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Ambulance-chasing Graun goes after Gustav

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Spare a thought for anyone on the Environment beat at the Guardian newspaper. It must be like working for Pravda during the Breznhev era. There, as the economy became ever more dysfunctional, reporters were obliged to pump out ever more absurd stories saluting record productivity and efficiency records. The triumph over capitalism was imminent!

A different time and a different place: but at the Graun, the ideology is "Climate Change" - and the number of narratives permissible is similarly narrow, and rigidly defined from the top. For as regular readers of the paper will know, the climate can only change in one direction: for the worse. Apocalypse is imminent!

It's in this context you should spare a thought for David Adam, the newspaper's environment correspondent. He certainly has our sympathies. With hurricane Gustav set to devastate New Orleans, Adam was tasked with the job of showing how it's all down to Global Warming.

Tasteless ambulance-chasing like this is now commonplace. Both Believers and Skeptics are both guilty of making too much of the latest weather, and extrapolating from it a trend that suits them. Weather is not climate.

But extreme weather tends to excite one side rather more than the other: because it follows the simple moral fable in which man's wickedness causes unnatural events. This pagan superstition was evident three years ago, the last time New Orleans took a battering. Barely a week had elapsed after Katrina struck, before Al Gore addressed the nation to blame it all on sinful mankind for causing Global Warming. Gore quoted Chamberlain - "this is only the beginning of the reckoning" - and for good measure, castigated American's "moral health".

Gaia's revenge?

So from the outset, it must have dawned on our heroic Graun correspondent that he had a task worthy of Hercules. Adam couldn't quote anything that contradicted the theological foundations of the orthodoxy that the occasion demanded - since that, presumably, would result in a rapid descent into Farringdon Road's piranha tank. But the problem is, there just isn't much evidence to support the idea that a warmer climate means worse weather, and the closer you look, the harder this is to prove.

And so his soul-searching struggle is laid bare.

Adams begins confidently -

"Meteorologists are predicting a more active hurricane season than usual this year..."

But realises it's a lost cause almost immediately.

"... but there is no way to know whether global warming has caused an individual event such as a hurricane, or whether it has made such storms worse," he writes.

That's not a promising start - and certainly not what the editors and eco-activists want to read. So like a hastily-constructed sea defence, the doubt is rapidly sandbagged:

"On the other hand, some scientists argue that severe storms such as Gustav are more likely in a warming world, because warmer seas make more powerful storms," he continues.

Phew.

Actually, it's more accurate to say that while non-scientists, such as Gore, are only too keen to draw links between warming and extreme weather (remember, man is responsible for all things unnatural), recent years have seen fading support for the notion.

Tom Knutson of NOAA's fluid dynamics lab published a paper this year arguing that a warmer climate means fewer hurricanes: 18 per cent fewer by the end of the century, he proposed. In another 2008 study, NOAA's Chris Landsea saw "nothing in the US hurricane damage record that indicates global warming has caused a significant increase in destruction along our coasts". And even the media's favourite hurricane doom-monger, Kerry Emanuel at MIT, an advocate of the link between a warmer climate and nastier storms for 20 years, is surprised by what his models now predict: a warmer planet means fewer hurricanes in 200 years.

(A caveat: like the much vaunted Global Climate Models (GCMs) Knutson and Emanuel's own models involve "parameterization". What this means is that left alone, computer models produce completely ridiculous results: "too many hurricanes", is how Knutson puts it. So the models are frigged massaged to produce something that's plausibly scary, but not so ridiculous that people notice. Such is the way "science" is conducted in the 21st Century...)

But back at El Graun, the unspeakable remains unpublishable. So instead of outlining the recent work, we get such platitudes such as "if anything, the science has become fuzzier in the years after Katrina", and "it is also unclear how reliably historical records of hurricane strength can be compared", and "no firm conclusion can be made at this point".

Well, wasn't that worthwhile?

At least the party line remains intact. There's a slight problem, however. When the information needed to look beyond the "fuzziness" is at one's fingertips, and can be found in only a few seconds with Google, why would anyone want to bother with a report? There's one casualty of global warming that no one seems to have discussed yet - newspapers. ®

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