Is The Problem Weather,
Or Is It War?
By Robert Fisk
27 February, 2006
Back in the Sixties, a great movie was released called The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Leo McKern, I recall, played a Daily Express reporter along with the then real-life editor of the paper, Arthur Christiansen. What the Express discovered was that the British government was erecting showers in Hyde Park to keep people cool when in fact it was still winter. Investigative reporting eventually revealed - and this, remember, was fiction - that the US and Soviet powers had, without knowing of the other's activities, tested nuclear weapons at exactly the same moment at opposite sides of the earth.
I'm not sure that our present-day colleagues on the Express would discover any of this but that's not the point. In the movie, our planet had been blasted off course - and was now heading towards the sun. The governments, of course, tried to cover this up.
Now I remembered this creaky old film early this week when I woke up at my home in Beirut shivering with cold. This is mid-February in Lebanon and early spring should have warmed the air. But it hadn't. Up in the Christian mountain town of Jezzine, it was snowing fiercely. I walked to my balcony over the Mediterranean and a sharp, freezing wind was coming off the sea. Well poor old Bob, you might say. Better install central heating. (Most Lebanese exist like me with a series of dangerous and cheaply made gas heaters.)
But right now, flying around the world to launch my new book - travelling more than the average air crew - I'm finding a lot of odd parallels. In Melbourne last autumn, for example, the Australian spring turned out to be much colder than expected. Yet in Toronto at Christmas, all the snow melted. I padded round the streets of the city and had to take my pullover off because of the sun. It was the warmest winter in the records of a country whose tundra wastes are known for their frozen desolation.
I should add that those Canadians who welcomed this dangerous thaw seem at odds with reality; it's a bit like being cold and then expressing pleasure that your house is burning down on the grounds that you now feel warmer.
Then there are the air crews I was talking about. Out here in the Middle East, for instance, pilots have told me that head winds can now be so fierce at high altitude that they are being forced to request lower altitudes from air traffic control. As a flyer who knows how to be afraid on a bumpy flight - I am - I can tell you that I haven't encountered as much turbulence as I have in the past 24 months.
Now a deviation - but an important one. A British scientist, Chris Busby, has been digging through statistics from the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment which measures uranium in high-volume air samples. His suspicion was that depleted uranium particles from the two Gulf wars - DU is used in the anti-armour warheads of the ordnance of American and British tanks and planes - may have spread across Europe. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but here's something very odd.
When Busby applied for the information from Aldermaston in 2004, they told him to get lost. When he demanded the information under the 2005 Freedom of Information Act, Aldermaston coughed up the figures. But wait.
The only statistic missing from the data they gave him was for the early months of 2003. Remember what was happening then? A little dust-up in Iraq, a massive American-British invasion of Saddam's dictatorship in which tons of DU shells were used by American troops. Eventually Busby, who worked out all the high-altitude wind movements over Europe, received the data from the Defence Procurement Agency in Bristol - which showed an increase in uranium in high-volume air sampling over Britain during this period.
Well, we aren't dead yet - though readers in Reading will not be happy to learn that the filter system samplings around Aldermaston showed that even they got an increase. Shock and awe indeed.
Back to our main story. I'm tired of hearing about "global warming" - it's become such a cliche that it's a turn-off, a no-read, a yawn-cliche. As perhaps our governments wish it to be. Melting ice caps and disappearing icebergs have become de rigueur for all reporting. After Unesco put the Ilulissat ice fjord on the World Heritage List, it was discovered to have receded three miles. And there's a lovely irony in the fact that the Canadians are now having a row with the United States about shipping lanes in the far north - because the Americans would like to use a melted North West Passage which comes partly under Canadian sovereignty. But I have a hunch that something more serious is happening to our planet which we are not being told about.
So let me remind you how The Day the Earth Caught Fire ended. Russian and American scientists were planning a new and joint explosion to set the world back on course. The last shot in the movie was set in the basement printing rooms (the real ones) of the Daily Express. The printers were standing by their machines with two headlines plated up to run, depending on the results of the detonation.
One said "World Doomed", the other "World Saved", As that great populist columnist John Gordon of the Sunday Express used to write: makes you sit up a bit, doesn't it?