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Oh no, no snow

13 Jan 2021 | OP ED Watch

Part of the battle to comprehend climate change is the tendency of predictions that failed to be replaced by predictions that can’t fail because they are too vague, too contradictory or too remote. For instance the infamous 2007 “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” (which Eric Worrall notes was deleted although unsuccessfully as the Internet tends to archive things) has been replaced by “Snow may not settle in most of UK by end of century, study suggests”. So are we meant to wait until 2100 to decide if warming is real? No. Of course not. Verdict first, evidence later.

As a senior Met Office scientist, Lizzie Kendon, told BBC’s Panorama, “It’s a big change … in the course of our lifetime. It’s just a wake-up call really as to what we’re talking about here.” Which is another of those plausible metaphors that actually conceals rather than reveals. The whole point of a metaphorical “wake-up call” is that it comes early and provides important information. If you ask the hotel to wake you up (not that anyone’s travelling) and they set the wake-up call for 60 years from now you will probably think they misunderstood that phrase. If 2080 is in your lifetime we congratulate you now, because we very probably won’t be in a position to wake you up at the time.

Speaking of important information, the Met Office website actually does warn Britons to “Prepare a winter kit for your car” just in case there’s, you know, cold weather and snow. (As, again, Spain just experienced with life-threatening effects.) But what about that study on which Dr. Kendon was relying?

Here one thing that would be helpful in having a civil and constructive discussion would be for people to provide links to the various sources they are citing or critiquing. (Including in comments on our videos and blog items please; we try to link to what we’re talking about and ask friends and foes alike to do the same.) Unfortunately the Guardian (like other papers) does not actually bother linking to the Met Office study it hypes, which is strange and indolent if not uncommon journalism since the reporter must have found it online in order to discuss and quote from it, and adding a hyperlink to a digital article is not hard. Indeed, the same piece did included a link to “Scotland” for those readers who didn’t know what it was. (Hint: it’s the one with kilts.)

We raise this point particularly because the Guardian story included this telltale passage. “The findings are based on projections that assume global emissions will continue to increase. The Met Office said that while this scenario may not be the most likely outcome, it was credible.” Which immediately made us suspect that tired old comic-book-Dracula climate scare story the RCP8.5 scenario.

We wrote that phrase before tracking down the study. Indeed we’re not totally sure we found what Dr. Kendon was talking about. But we did find this document on the Met site, called UKCP18 Factsheet: Snow. And yes, thank you very much, our suspicions are confirmed. It says “For the period 2061-2080, under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), the Regional (12km) and Local (2.2km) projections show a decrease in both falling and lying snow across the UK relative to the 1981-2000 baseline. In general, the decreases are smaller in both falling and lying snow in mountainous regions (e.g. Scottish Highlands) than in low-lying regions (e.g. southern England).”

Everybody who understands the matter knows the RCP8.5 scenario is not plausible or credible let alone probable. It incorporates absurd assumptions about emissions and coal use, including that calamitous climate change coincides with runaway economic growth. And as you might imagine, it generates embarrassingly bad predictions.

For instance, the announcement of the snowpocalypse was promptly followed by the first white Christmas in Britain for five years. Which isn’t surprising given that there has apparently been no warming in autumn in the UK since 1995. But just you wait 60 years. Then you’ll see. Pay no attention to that snow outside the curtain.

One comment on “Oh no, no snow”

  1. Not sure the wake-up call metaphor is really being misused here. You get a wake-up call so you aren't late for an appointment. The wake-up call has to precede the event of interest by a comfortable margin to be useful. So with climate change, if there is a genuine signal of alarming temperature increases related to CO2, then noticing that signal now is a useful wake-up call for the future demise. It allows us to house in order before it is too late.

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