The never knowingly authentic BBC has been at it again as it releases another news bulletin reporting upon the state of our environment. Except that this time it appears to be good news as they gleefully announce that sharks, seals and seahorses are amongst a number of species that are now to be found living in the River Thames. In fact, according to the first State of the Thames Report, issued by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), there have been a number of changes since the river was declared “biologically dead” in 1957, including an increase in its range of birds, marine mammals and natural habitats since the 1990s. This is surely a good news story that bucks the trend; a fine example of what can be achieved when mankind puts its manmind to tackling pollution.
But hold on a minute, what’s this? On closer inspection, I notice that the report appears under the tagline, ‘Climate Change’. That must surely indicate that we are about to have the rug pulled from under our feet with an alarming message of imminent catastrophe. It surely can’t be a good news story after all. Yep, here it is in paragraph four:
“However, a number of fish species found in the tidal areas of the Thames have showed a slight decline, experts found.”
Oh my God, a slight decline for certain fish! What could be responsible for this calamity? Well, according to the article, the answer is to be found in the ZSL study, which the BBC credits as saying:
“Climate change has increased the temperature of London’s waterway by 0.2C a year”
Well that would certainly do the trick. In fact, an increase of 0.2C a year would have rendered most fish species tender and flakey long before they had time to escape north. The average summer temperature in the River Thames nowadays is still only a little over 12C, so climate change has obviously transformed the London landscape dramatically since the swinging sixties, with its Carnaby Street fashions and permanently frozen Thames.
The problem here, of course, is that such a dramatic local increase in temperature cannot be that long term and it certainly cannot be attributed to climate change because – well, for one thing, the numbers just don’t accord with the IPCC’s declaration of a relatively modest average 0.41C sea temperature increase within the 1950-2009 period. Something here does not add up, so we need to do what the BBC journalists obviously couldn’t be bothered with, and that is to take a good close look at what the ZSL report actually said.
Always read the study
The first thing to be noted after consulting the report is that the temperature monitoring study was divided into two areas: Upper Tidal Thames and Middle Tidal Thames. This is what the data said regarding the Middle Tidal Thames:
“While linear models fitted to the data in the Middle Tidal Thames show a gradual temperature increase over time in both winter and summer water temperatures (Figures 4.3 and 4.4), these trends were not statistically significant in either the long or short term.”
I don’t know why I bothered with the highlighting here; the statement leaps out of the page without any help from me. Nevertheless, it clearly didn’t attract the attention of the BBC. This, however, did:
“Summer and winter temperatures in the Upper Tidal Thames (Figures 4.1 and 4.2) both saw a statistically significant long-term increasing trend (summer: p-value = 0.0008, winter: p-value = 0.04). In addition, summer temperatures displayed a statistically significant increasing short-term trend (p-value = 0.03). On average, summer temperatures in the Upper Tidal Thames have been increasing by 0.19°C per year.”
Hooray, we have our story. We shall quietly overlook that this is clearly a highly localised effect that contrasts markedly with the absence of warming in the lower Thames, an absence which is:
“…likely due to deeper waters and more ocean exchange… causing greater variability in temperature and no trend.”
Also, let us also overlook the likely reasons for the localised warming in the Upper Tidal Thames, where:
“… tidal influence causes natural fluctuations in water temperature, while inputs of cooling water from industry lining the estuary cause localised warming.”
Also, we must ignore the following:
“Another example of an anthropogenic impact on temperature is the treated wastewater that is released into the Tidal Thames, which has a higher temperature than receiving waters to encourage bacterial activity that helps break down sewage.”
Yes, let us ignore all of this and simply focus upon:
“Since an increase in water temperature is associated with degradation to aquatic ecosystems, this indicator is identified as deteriorating in both the long and short term.”
Did someone say ‘deteriorating’? Oh good. Let’s go with that. Let’s talk about the slight decrease in the numbers of some fish.
It’s just such a shame for the BBC that warming is only happening in the Upper Tidal Thames and so cannot be said of the tidal Thames as a whole. It is of a scale that is totally out of step with any that could be attributed to global warming, and there are plenty of other factors that could fully explain it. Yet, despite this, and despite having just painted a scene of ecological success that could have come straight out of Finding Nemo, the BBC article states:
“But the real concern is the effects of climate change. Sea levels are increasing by 4mm a year and the temperature of the Thames is increasing by 0.2C a year.”
God give me strength. There seems to be no limit to the amount of relevant evidence that the BBC is prepared to ignore in order to unearth the scoop. And is there no limit to how far they are prepared to go to find a climate change angle worthy of pooping a party?