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Dam nonsense

21 Aug 2019 | OP ED Watch

Willis Eschenbach lampoons media outlets for attributing the partial collapse of the Whaley Bridge Dam in Derbyshire, England to climate change. Including James Dyle in The Independent blaring “The Whaley Bridge dam collapse is terrifying – but it will soon be dwarfed by far greater eco-disasters/ Increasingly volatile weather due to climate change will mean events like these will become the norm.” There’s that new normal again. But (as with our ongoing series on actual temperature trends in Canadian cities) Eschenbach examines actual monthly rainfall data in England and Wales and finds… the old normal. No increase in total rain, rainstorms, or rainstorm intensity. Could the dam have collapsed due to that other old normal, human error? Sure. Dams have collapsed due to bungling before. As have claims about extreme weather.

The louder the yelling gets about reputable scientists versus denialisticismists or whatever we’re now being called, the less the people doing the yelling seem inclined to check the facts. And it seems to be inducing a certain fundamental carelessness.

It’s especially blameworthy, and careless, because many governments keep fairly careful records and, in places like the UK, they extend over quite a long period of time. So there’s no excuse for people like Dyle to write “The phrase ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life’ has been uttered a great deal in the north of England this week” about recent rainfall without Googling to see whether, in fact, the people grousing about the weather have seen things like it before, or their parents or grandparents have.

Or not investigating the possibility of poor water management of the sort that, for instance, led Lake Okanagan in BC to flood back in 2017, another example of human error promptly blamed on climate, especially by those who made the error. Or looking into past instances of dams collapsing to see what sorts of things had caused them.

As Eschenbach says, there “is a recurring problem with climate predictions. Me, I need to see some significant variation in the actual record before I say that something has changed and that as a result, the future well may be different. But far too often, climate scientists and the media make statements about future changes that are not at all supported by the actual record. In other words … for the time being, at least, I’d say that the dams in the UK are safe from rainfall risks … although management and construction risks are an entirely different question …”

One an inquisitive press ought to be asking.

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