In the mythos of climate change, seemingly every natural event is seen as a portent of an implied future, or as further proof of an unstoppable reality. From late 2013 to February 2014, much of Southern England was battered by a series of storms and heavy rainfall that overran flood defences in many parts of the country, leaving thousands without power and destroying countless homes.
As is symptomatic of our amnesiac and sensationalist age, the floods were quickly hailed as 'unprecedented' and 'the worst in living memory'. With equal inevitability, they were soon taken from their context as a local human tragedy and being used as evidence for the reality of climate change at the macro level.
Lord Stern - author of an influential 2006 report into the economics of climate change - was quick to seize on the floods as evidence for his beliefs.
Writing in The Guardian, he said:
"The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.Many commentators have suggested that we are suffering from unprecedented extreme weather. There are powerful grounds for arguing that this is part of a trend."
Like many catastrophists and eco-prophets, Stern is arguing from a position of pre-existing belief. This belief informs the way in which he reads the event. It is not merely a once-in-lifetime freak occurrence, but a sign of a deeper change. Of course, this is not the way in which science is supposed to work: science is supposed to either derive a theory from observation, or predict the future from a theory so derived.
Of course, we do not have to look far into the past to find that drought was being hailed as evidence for the reality of climate change. In 2012 Environment Minister Caroline Spelman seemed equally certain about a 'new normal' facing Britain due to climate change.
"Two very dry winters – this may be the new norm.We asked the question at the drought summit– what if this is what climate change means and this is the new normal?"
At the same time, statistics were pulled forth to demonstrate the exceptional nature of the circumstances:
The driest 12 months between February and January ever saw 636mm of rain - between Feb 2011-Jan 2012 we had 774mm which is the 8th driest ever.
Science, of course, does not normally allow for contradiction - contradictory evidence is evidence of a flawed theory. In the hard sciences, falsification is all. A theory that allows for two potential outcomes is barely a theory at all. Saying that both drought and flood alike are evidence of climate change is analogous to saying:
"Eating fish and chips may make you either fatter or thinner."
As with previous religious portents, floods and droughts are not seen as mere 'events' but, in effect, punishments for humanity's actions. Just as the chroniclers of the Middle Ages saw evidence of retribution in every storm, flood, drought or lightning strike and fulminated from the pulpit about man's need to repent and chance, so the same is true today of a nexus of media-politico 'influencers.'