Unscientific hype about the flooding risks from climate change will cost us all dear
By Christopher Booker
As the great global warming scare continues to crumble, attention focuses on all those groups that have a huge interest in keeping it alive. Governments look on it as an excuse to raise billions of pounds in taxes. Wind farm developers make fortunes from the hidden subsidies we pay through our electricity bills. A vast academic industry receives more billions for concocting the bogus science that underpins the scare. Carbon traders hope to make billions from corrupt schemes based on buying and selling the right to emit CO2. But no financial interest stands to make more from exaggerating the risks of climate change than the re-insurance industry, which charges retail insurers for “catastrophe cover”, paid for by all of us through our premiums.
An insight into this was given by a paper published by Nature on February 17, which claimed to show for the first time how man-made climate change greatly increases the risk of flood damage. Among the eight authors of the paper are two of the most influential scientists at the heart of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre and Dr Myles Allen, head of Oxford’s Climate Dynamics Group. Two of their co-authors are from Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a California-based firm which is the world leader in advising the insurance industry on climate change.
The study, based entirely on computer models, focused on the exceptional flooding that took place in England and Wales in the autumn of 2000. Its conclusion – that climate change could increase the chance of flooding by up to 90 per cent – was widely publicised, without questioning, by all the usual media cheerleaders for global warming, led by the BBC’s Richard Black (“Climate change increases flood risk, researchers say”).
When less partisan observers examined the paper, however, they were astonished. Although Nature has long been a leading propagandist for man-made climate change, this example seemed truly bizarre. Why had this strangely opaque study been based solely on the results of a series of computer models – mainly provided by the Hadley Centre and RMS – and not on any historical data about rainfall and river flows?
The Met Office’s own records show no upward trend in UK rainfall between 1961 and 2004. Certainly autumn 2000 showed an unusual rainfall maximum, but it was exceeded in 1930. The graph between then and 2010 shows no significant upward trend. While 2000 may have seen a lot of rain, 1768 and 1872 were even wetter. In the real world, the data show no evidence of an increase in UK rainfall at all. Any idea that there is one seemed to be entirely an artefact of the computer models.
On Friday came the fullest and most expert dissection of the Nature paper so far, published on the Watts Up With That website by Willis Eschenbach, a very experienced computer modeller. His findings are devastating. After detailed analysis of the study’s multiple flaws, he sums up by accusing Nature of “trying to pass off the end-result of a long daisy-chain of specifically selected, untested, unverified, un-investigated computer models as valid, falsifiable, peer-reviewed science”.
His conclusion is worth quoting at some length: “When your results represent the output of four computer models, fed into a fifth computer model, whose output goes to a sixth computer model, which is calibrated against a seventh computer model, and then your results are compared to a series of different results from the fifth computer model, but run with different parameters, in order to show that flood risks have increased from greenhouse gases…” you cannot pretend that this is “a valid representation of reality”, let alone “a sufficiently accurate representation of reality to guide our future actions”.
This is precisely why the Nature study is of such significance – because it will undoubtedly be used to guide future actions, which will in one way or another impact on all our lives.
For a start, consider the players in this drama. Prof Stott and Dr Allen have long been among the most influential scientists in the world in stoking up climate alarmism. A famous analysis by John McClean showed that they played a key part in compiling the single most important chapter in the IPCC’s last report, in 2007. The chapter, entitled “Understanding and attributing climate change”, cited many more papers by them than anyone else. They have now been appointed as lead authors of the relevant chapter in the next IPCC report, “Detection and attribution of climate change”, which will guide the actions of governments all over the world.
As for their two colleagues from Risk Management Solutions, this is not the first time that this leading adviser to the world’s re-insurance industry has been involved in a controversial bid to heighten alarm over the consequences of climate change.
In October 2005, in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, RMS held a meeting in Bermuda with four hurricane specialists, all of the alarmist persuasion, to quiz them as to how they thought hurricane activity was likely to be affected between 2006 and 2010, thanks to climate change, and how this would impact on the southern United States, notably Florida. On the basis of this meeting, RMS advised the re-insurers that the risk of hurricane damage over the next four years was hugely increased. The companies found that their reserves were $82 billion short of what they might be expected to pay. Premiums, particularly in Florida, accordingly rocketed upwards.
Under the heading “The $82 billion prediction”, the details of this episode are chronicled on his blog by Dr Roger Pielke Jr, who in 2008 advised RMS that the methodology on which it relied was so biased that “a group of monkeys would have arrived at the exact same results”. Dr Pielke, an expert in environmental impacts, recently published a chart showing how, although the RMS prediction for hurricane damage between 2006 and 2010 was a third higher than the historical average, the actual cost proved to be well under half the average figure. But, thanks to RMS, the insurance industry had made billions from higher premiums.