THE storm is calmed, the waters are receding, mostly, and all
that is left is clearing up the mess. If only it were that simple.
If this really is the start of climate change, a geography
professor told me, there is nothing we can do about it. What feels
to us like extreme weather will now be normal for at least two
If this sounds apocalyptic, and a recipe for just going down the
pub, he adds the rider: "All we can do now is stop it getting
Climate change has been the dogma that has not barked in the
deluge of media coverage of the floods. Two weeks ago, I asked
elsewhere why, in the face of all this "global weirding", as one
climatologist calls it, few people were talking about global
Climate-change-deniers always insist that you cannot prove a
causal link between one spell of extreme weather and global
warming. That is true, just as you cannot link one specific
cigarette to a smoker's developing lung cancer. But trends are
This week, Lord Stern, who wrote a seminal report on climate
change in 2006, noted that four of the five wettest years ever
recorded in the UK have occurred since 2000; so have the seven
warmest years. That is only in Britain. Australia has just had its
hottest year on record. North America has been gripped by a polar
vortex. Bangladesh has had two once-in-a-lifetime cyclones in three
years. The Philippines has had its worst-ever typhoon.
Common sense suggests that global warming should make the
weather warmer here. But common sense, as so often, is wrong.
Scientists warned years ago that the first change the UK should
expect is more rain and wind, since a warmer atmosphere holds more
water and more energy, which means more floods. QED.
Looking back, Lord Stern says, his verdict should have been
harsher in 2006. "Since then, annual greenhouse-gas emissions have
increased steeply, and some of the impacts, such as the decline of
Arctic sea ice, have started to happen much more quickly," he
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that the
available scientific evidence suggests that it is 95 per cent
likely that most of the rise in global temperatures is due to
greenhouse gases, deforestation, and other human activities
(Comment, 27 September; News, 4 October). "Inaction could be
justified only if we could have great confidence that the risks
posed by climate change are small," Lord Stern says. "But the risks
I know Nick Stern well. He and I were co-authors of the report
for Tony Blair's Commission for Africa. He is a punctilious and
naturally cautious man, with a great concern for academic accuracy.
For some to see him an alarmist prophet of doom is a measure of how
deeply rooted our ostrich scepticism is.
There are none so blind as those who will not see. The Prime
Minister this week advised people in Upton on Severn to speak to
"the man upstairs" about the floods. But prayer is not a sufficient
answer. God helps those who help themselves, as my grandmother used
If what we are seeing around us is the result of a two-degree
rise in global temperatures, what can we expect from the
four-degree rise that many scientists say is inevitable, unless we
cut carbon emissions? Mass migrations, conflict, and war, Lord
Stern suggests. The last time the global temperature was five
degrees different from today, the earth was gripped by an ice age.
We cannot say that we have not been warned.
Paul Vallely is Senior Research Fellow at the Brooks World
Poverty Institute at the University of