Now that the government has stuck its neck out and frozen the BBC licence fee, will its next target be the Met Office?
Our national weather forecasting service – which derives most of its income from arrangements with government departments – is certainly not going out of its way to make friends in government with its latest ‘forecast’. The ‘UK Shared Socioeconomic Pathways’ professes to look ahead to the year 2100 and what effect climate change might have had on British society by then. It is produced by academics at the Universities of Exeter and Edinburgh, in association with a forecasting group Cambridge Econometrics but is funded by the Met Office as part of its UK Climate Resilience Programme.
The study looks at five different scenarios of how the UK might tackle climate change. The first scenario – called ‘sustainability’ – seems to be a little over-optimistic. It envisages the people of Britain becoming a bunch of hippies who forsake private property for a life of shared goods, green lifestyles and local food. By the end of the century we have re-joined the EU and ‘poverty has been eliminated’.
But it is the third scenario, called ‘Regional Rivalry’ which will really have the floors of No. 10 rumbling. It begins with a thinly-veiled description of current government policies, starting with the ‘exploitation of a wider supply of domestic natural resources’ – in other words, fracking, and more oil and gas from the North Sea. It continues with a ‘crackdown on environmental activism groups’ – potentially a thinly-veiled reference to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, so loathed by Extinction Rebellion and others.
Simultaneously, universities are forced into ‘aligning their curricula to corporate interests in manufacturing and technology whilst withdrawing from the arts, humanities and environmental sciences’ – abolishing Mickey Mouse degrees, in other words, just as the government has suggested doing.
By 2040, Scotland and Wales have left the UK, and become more left wing while England becomes ever more right wing. So far, so believable, but then? The English population inexplicably reverts to hunter-gathering and feudal warfare. ‘Hunting and fishing for food increases to supplement diets in deprived rural communities,’ it suggests. Tap water becomes unsafe to drink because of a lack of investment, while the NHS collapses.
Child labour returns, as does bartering. ‘Before the end of the century,’ it goes on, ‘military groups... rise to de facto power and compete for control and natural resources, creating their own feudal semi-independent micro-states with their own laws and means to enforce them.’
We have become used to opposition parties attacking government policy with lurid claims about poverty and the collapse of the NHS etc. But the Met Office which is, after all, a branch of the government itself, apparently claiming that Tory policies will lead us back to the stone age? The Prime Minister, who in the past has put a word in for Piers Corbyn’s maverick weather forecasting operation, is unlikely to be amused.
Mr S suspects that next time the Met Office goes round to No. 10 and sticks out the begging bowl for a new super-computer, it might encounter a severe cold front.