This week, the Office of National Statistics will
tell us if Britain has slipped into a triple dip recession, and if the news
is grim we may be treated to the sight of George Osborne – the most stridently
anti-environment chancellor for a generation – blaming it all on climate
Given the lack of royal weddings, jubilees and major international sporting
events, we can be fairly certain that if the figures are bad, ministers will try to blame the weather.
This will be widely mocked by the government’s opponents, but is it really that
unreasonable? After all, however good your macro-economic policy is, if snow
drifts stop people from producing or consuming then GDP will suffer, and we did
have some distinctly unseasonable snow
during an unusually cold March.
Which is of particular interest because there is an emerging consensus amongst climate scientists about the UK’s cold spring might. It could have
been due to natural variability, but it may be the case that climate change, and
particularly the melting of the Arctic sea ice and
warming of the Arctic ocean, has had a hand in it.
The link between polar warming and our cold snaps is still unproven, as there
are multiple natural forcings which affect the length and severity of the UK’s
winters. The science here is complex, with an alphabet soup of terminology, but
stick with me for a moment. Here goes. You see, the North Atlantic Oscillation
is influenced by the Madden-Julian Oscillation, and we also had a strong stratospheric warming event, and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation may have
also played a role.
Disentangling all these to
isolate one factor is tricky, but the melting of the Arctic sea ice has
been so dramatic that the change to the heat content of the Arctic ocean - no
longer shielded from the sun by reflective ice - has warmed the atmosphere in
the Arctic, reducing the ‘heat gradient’ (the difference in temperature)
between the equator and the pole.
Indeed, the Arctic is warming two or three times as quickly as the global average.
This may well have led to the jet stream trapping cold Arctic air over areas
of the northern hemisphere such as the UK for longer periods than in the past,
and so whilst it is always difficult to attribute short-term weather events to
climate change, the science does seem to indicate that global warming could
well bring the UK more prolonged cold periods, and we may have just seen one of
All of which would mean that, while
Osborne, Cameron et al should certainly be given most of the credit for getting
us into our current economic predicament, the factor which pushed us over the
edge from very low growth into a triple dip recession - if the figures are
bad, and thus focused Britain’s attention on Osborne’s
economic competence - may actually have
been carbon emissions. Climate karma, in action.
Not that Osborne’s reckless anti-environmental policies and pronouncements can
be blamed for the recent cold. His errors may well have suppressed investment
in the low-carbon sector, which has until recently been responsible for a third
of what little economic growth the UK has been able to muster, but the full
impact of emissions on the weather aren’t felt for decades.
So if you wanted to
finger a UK chancellor of the exchequer for last month’s snow and the
consequent collapse in the government’s economic credibility (should such a
thing come to pass) ironically enough the best candidate would probably be our chancellor from thirty years ago, arch-skeptic and head of the Global Warming
Policy Foundation, Lord Lawson.