return to

Christopher Booker's Notebook

By Christopher Booker  24 Feb 2008

Last week Jerusalem had its second snowfall in a month. Astonished Athenians looked up at a snow-draped Acropolis, as more than 200 villages in Greece and Crete were cut off by blizzards. In Turkey the number of villages cut off was estimated at 1,000.

Further heavy snows across southern China added to the disaster which had already damaged 10 per cent of the country's forests and several thousand square miles of farmland, and is likely to cost the Chinese economy 10 billion.

I make no apology for returning to the unaccustomed snowfalls of the past six weeks across the northern hemisphere. Not just because they deserved more attention than they got, but because of their possible political implications when measures to "combat global warming" threaten to impose astronomic costs on the world economy.

There have been two aspects to this winter's freak weather. One has been simply the scale of these snowfalls and the fact that they affected parts of the world where snow has not been seen for decades, such as Saudi Arabia and the deserts of Iran.

More thought-provoking, however, has been the scientific data showing just how abnormal this winter's cooling has been. According to Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, we experienced the sharpest January-to-January global temperature drop - three quarters of a degree Celsius - since records began in 1880.

Temperatures were lower than their 20th century average for the first time since 1982. Snow cover in the northern hemisphere was at its greatest extent since 1966. At the other end of the world, Antarctic ice-cover was at its most extensive since satellite records began in 1979, 30 per cent above the January average (see such websites as the US National Climate Data Center, Cryosphere Today and Watt's Up With That).

It may be too early to draw conclusions as to what this says about changing climate patterns, but the fact remains that such drastic cooling hardly accords with classic global warming theory, that rising CO2 must mean rising temperatures. Certainly nothing on this scale was predicted by those scientific bodies on which the world's politicians have been relying for their belief that global warming was the most serious challenge facing the planet.

At New Year, one such body, the University of East Anglia's Hadley Centre, predicted that, although 2008 would be cooler than some recent years, it would still be one of the 10 hottest years in history, and that any cooling would only "mask the underlying warming trend".

Seven weeks later it is clear that the cooling has gone much further than that, according better with the predictions of that growing body of scientists who argue that climate change is caused less by CO2 emissions than by magnetic activity on the Sun. They point to the abnormally low present sunspot level, of a type associated with severe cooling in the past, such as in the Little Ice Age between the 17th and early 19th centuries.

The political significance of all this, of course, is that our leaders are committing us to a range of measures whose economic effects will be without precedent, from their astronomically costly "carbon trading" schemes to their determination to spend hundreds of billions of pounds on wind turbines.

The most respected economist in this field, Yale's Professor William Nordhaus, estimates that the cost of the measures proposed by Al Gore would be $34 trillion (17 trillion) - all resting on the belief that, unless we spend such sums, world temperatures are doomed to rise. The events of the first two months of 2008 may lead us to wonder whether these people really know what they are doing.