UK newspapers promote the favourite myth of climate change deniers

The “mini ice age” fantasy gives sceptics another 30 years to ignore humanity’s biggest problem.

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Two of the UK’s most popular commercial news websites announced this morning that the Earth is likely to experience 30 years of “frosty weather and biting snow storms”, rather than the exponential rise in temperatures both observed and predicted by scientists.

The websites of the Sun, the Mirror, the Express and the Daily Star all reported that Valentina Zharkova, of Northumbria University’s department of physics and electrical engineering, predicted a global drop in temperatures due to a decline in solar activity. This will come as a relief to readers concerned by the vast areas of Australia, the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, Alaska, Greenland and Canada that are or have recently been on fire.

The idea that a “Grand Solar Minimum” could lead to a future of guilt-free flying, year-round cocoa and snowboarding to work is a favourite thesis of the climate change denial community, and this is not the first time Zharkova’s work has been deployed in support of it.  

In 2017, Sky News reported that Zharkova’s research predicted ice skating on the Thames by 2030. In 2015, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail reported her forecast that Europe would soon experience “the conditions last seen during the Maunder minimum, 370 years ago” – conjuring images of red-cheeked peasants puffing their way through the backgrounds of Breughel paintings.   

Zharkova herself is apparently not the most impartial of scientists. In 2015, she told the Washington Post she was “not convinced with the arguments of the group promoting global warming of an anthropogenic nature”. Last year Ken Rice, a professor of computational astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh, was one of many scientists who questioned Zharkova’s research, which appeared to claim that the Earth would be heated in the coming years because the sun will move closer to our planet. Zharkova responded that Rice was a “climate alarmist”.

Zharkova has also presented her thesis to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a lobbying organisation chaired by Nigel Lawson that promotes scepticism of climate science and calls decarbonisation a “futile gesture”. Last year, she was one of 500 “scientists and professionals” who signed a letter to the UN stating: “There is no climate emergency”.

Once more, credulous reporting has helped push views from the denialist fringe into the limelight. The Sun is the UK's best-selling newspaper, with a website that is viewed by more than a million unique users a day. The story has also been pushed on the social media channels of the papers that published stories on the theory today, reaching almost four million people on Twitter and nearly ten million on Facebook. The Mirror’s story was the second most popular item on Apple News, which is installed on 14 million of the UK’s iPhones.

Below the Sun’s piece, the internet’s amateur scientists commented: “so much for global warming” and observed that a new ice age “would reduce sea level because the sea would freeze and do polar bears some good”.

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