Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The British floods

The wise heads were adamant that the recent British "drought" was caused by global warming. So the huge floods now happening must be caused by global cooling according to their logic! But it is of course hatred of their fellow citizens rather than logic which lies behind their views. The article below puts British weather into a factual perspective -- showing that it has always had ups and downs

What on earth is going on with our weather? Three months' worth of rain fell in a few places last week, Britain is drowning under floods of biblical proportions and nothing like it has been seen since Noah got his sea legs. In a wave of hysteria, the cry goes out for millions of sandbags, better drains and more flood defences. And fingers of blame are pointing at global warming.

But a simple fact has been overlooked: Britain is a wet country. Yes, it comes as a shock. Over the past few years we've become so used to years of scorching, Mediterranean-like summers, when hosepipe bans were the norm, vines were bursting with vintage grapes and water diviners were doing big business. But the truth is that our summers are supposed to be wet: it's our climate.

The accoutrements of the British summer holiday were thick pullovers and waterproofs. You expected to shiver on wet promenades, "Rain stopped play" was the national mantra and sunblock cream was something for film stars and models. That is why the August Bank Holiday was shunted to the end of the month, because the beginning of August was so awful.

Of course, British summers weren't always as wet as this year's, but some were certainly worse. 1912 was the wettest and dullest summer on record, far ahead of this summer's downpours. It pretty much rained all summer, reaching a peak in late August, when a seven-inch downpour in one day in Norfolk left Norwich completely marooned in a sea of mud and devastation. Even that deluge is overshadowed by the 11 inches of rain that fell in less than a day on Dorset in July 1955 - about half of London's yearly average rainfall. The longest nonstop rainfall record in the UK was more than 58 hours in London during June 1903, in a summer when there was an epidemic of lung disease in farmworkers caused by mouldy hay and grain.

Farther back still were the sodden summers of 1845 to 1850, when jungle-like humidity and relentless rains triggered the potato blight outbreak that led to the great Irish potato famine, in which a million people died and another million emigrated from Ireland.

Rain is only the half of it. The abysmal summer of 1956 was an assault course of monsoonal rains, big floods, giant hail, houses set ablaze by lightning, howling gales and miserable cold. Just to rub it in, August was one of the coldest and wettest on record across Britain.

It is a very human tendency to blame someone for the vagaries of the weather. A run of bad summers in the 1950s was blamed on nuclear bomb tests, the rains during the First World War were blamed on artillery going off on the Western Front and two centuries ago it was the battles of the Napoleonic Wars that were blamed for upsetting nature. And now it's global warming.

But climate change was supposed to be making our summers drier, not wetter. Leaving that aside, even if we accept that the recent downpours are a sign of global warming, then a single wet summer hardly adds up to any particular trend. No, it's far more plausible to explain this latest wet spell as a natural blip in the climate.

If so, then which politician or minister is going to have the courage to propose spending billions of pounds on building new river walls, embankments, ditches and other flood defences? How will we feel about spending large sums of money on such big projects when next year may bring another drought - and the inevitable demands for more reservoirs, leak-proof pipes and desalination plants?

And let's not forget that an even greater threat comes from the sea. A recent study reveals that London and the Thames Estuary is subsiding faster than anyone had estimated; and with sea levels rising relentlessly, the Thames Barrier is looking increasingly vulnerable. We need to fix that problem before London disappears under a storm surge like New Orleans.

The hysteria over this summer reveals more about our education. The daily forecasts and news reports are all facts and no explanation about why the weather is behaving the way it is. The explanation for the past few days of drama is that Britain lies in a part of the world that is finely balanced between wet and dry, warm and cold weather. The dividing line is the jet stream, a river of wind rushing overhead a few miles high. This summer the jet stream has been very sluggish and buckled into big loops, leaving Britain drenched on the wet side of one of those loops. However, on the other side of the jet stream large parts of Europe are roasting in a ferocious heatwave that has killed dozens of people and brought wildfires blazing across Greece.

This European split has happened before. In the summer of 2002, a large swath of Central Europe was battered by rains that set off huge floods along the Elbe and Danube, drowning more than 100 people.

But there is another story about this summer that has gone virtually unnoticed. Despite all the gloom and doom, temperatures are fairly normal for the time of year. In days gone by, a wet summer would invariably be cold, even with snow in July and frost in August.

The prize for the most diabolical summer of rain and cold should be awarded to that of 1816. Not for nothing was it called "the year without summer" - this time of great storms, massive rains and appalling cold led to the crops rotting, the price of bread soaring and food riots breaking out. Some 200,000 people died of famine across Europe, which was then followed by a typhus epidemic. So, let's look on the bright side. At least we haven't got any hosepipe bans - and the reservoirs are full.


The warmists have hides like rhinoceroses

Here it is: The expected claim that the floods in Britain are a result of global warming -- quite unembarrassed by their previous claims that global warming caused the "drought" that affected Britain up until recently

Global warming is generating heavier rainfall over Britain of the sort that has triggered this week’s floods, scientists have confirmed for the first time. While it has long been suspected that climate change is contributing to increased precipitation over midlatitude countries such as Britain, research has now conclusively linked greenhouse gases to heavier downpours.

The findings, from an international team including several British scientists, do not prove that this week’s flooding is the direct result of global warming: it is linked to weather patterns that have been known before. It is consistent, however, with a much broader trend towards more rainfall, on which researchers have now found an unambiguously human fingerprint. “The paper is saying there is a significant human influence on global rainfall patterns and this includes an increase of precipitation north of 50 degrees northern latitude, an area that includes the UK,” said Peter Stott, a climate scientist at the University of Reading who took part in the study.

In the study, which is to be published in the journal Nature, the scientists compared recorded changes in rain and snowfall over land with changes that are predicted by climate models that account for global warming caused by greenhouse gases. The actual pattern of changes, with increased precipitation in latitudes north of 50 degrees, corresponds remarkably closely with the patterns that emerged from 14 different models. This suggests strongly that human-induced climate change has been responsible.

For the European region that includes Britain, the research team estimates that human activity has accounted for about two thirds of the observed trend. Other natural factors, such as volcanic activity, have also had an influence, but this is much smaller than that from people. Dr Stott said that the study did not examine seasonal trends, but that other predictions suggest Britain will in general suffer wetter winters and drier summers, rather than multiple repeats of this year’s summer downpours, though significant uncertainties remain.

It is currently impossible to say whether the current bad weather is a result of global warming, and more research is needed into the origins of such extreme events. “We looked at annual rainfall trends rather than any particular season,” Dr Stott said. “In the UK wetter winters are expected which will lead to more extreme rainfall, whereas summers are expected to get drier. However, it is possible under climate change that there could be an increase of extreme rainfall even under general drying.”


Dubious logic behind the proposed British "Fat tax"

Britain is in the midst of an epidemic of chronic ill-health and obesity. Something Must Be Done. Already, the school canteen has been the battleground for Jamie’s jihad on junk. Everything on the supermarket shelf must be labelled for calories, fat, salt and sugar so we can make ‘informed choices’. (And heaven help us if we make the wrong choices, because the National Health Service won’t.) And now the idea of making the ‘wrong’ foods more expensive - the so-called ‘fat tax’ - has been revived as a way of saving us from ourselves.

And yet, critics of the fat tax have generally failed to make the most important point about this latest wheeze: regardless of whether a ‘fat tax’ would have the desired effect of making some people eat healthier, we simply should not allow the government to micro-manage our lives in this way. We should tell the food- and fat-obsessed authorities to get stuffed.

Researchers from Oxford and Nottingham, writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked into the possible effect of applying value added tax (VAT) to some items of food that are currently not subject to this tax (1). Using an economic model (actually an Excel spreadsheet), the researchers tested the effect of adding VAT to the main sources of saturated fat in our diets, like whole milk, butter, cakes and pastries, and cheese. They then went further and applied a scale of how ‘unhealthy’ a range of foods were, experimenting with their data to find out what would be the best way of applying the tax to decrease cholesterol levels and lower salt and sugar intake amongst the population. Based on various studies into cardiovascular disease in the past, they have concluded that an optimum application of VAT on fatty foodstuffs could avert ‘up to 3,200 cardiovascular deaths’ per year.

Their idea may have provided some food for thought - or fodder for phone-in shows at least - but the results of the report were not nearly as impressive as the news stories suggested. The researchers estimated that the total reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease would be 1.7 per cent. Or, as the researchers themselves put it in their conclusions: ‘The potential changes in nutrition that would result from an extension of VAT to further categories of food would be modest.’

So modest, in fact, that the only sensible conclusion is not to bother with such a tax at all. The only reason that the researchers’ work generated such dramatic headline figures is that a large number of people die from cardiovascular disease in the UK. If you multiply this death toll by the tiny percentage the researchers found, you get quite an impressively high number of lives allegedly ‘saved’ by the tax. The problem is that in terms of any individual‘s risk from disease or ill-health, a ‘fat tax’ will make as much difference as urinating in the ocean.

Actually, it’s worse than that. The researchers treat the results of epidemiological studies as if they produced accurate measurements of the effect of a risk factor. However, correlation does not equal causation. There are so many confounding factors and built-in inaccuracies in such studies that to treat the figures produced as anything more than very rough estimates is totally inappropriate. Even a broad conclusion that X causes Y should only be drawn if the correlation is strong, consistent and biologically plausible (see An epidemic of epidemiology, by Rob Lyons).

The trouble is that when there have been big studies on the effect of changing diets, the results have been extremely disappointing. To give a recent example: in February 2006, a massive American study found that those put on a low-fat diet had the same death rates as those who ate what they pleased. As the lead researcher, Barbara V Howard, told the New York Times: ‘We are not going to reverse any of the chronic diseases in this country by changing the composition of the diet.’

The authors of the ‘fat tax’ report also make assumptions about how people might react to such a tax. They don’t believe that everyone will start eating salad and oily fish every day just because their usual fare is slightly more expensive. But they do believe that some people will change their behaviour a bit, enough to have an effect on disease rates. But what if they overestimate people’s sensitivity to such things? Perhaps people will react in unexpected ways: there’s evidence that many people react to such taxes by cutting down on ‘healthy’ food rather than junk, in order to balance their budgets. The results of a simple model of economic behaviour and the behaviour of people in the real world are two very different things.

So, it is far from clear that a ‘fat tax’ would work at all (3). But is it even legitimate to try to tinker with our food choices in this way? Many people point to the apparently similar case of applying swingeing taxes to cigarettes and alcohol. Yet, ‘health’ is often the spurious justification for taxes which are really more about balancing government budgets than improving the nation’s health. And if such taxes really did work, surely we would all be non-smoking teetotallers by now?

Efficacy aside, should we really allow the government to determine, through fiscal nudges and prods, how we choose to conduct our private lives? Who are they to tell us whether we should eat broccoli or burgers, chickpeas or cheddar cheese? It’s one thing for your parents to nag you as a child to eat your greens; it’s quite another for the health authorities to nag us when we’ve reached adulthood, and in the process to infantilise us all. Maybe campaigners for liberty should recognise that defending freedom in the twenty-first century will involve standing up for the freedom to choose what passes our lips as well as traditional issues like free speech.

A more active defence of our personal autonomy is a pre-requisite for maintaining a healthy body politic. Instead of a fat tax, the best thing would be to give the meddling health fanatics a big fat finger.


Immigration into Britain so high that BritGov has lost count

The clues are there if you know where to find them. Walk around Slough's estates and look in the back gardens. There are buildings here you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the country. These are Slough's 'sheds with beds'. In some areas, row upon row of them. Lines of small houses tucked away behind the main homes. And inside them are the people who are transforming this place. A new workforce. So many that these illegally rented out sheds and garages are needed to house them all. They have been swept here by border changes across Europe and are now testing how we deal with mass immigration.

Slough is a success story. A manufacturing town with a booming economy. Positioned just outside London and down the M4 from Heathrow. It's factories and production plants have always attracted a large number of immigrant workers. "I came here in 1948. I wanted to work in Britain, and I got a job in the brickworks," said Fred Szymaczack, a Pole who says things were very different when he came to Slough. "When I arrived it was much stricter. The government knew how many people were coming to work here. Now, there's too many. The town can't cope."

The expansion of the European Union in 2004 has had an enormous effect here as it has across Britain. Local Polish community leaders say as many as 10,000 Poles have arrived in Slough in three years. Walk down the High Street and you can literally hear the languages and accents that are changing the make up of this town.

The problem is there is no accurate way of recording that change. When it comes to migrants arriving in our towns, it seems we've lost the ability to count. The government's estimates show Slough's population is decreasing, while the council in Slough reckons it is growing so fast that about one in ten people here are simply missing from the books, not accounted for. And that has a direct consequence for everyone living here. That is because the government uses the population figure to decide how much money it gives the local council every year. That money funds three quarters of the services provided by the council. If the population estimate is not accurate, then neither is the pay-out.

Andrew Blake-Herbert, director of finance for Slough council said: "Over the last three years, we've already lost 5 million pounds worth of funding and if the inaccurate population statistics aren't corrected before the next census, we stand to lose up to 15 million worth of funding" Of course, most of the migrants are working and paying tax but all that money goes to the exchequer, it does not come to Slough. All that does comes here is an increased pressure on services. So, that means the Council Tax in the town is as high as it can be. Cuts are on the cards and people are not happy.

But there is a bigger danger. This is a town that has known decades of tolerance. New communities have always been accepted but now some of the older migrants are saying things have to change. I went for a walk through Chalvey, an area of Slough that has become home to hundreds of new arrivals. One resident, Mohammed Choudary Sr told me if more money does not come from the government, the council has to get tough. "Chuck them out. It's simple. Just don't let them come in. Don't give them housing. Tell them to go to other places".

The stakes are high and the government accepts there is a problem. The Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne issued this statement to Panorama.

"We think it's utterly important that the wider - often social impacts - are taken into account before decisions are made. Next year we're introducing an Australian style points system which has worked well there. Before we decide how many points would-be immigrants need to come to Britain, we'll be looking at independent evidence from the Migration Impacts Forum on these wider impacts. Migration is important to the British business community, but businesses shouldn't be the only voice in the debates. Communities count too."

Of course, any points based system would not apply to migrants from Europe, like Slough's Poles. The current flawed system means people living here, hear the government say the town's population is falling while all around - from housing and packed schools, through to increased refuse collection and rising crime rates - the signs are it is on the up. And what is happening in Slough is being repeated across the country. In towns and cities across the land we simply do not know how many migrants are arriving. For more and more communities the numbers no longer add up.


British journalists back down over Israel: "The National Union of Journalists will take "no further action" on implementing the controversial resolution by its members to boycott Israeli goods and services. The NUJ's national executive council (NEC) took the decision and called for members to unite instead behind the union's "key workplace priorities". It unanimously backed a motion that recognised the NUJ would take no further action on the call for an Israeli boycott because the Trades Union Congress has rejected it. The motion was tabled by the NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, and seconded by the union president, Michelle Stanistreet, at a NEC meeting on Friday. It recognised the concerns expressed by some members, chapels and branches about the proposed boycott and said that it had met the terms of the original delegate vote in favour of the boycott at its annual meeting earlier this year by informing the TUC of the conference vote."

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