TCS Daily

Who Guards the Guardian?

By Tim Worstall - August 27, 2004 12:00 AM

One of the joys of middle age (or as I prefer to think of it, near maturity) is that most of the possible little tricks and evasions used in discourse have already been tried upon me. I have even, to the astonishment of my early trainers, become able to spot some of them before I am gulled. I don't mean the grand things in life, like the famed advice that one should try everything in this life except incest and folk dancing, or don't attempt to draw to an inside straight; more those minor matters that proponents of a particular cause or idea proffer as proof of their correctness.

The whole field of global warming is famous for these little factoids as we well know. We are told that extreme weather events, like Hurricane Charley, are becoming and will continue to be more frequent, when in fact they have been falling in incidence for decades. We are told that insect borne disease will spread northwards, malaria for example, without being told the truth, which is that almost all of the temperate climes of Europe and the US were fever ridden until relatively modern times: it was our technology that changed, not the climate. There are hundreds of such little tales that are told to us to reinforce our faith in the modern mantra, that the warming is happening, that it is going to cause horrible problems, and that we must abandon capitalism in order to make it go away.

While researching over on the Dark Side last week I came across an apposite example of the genre. In a Guardian editorial on a flash flood in the Cornish village of Boscastle we see this:

"Nor does it mean that the climate change issue can be evaded: in the last five years, storm and flood losses in the UK have totaled £6bn, twice the amount of the previous five years."

This is slipped in a mere two lines after the acknowledgment that two nearby villages suffered almost exactly the same fate 52 years previously and some two paragraphs after pointing out that it was probably more to do with topology than anything else. So an event that was not historically unprecedented and was caused by the lie of the land can still be used to illustrate that we'd better get to like windmills pretty sharpish. Isn't it just delightful how anything and everything can be used to illustrate just that point, that we need a radical restructuring of society in order to avoid imminent destruction?

As you might imagine it took a day or two for my age addled pate to think through this, the Eureka moment coming while muttering into my whiskers over another article somewhere or other that had failed to correct figures for inflation. Oh, of course, how silly of me.

Think for a moment about what it is that gets damaged in a flood or other extreme weather event. Property perhaps? Has there been a change in the value of property in the UK over the last decade? Anyone who has ever been to a dinner party in the country will know that there has been a radical change in valuations, it appearing that the Brits have stopped talking about the weather and now can only converse about what they did or did not buy. An interesting little site found via this invention of Al Gore's, the internet, is this index of housing valuations in the UK.

I plugged in a value of 100,000 pounds for property in Q2 1994 and asked what that would be worth in Q2 2004. The answer was some 291,000 pounds. That is, as the site informs me, a rise of 191% over the decade, or if you prefer, the same house is now worth 291% of its old value.

Where does this leave our proof of global warming via flood damage then? Property, that thing which is what gets damaged in storms and floods, is worth three times what it was ten years ago yet monetary damages have only doubled. Isn't that actually an indication that there is either less flooding or that such floods as do occur are less damaging? This supports the thesis of global warming in exactly what way?

I will admit to being grateful to the ex-Veep for the invention that enabled me to check these figures as he is such a consistent and dramatic proselytizer for the concept that we are all going to be boiled or drowned in our beds any day now. It brings to mind an archaic phrase, much loved by us ancients for precisely its vintage, "hoist with his own petard", or if you prefer your pleasures in Continental fashion, we have been afforded the opportunity to indulge in that most satisfying of emotions, shadenfreude.

Thanks Al.

Tim Worstall is a TCS contributor. Find more of his writing here.


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