no ability to adapt and overcome the danger. When Cromwell caught malaria no one knew the cause, and there was no cure. There was no technology at any price. Today, malaria is prevalent in relatively poor countries, like Malaysia, but non-existent in its rich neighbor, Singapore, where capitalist-driven technologies have solved the problem.

Bangladeshis die in their thousands in floods, few die in Florida floods of the same magnitude. Bangladesh is among the most corrupt and backward countries in the world. Its people will continue to die in natural disasters until it has wealth, and the institutions to achieve that wealth. Limiting greenhouse gas emissions and energy use is the worst policy Bangladesh could follow.

Climate experts often argue that we need to purchase the insurance policy of action on greenhouse gases. They say that energy taxes are like buying fire and theft insurance for your house. But this analogy, like much of their alarmism, is false. If anything, climate science acts as a fire alarm (to alert us to any potential climatic dangers), but it's the capitalist system that is the real insurance policy. The richer we are the better we can adapt to dangers (man-made and natural). Perhaps climate policies (e.g. energy taxes) tell us how much a fire extinguisher would cost, and the answer is an awful lot -- especially one acknowledged to be near-useless. Until the climate science fire alarm shouts much louder, buying that fire extinguisher at the expense of more flexible capitalistic insurance is folly.

Roger Bate is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a Director of health advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria.


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