There is nolonger any doubt that world climates are changing. What is disputed is the extent to which the change is simply part of a natural cycle and the extent to which it is man-made. I have no doubt whatever that climate has changed dramatically over the centuries, changed even more over millennia, influenced by barely understood astronomical phenomena such as sun-spot activity and terrestrial phenomena such as volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts.
I don’t know how man’s activities relate in scale to those influences but I’m persuaded by the argument that the emission of greenhouse gases can only accelerate not diminish the rate of change and the ‘precautionary principle’ should be applied. In any case it is time that the profligate consumption of finite resources, particular carbon-based fuels, was brought under effective control. The refusal for years of some governments to acknowledge that there is a problem which needs to be urgently addressed should be a cause of shame to some of the world’s most advanced economies, particularly the USA. Thankfully, with more intelligent and courageous leadership, there are signs that they are now playing ‘catch-up’.
The long term effects of climate change are still the subject of much debate and research. It seems certain that the expectation that the UK would start to experience Mediterranean sunshine and lower levels of rainfall was no more than wishful thinking. More likely is the scenario that Northern Europe will gradually have higher rainfall, more cloud and stronger winds in addition to higher temperatures and humidity while Southern Europe will experience increased drought. Another possibility is that the increased meltwater from the Arctic icecap will switch off the Gulf Stream causing cold ocean currents to flow southward down the west coasts of the UK and Europe while the warmer currents start to flow north along the eastern seaboard of North America. Such a change could happen virtually overnight rather than gradually over years and would be catastrophic. Apart from anything else, industrialised agriculture is unlikely to adapt quickly enough.
Newly emerging scientific evidence points to the changes happening much more rapidly that had previously been accepted. But therein lies the rub. Some scientists have been arguing that even before the recent evidence emerged the predictions accepted by Kyoto and since have been systematically scaled down in order to achieve political agreement and have not reflected the evidence or its objective analysis.
Political unwillingness to take effective action stems from fear that the measures necessary will be unpalatable, hitting lifestyles and personal aspirations. Until large numbers of people are impacted dramatically and directly, weak politicians will not make and implement unpalatable legislation.
It could be that we are moving towards that position now as more and more people are impacted by weather events which are increasingly violent and frequent. It is happening in the UK and Europe with more and worse floods but perhaps the greater will for change will come from the very sad effects of the storms which are battering the eastern seaboard of the USA.
Lightening the tone, I have changed the climate in a small part of my garden. It’s called the Blue House because, well, it’s blue. The thinking behind it is to protect Mediterranean plants from weather conditions which would kill them. Many can withstand freezing temperatures but not cold, wet soil. Initially it was heated in winter but it was decided that that was unsustainable both in terms of my bank balance and environmental impacts. So now it keeps the rain off and ameliorates temperatures in all but the harshest of winters.
Completed in 2003 it’s coming up to its 10th birthday and in that time it has seen many changes. The very cold winter of 2010-11 killed a number of the smaller cacti and succulents while I was in Canada. But now the remaining plants are being denied moisture and nutrients by agaves and a palm tree which, for whatever reason thrived at that time and are having to be cut back just to let me get inside. When the agaves decide to flower that will a moment for action because the flower spikes can be 20 feet high and the Blue House is only 15 feet at its apex.
This climate change thing is very complicated.