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Freeze or fry: the latest spat on global warming

Friday 02 December 2005

Our countryside commentator John Sheard discusses the latest warning on global warming - global freezing - and wonders how so many "experts" can come up with so many different forecasts

THIS IS not a confession that makes me particularly proud but the latest announcement this week on global warming/freezing led me to a very sad conclusion. As a humble hack, I have been kept in business this past twenty years of so by "experts."

We journos know very little ourselves, apart from a collection of facts gathered from other people over the years. We merely report other people who claim to be wiser, cleverer and mostly better educated than ourselves. These are the so-called "experts" and, once upon a time, their theories were treated as tablets of stone.

Bergs in Morecambe Bay?
Picture courtesy of: www.antarctica.ac.uk

Not any more - and that has been a great bonus for me. For in recent years, experts have taken to falling out with themselves in public with a vehemence matched only by politicians. One of my favourite aphorisms of all time is "The reason why disputes between academics become so bitter is that there is so little at stake."

However, this week's row is no laughing matter for it affects us all here in Britain and particularly we denizens of the Yorkshire Dales, where the weather can be pretty grim come winter as it is. We need "experts" telling us that it is going to get worse like we need a hole in the head.

Yet just yesterday (December 1) a group of "experts" came out to tell us that we should no longer worry about global warming. What we should be really be getting our knickers in a twist about is global freezing - at least, in our bit of Northern Europe.

The reason: the Gulf Stream, which keeps these islands of ours nice and mild, is slowing down which will bring colder waters to our shores. As far as I am aware, we should soon be looking out for icebergs in Morecambe Bay.

Now why I don't take this prediction as a warning to emigrate to warmer climes is simply the fact that we have been here before. Almost 20 years ago, I was writing about scientists predicting that we are on the brink of a new Ice Age. That was pretty scary because during the last one, some 15,000 years ago, the Yorkshire Dales were under hundreds of feet of glacier. And what would that do for house prices?

But then someone came up with global warming and the whole scenario went into reverse. The would be growing bananas down at the allotment and instead of flu jabs we would all be queuing up for vaccinations against malaria and sleeping sickness.

Now, as a humble observer only capable of quoting the views of "experts," this was good for business. I could spend a whole decade or two writing about one set of dire predictions - and the next decade or so of contradicting them all. To quote the conservationists, it was "self-sustaining" journalism, always producing a new crop of stories.

In my scepticism about all this, I am far from being alone. Real experts like the botanist David Bellamy and scientist Sir James Lovelock, who virtually invented environmentalism, accept that the climate is changing but they put it down to a natural cycle which has very little to do with man's intervention.

In comparatively recent history, British winters have been much harsher than now. Queen Elizabeth 1 used to skate on the frozen River Thames with Sir Walter Raleigh, so it is said. When Victoria was on the throne, Dickens wrote of oxen being roasted in more of less the same spot.

From a purely personal point of view, I would welcome colder winters: I might have emigrated some years ago but for the supreme pleasure of a brisk walk on a crisp winter's morning with the sun glinting off the snow or ice so bright that it brings tear to the eyes.

Such weather brings what I call "natural" England, with proper seasons that tell us where we are. It also kills the slugs and white fly which were decimating my Brussels sprouts and winter lettuce only two weeks ago. So let the experts prattle on - good for business, as I have said - but we country folk know how to face the weather head on. So let's just enjoy it!

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