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The winds of (climate) change…

George Osborne MP, pictured speaking on the la...

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This snippet from the Guardian newspaper caught my eye:

Yesterday, government ministers were shaken by the unexpected drop in GDP for the final three months of 2010. But George Osborne refused to change the pace of the government’s austerity cutbacks, blaming the contraction on December’s snow.

“There is no question of changing a fiscal plan that has established international credibility on the back of one very cold month. That would plunge Britain back into a financial crisis. We will not be blown off course by bad weather,” Osborne said.

According to the BBC, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the snow had knocked 0.5% off the economic growth figures, which is a considerable amount of lost growth.

So George Osbourne, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said that Britain will not be blown off course by bad weather. But it already has been: the ONS confirms that the bad weather in December knocked 0.5% off GDP. And it will be again: the bad weather in December was extreme, and there will be more extreme weather in the year ahead. Why? Because climate change induced by global warming is making bad weather more extreme and more frequent. The only question is: what kind of extreme bad weather will we get in the UK this year? Extreme rainfall leading to massive floods? An extreme heatwave? Very stormy gales? Or all three? We are not expecting economic growth to be very strong anyway in 2011 because of the spending cuts, the Eurozone crisis, and the rising oil price courtesy of the peak oil energy crunch, so what growth there may be is extremely vulnerable to weather events made much more extreme by global warming. And there is a lot of evidence from climate scientists that the heavy December snowfalls in the UK were very much related to the increased precipitation we can expect from global warming, an effect exacerbated in the UK by the excessive warming in parts of the Arctic this last summer and autumn, which disrupted normal Arctic  weather patterns, leading to much cold air spilling southwards to the UK. The extreme weather in the UK was not a one-off event localised to the UK. Extreme weather happened all around the world at the same time, and is still going on: severe rainfalls and flooding in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, all simultaneously.

I would claim that December 2010 was the moment when Britain began to be blown permanently off course by climate change, and that moment can be measured in hard cash: 0.5% of GDP. Whether George Osbourne realises it or not, all his economic plans are now hostage to the one thing he cannot control: weather. And even if the weather is kind to him, there is another factor over which he has very little control, if any, and which will increasingly choke off any economic growth: peak oil. Extreme weather and extremely expensive oil is an extremely toxic combination for a Chancellor extremely tied to his plans for extreme spending cuts, cuts which could well kill off economic growth anyway even before climate change and peak oil kick in bigtime!

George, I think you’re going to need a Plan B! I’ve got one (well, everybody’s got one, haven’t they?) and I’m sitting by the phone. Just call me anytime…

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  1. January 30, 2011 at 10:02 pm

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