It pains me to say this about a colleague, but I think Boris Johnson is playing to the gallery a little.
A generation of British homeowners have been lumbered with silly swimming pools, he writes, because the Met Office and the BBC have been telling them that they’re all going to swelter in Mediterranean heat as the climate boils. “For more than 20 years now, we have been told that this country was going to get hotter and hotter and hotter, and that global warming was going to change our climate in a fundamental way,” he says.
Well. That’s not quite what they said, is it? In fact there’s been a rather complicated debate over what the undeniable fact of increased global temperatures will mean for Britain. Back in the early to mid 2000s, it was fairly widely believed that increasing ice melt in the Arctic would lead to a slowing of the Gulf Stream, the great current of warm water which stops our climate from being the same as other places on the same latitude as us, such as Newfoundland. Back in 2005, this very newspaper reported that global warming “will bring cooler temperatures to the UK”. In 2001 we went further and said that global warming would cause a “big freeze” in Britain. You’d be a bit silly if you took that as a green light to get a swimming pool installed.
Of course, the effect on the Gulf Stream is uncertain; it’s one hypothesis from one set of computer models. Later measurements, in 2010, suggested it wasn’t happening; then again, another prediction, in 2011, said that we’d be seeing “skiing in Yorkshire” rather than the pina coladas and Californian pool parties that Boris remembers being promised.
And this is just in the Telegraph, and as Boris has worked for us, on and off, since 1987, I’m sure he’ll have read it all. Quite where he got the impression that everyone was completely certain that by 2013 we’d be leaping Speedo-clad into crispy plunge pools to avoid the sweltering Northumberland heat is not exactly clear to me.
As I wearily find myself saying fairly often, climate change is complicated. We know that pumping carbon gases into the atmosphere will trap heat. We know that, on average, the world has got hotter; we can be pretty sure it will continue to get hotter; . Most scientists expect that it will cause genuine problems for humanity, and anyone who says that there’s nothing to worry about is deluded (as is anyone who says we’re definitely doomed).
But any predictions about what specific countries will experience are always going to be deeply uncertain. We don’t, in the media, like uncertain guesses very much, so we report them as “Britain will boil” or “Britain will freeze” without the necessary “possibly” caveats, and then when there’s a chilly summer we turn around and say “But you said Britain would boil!”
Which I think is what Boris has done. It’s all good fun, but as I say, it’s playing to the gallery. The easiest way to get a cheer around here is to say “Climate change is a con”. I doubt I’ll get many cheers for saying it’s a bit more complicated than that. But, annoyingly, it always is.