Global warming used to be mainly a battleground for atmospherics science debates. Today the oceanographers and hydrologists are moving way up the prestige ladder because, as we're finding out pretty much everywhere, global warming is as much about water as it is about heat. When you combine the impacts of heating on our water resources, you get "global weirding."
Drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales, yet Scotland has just registered its wettest-ever May. The warmest British spring in 100 years followed one of the coldest UK winters in 300 years. June in London has been colder than March. February was warm enough to strip on Snowdon, but last Saturday it snowed there.
Welcome to the climate rollercoaster, or what is being coined the "new normal " of weather. What was, until quite recently, predictable, temperate, mild and equable British weather, guaranteed to be warmish and wettish, ensuring green lawns in August, now sees the seasons reversed and temperature and rainfall records broken almost every year. When Kent receives as much rain (4mm) in May as Timbuktu, Manchester has more sunshine than Marbella, and soils in southern England are drier than those in Egypt, something is happening.
Sober government scientists at the centre for hydrology and ecology are openly using words like "remarkable ", "unprecedented " and "shocking " to describe the recent physical state of Britain this year, but the extremes we are experiencing in 2011 are nothing to the scale of what has been taking place elsewhere recently.
Last year, more than 2m sq km of eastern Europe and Russia scorched. An extra 50,000 people died as temperatures stayed more than 6C above normal for many weeks, crops were devastated and hunderds of giant wild fires broke out. The price of wheat and other foods rose as two thirds of the continent experienced its hottest summer in around 500 years.
...Rich countries may be more or less immune in the short term because the global trading system guarantees food and access to electricity allows air conditioning, but in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, millions of people this year have little or no food left after successive poor rainy seasons. Last week, international aid agencies warned of an impending disaster.
Sceptics argue that there have always been droughts and floods, freak weather, heatwaves and temperature extremes, but what concerns most climate scientists and observers is that the extreme weather events are occurring more frequently, their intensity is growing and the trends all suggest long-term change as greenhouse gases steadily build in the atmosphere.
Killer droughts and heatwaves, deeper snowfalls, more widespread floods, heavier rains, and temperature extremes are now the "new normal ", says Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of the giant insurance firm Swiss Re, which last month estimated losses from natural disasters have risen from about $25bn a year in the 1980s to $130bn a year today. "Globally, what we're seeing is more volatility ," he says.
With closet climate change denier and rank petro-pol, Stephen "Loki" Harper, at the helm for the next too many years, what lies in store for Canada? It's becoming pretty obvious that we're in the "Last & Least" club - that very small handful of nations that will be the last and least affected by the Global Weirding that's hitting just about everyplace else. Do we really think our sole neighbour, the United States, can take much more of this without that impacting us? Or, like SHarper, do we just prefer not to think about it at all? For the sake of Alberta, Athabasca and Big Oil are we to cement our reputation as a global pariah? Are we content to ignore the reality that we're contributing vastly more than our share to a problem that we're outsourcing, a problem that is already killing people and causing enormous and widespread suffering in other lands and that we act as though it's our right to do this? Is Canada still a country we can truly take pride in?