Inevitably quick off the mark after Vanuatu’s Cyclone Pam disaster were the climate ghouls to claim that this terrible event must have been caused by global warming. First up was the country’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, who, although aware that the storm was on its way, had departed a few hours earlier to attend a conference on “disaster risk” in Japan, where he burbled to reporters that it was evidence of “climate change, rising sea levels” etc. Next, in a similar vein, came France’s President Hollande, due next December to host the mammoth global conference where they hope to agree on a treaty to halt this threat to the planet.
But equally inevitable was that the BBC would get in on the act. Thus Monday’s Today programme wheeled on Professor Tim Palmer, in charge of climate modelling at Oxford University, to confirm President Lonsdale’s worst fears. Such “incredibly intense” category five cyclones, he told John Humphrys, are “exactly the type of cyclone that is predicted by the climate models to increase under climate change, under global warming”.
When Humphrys suggested that we have always had cyclones, Palmer said that recent examples have seen “wind gusts that have never been measured before, 200-mile-an-hour winds”. When Humphrys asked him to confirm that they were indeed unprecedented, Palmer repeated that “these things have never been seen”.
Had Humphrys or the programme’s researchers spent a couple of minutes on Google, they might have seen from Wikipedia that the South Pacific has seen no fewer than 10 Category Five cyclones in the past twenty years alone. Paul Homewood was soon able to report on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog that, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pam’s measured wind speed was only 165mph. Of the five top South Pacific cyclones since 1989, this ranked it as only the equal fourth strongest: behind Orson and Monica, which hit the Australian coast in 1989 and 2006 with wind speeds of 180mph. This was also equalled by Zoe, which hit Vanuatu in 2002.
There have been 9 category 5 cyclones in the South Pacific since 1997.
Way back in 1951, an even more disastrous storm killed 100 people on the island nation. Other scientific websites confirmed that Pam was way down the list of Pacific cyclones recorded in the past 60 years, with the wind speed of those hitting Japan in 1961 and 1958 as high as 215mph. As for Palmer’s claim that Pam was “incredibly intense”, with an atmospheric pressure of 896 millibars (mb), this again has frequently been exceeded, with those Japanese storms measured as low as 877mb.
Just as significantly, Homewood was able to cite a graph going back to 1948 showing that there has been no upward trend at all in the incidence of tropical cyclones. The Australian blogger Jo Nova (in a post headed “Playing politics with disaster”) produced a graph for New Zealand going back to 1875, showing that the most intense cluster of cyclone-strength storms was around 115 years ago, long before the global warming scare was invented. As for President Lonsdale’s plaint about rising sea levels, Homewood produced a graph from Vanuatu’s main tidal gauge, showing that in the past five years sea levels have actually been falling.
Monthly sea levels in Vanuatu peaked in 2009, since when they have fallen back to the levels of a decade ago (PSMSL)
The fact that the BBC should choose only to interview those it knows will support its own ludicrously propagandist “narrative” on climate change – regardless of the facts – is, of course, nothing new. At least on this occasion, Humphrys did end by asking whether these climate computer models had not sometimes been wrong. Sounding somewhat surprised to be asked such a heretical question by the BBC, Prof Palmer did admit that they are only “approximations of reality”. But he went on to suggest that, if only they were given even more money to buy even more powerful computers, the results might be even more accurate. Out in the real world we cynical observers could only emit a wearily hollow laugh.