I am no longer a climate change sceptic

It may come as a surprise to my colleagues to learn that, until as recently as last Thursday, I was a climate change sceptic.

Not the wholesale political brand of scepticism practised by US Senator Jim Inhofe. Nor even the heads-in-the-sand position evidently preferred by most North American voters.

Indeed I have written hundreds of thousands of words about the threat that global warming poses to the world’s poorest countries.

The scepticism kicks in when it comes to blaming extreme weather disasters on climate change. Attributing 21,000 deaths in 2010 to this cause is out of bounds in my work.

Yes, Oxfam’s pre-Cancun briefing is carefully worded, but the agency knows full well that the viral recycling of this figure by global activists will be less scrupulous.

So, what happened last Thursday?

I watched a press conference given by Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. His disclosure that we are nearing the end of the hottest decade and, probably, the hottest year since records began has made headline news across the world.

What was omitted from these reports was Jarraud’s statement that the 2010 Russian summer heat wave was “not only exceptional, there is no other similar event recorded.” It was so extreme that “it could not have happened 100 years ago” – meaning that the record temperatures and severe drought were caused unequivocally by contemporary climate change.

This was disconcerting enough. Here was the world’s flagship meteorological office tying the knot between climate cause and effect. And this particular event had consequences for food prices which triggered one of our worst fears for the future – that the world’s food system cannot cope with climate shocks.

What clinched my conversion was not this vision of global instability but what was happening in the very small space occupied by Monsieur Jarraud. He referred to the Russian heat wave a number of times in the press conference and on each occasion became noticeably agitated.

The body language of one of the world’s leading climate scientists gave every indication that this event keeps him awake at night. “Off the scale” was his phrase. Maybe he was guilty of a little French gesticulation but I found it unsettling.

Unpredictable weather is of course etched in our English genes and I will still be cautious about blaming climate change. But I will gradually adjust the phrasing of my work for OneWorld and acknowledge that the despairing African farmers interviewed in all those NGO films are bearing witness rather than anecdotes.

And I’ve marked down food security for the world’s poorest people as the big issue to follow for 2011.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK