Friday, July 06, 2018

Is Britain the Miner's Canary of Climate Change?

British firefighters tackle wildfires with
ultra modern technology - scythe and flail.

When you see a photo from India of a pedestrian's flip-flops getting stuck in the melting asphalt as he's trying to cross a street, you might ask "isn't always hot in India?" Is this really a new thing or just something that freelance photographers can now flog to western newspapers? Sure they're roasting in the Middle East. Hey, it's the Middle East. You know, the place with all the sand.

Britain, however, is not the Middle East. It's not India. It's an island where weather was once called endless drizzle or Scotch Mist, autumn and spring, with a few sunny days in the summer and a few snowy days in the winter. Most houses, including the one I lived in, weren't insulated. Only that was then and this, as they say, is now.

Britain now experiences the gamut of extreme weather events: tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods, even seasonal droughts sometimes in rapid fire succession. Then there are heatwaves, the Emerald Isle getting scorched. That's why I nominate Britain - not India, not the Middle East, nor any other place on Earth as the miner's canary of climate change.

In today's Guardian, Simon Lewis makes an appeal for political sanity in these troubled times.
Much of the world is in the grip of a heatwave. Britain is so hot and dry that we have Indonesia-style peat fires raging across our moorlands. Montreal posted its highest temperature ever, with the deaths of 33 people in Quebec attributed to the scorching heat. And if you think that’s hot and dangerous, the town of Quriyat in Oman never went below a frightening 42.6C for a full 24 hours in June, almost certainly a global record. While many people love a bit of sun, extreme heat is deadly. But are these sweltering temperatures just a freak event, or part of an ominous trend we need to prepare for? 
Earth’s climate system has always produced occasional extreme weather events, both warm and cold. What is different about now is that extra short-term warmth – from the jet stream being further north than usual – is adding to the long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The warming trend is very clear: the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that all 18 years of the 21st century are among the 19 warmest on record; and 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded. Overall global surface air temperatures have risen by 1C since the industrial revolution. It is therefore no surprise that temperature records are being broken. And we can expect this to become a feature of future summers.
...many aspects of society will require deep and difficult changes, including to our own mindsets. In the summers of the future, particularly in the south of England, we will regularly live in Mediterranean-type conditions. Adapting our national infrastructure, particularly around maintaining our water supplies, updating our housing stock as it is built to retain heat, and altering how we manage our land to avoid further catastrophic fires, will all be required. It is under-appreciated that climate change will transform the very fabric of the experience of living in the UK.
This coming new reality is not high on the political agenda. Climate change is a greater threat to the UK than EU directives, terrorism or a foreign power invading. Yet the scope of our political discussion on future threats is limited to Brexit and spending on defence. Instead of this blinkered view where the future is the same as the past, we need to step out of the intense heat and take a cool look at what we are doing to our home planet.

The development of farming and rise of civilisations occurred within a 10,000-year window of unusually stable environmental conditions. Those stable interglacial conditions are over. Human actions are driving Earth to a hot new super-interglacial state. What scientists call the Anthropocene epoch, this unstable time, is a new chapter of history. Today’s heat is a forewarning of far worse to come. To live well in this new world needs political action to catch up with this changing reality. Fast.
Those familiar with the "climate departure" theory that came out of the University of Hawaii in 2013 have probably been watching these record heatwaves hammering so many nations from Australia to the UK with special interest.

Climate departure could be the hallmark of irreversible global warming and it is predicted to arrive in just six or seven years, spreading across most of the world by about 2047.  It's a tricky concept to convey. It's an abrupt switch from what climate had been to a new climate, a new and hotter normal. It's sort of like flipping a light switch.

Once you're at climate departure, once that switch has flipped, every year following will be hotter than the hottest year before going back as far as 1960. That means no more cool, much less cold, years. Hot years only, very hot years, in endless succession. This graphic illustrates where climate departure will first set in and how it's expected to spread:

This doesn't mean that Reykjavik in 2066 will be as hot as Mumbai or Lagos. It will simply be hotter than Reykjavik was before climate departure which is still pretty moderate. Looking at Africa, however, you can see how climate departure will probably fuel mass migration toward Europe or a similar event out of Central America toward the US.

Another issue is how this super-heating is going to affect Atlantic waters off eastern US and across the central Atlantic to Africa, the area that spawns the hurricanes that now seasonally batter America and the Caribbean. Could something similar affect the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea?

We don't have much idea how much dislocation climate departure will cause - social, economic, political - as it sets in and slowly works its way ever poleward. We don't have much idea but we need to have at least some working idea of what's in store.

Britain is our miner's canary when it comes to climate change and that bird is definitely not chirping.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Southern Alberta....along the southern boarder of Canada and the US., near Brooks, Alberta......37C the last few days and it isn't even August yet. Anyong