Severe weather in the UK, the USA and other places recently has brought two key questions around climate change to the forefront again: Is it happening? And if it is, are we responsible?
The daffodil above, flowering today in my garden in the south of England, is clearly out of sync with its usual cycle, which normally sees the first blooms appearing in mid February. Not only has December been unusually warm, the arrival of the remnants of tropical storms ‘Desmond’, ‘Eva’ and ‘Frank’ has brought very high winds and, in Wales and Scotland, rainfall at levels not seen since the 1920’s. See this link for more: Record Rainfall In Dec.
So what is going on? There’s little doubt in my mind that, as the scientific consensus tells us, the climate is changing. But are we really responsible? I don’t know the answer to that, but suspect that we are, at the least, accentuating a natural trend.
It’s as well to remember that the climate has always changed. As recently as 10,000 years ago we were just emerging from the last ice age. The ice was tens of feet thick over most of the UK, as far south as Oxford. The land is still rising as a result of the removal of all that weight, but I’ve yet to see a clear explanation of exactly why the ice melted, nor any claims that the activities of our ancestors were responsible.
Since we now live in a highly industrialised world, over seven billion of us compared to a few million then, it would not seem unreasonable to expect that our actions – especially the burning of fossil fuels – could make a difference. If the earth is visualised as the size of a football, the atmosphere becomes less than a millimetre thick. It’s little more than a thin, precious skin, without which life on the planet would be impossible. Clearly we need to take very good care of it.
El Nino, the periodic warming of the Pacific, has a major impact on the weather – see this link for more detail: BBC El Nino Article 30.12.15 .
Then there is the activity of the sun, which is also said to have a major impact, dependent on whether we’re in a time of high or low sunspot activity. That’s a topic I’ll return to soon, because it seems under-reported compared to all the usual stuff about carbon emissions and so forth.
Could it even be the most important factor of all?