Climate change

Dangerous times?

This website is not intended to be all gloom and doom.  But it’s generally a good idea to know how bad a situation really is if you are given the task of figuring out a solution  So let’s just take a moment to check out what we now know:

  • Heat waves are becoming more intense. They are not killing more people–because national agencies have got better at warning communities and providing assistance to those who are most vulnerable.  But the trend is upward, and the forecast is for hotter and more frequent heatwaves;
  • Natural disasters are getting worse: floods are more frequent, hurricanes and cyclones more intense, and both are more deadly;
  • Wildfires are becoming more frequent. They are larger and more widespread. More intense heatwaves are likely to produce more fires. So the prediction is for larger and more destructive fires;
  • Glaciers are melting; Arctic sea ice is declining; and ice sheets are in several places disintegrating;
  • The oceans are in bad shape. They are becoming more acidic; dead zones are multiplying; enormous garbage patches filled with trash are now found in all the oceans. Plastic waste is killing fish and seabirds;
  • Coral reefs are bleaching out because of rising seawater temperatures. Many are unlikely to survive. Millions of rural fishers in developing countries will lose one of their principal livelihoods.
  • Air pollution kills several million people every year including over half a million children. Air quality does not appear to be getting any worse.  But there is little evidence that it is getting any better. And the death toll is already huge.
  • There are close to half a billion undernourished people in the world and the situation may be worsening. Childhood wasting and stunting affects over a 100 million children worldwide.
  • The pollution of rivers in Latin America, Africa and Asia is worsening—threatening the health of millions of rural communities that rely on rivers and lakes for drinking water;
  • Across the planet, biodiversity is showing signs of irreversible stress. Many species have become extinct; more will follow. Many experts believe a 6th extinction is already underway.

So what’s causing all these problems?

The majority of scientists that study the global climate believe that many of the problems that are afflicting the planet can be explained by the changes that have been observed in the Earth’s climate. The warning signs have been there for some time: the first alarms were sounded back in the 1960s. But at that time the evidence that the climate was changing was not very convincing.  Scientists knew that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were increasing every year, and many of them believed that this increase spelled trouble. But not all scientists agreed.  After all, carbon dioxide is a natural part of the environment and, furthermore, is essential for photosynthesis and for the growth of plants.  How could the slowly increasing concentrations of this essential life-giving gas possibly cause a problem?  It seems highly unlikely, impossible even.

But since the turn of the century, the signs of an increasingly disturbed climate have become impossible to ignore.

The new normal?

Just look at the roll call of extreme climate events documented for 2017.

China: Tropical cyclone Hato brought high winds and rain to Hong Kong and Macau on 23 August devastating Macau.

Russia: A cyclonic depression caused extreme precipitation wih 185% of monthly average rainfall falling in the  last two days of June causing casualties and economic disruption.

Japan: Tropical storm Nanmadol was associated with torrential rainfall in Southern Japan. The city of Hamada in Shimane saw hourly precipitation of over 80 mm on July 6, leading to the evacuation of nearly 60,000 residents in affected areas.

Bangladesh: In May tropical cyclone Mota caused considerable damage and injuries. This event was followed in June by heavy monsoon rainfall which caused severe flooding and contributed to deadly mudslides. Nearly 900,000 people were affected by the floods in July.

India: in August, over 32 million people were affected by flooding across Assam, Bihar, Utaar Pradesh and West Bengal.  More than 600 people were killed by the floods.

Bahrain: in June, the kingdom experienced its highest ever mean and maximum temperatures. The nation’s July minimum temperature was the third highest on record.

East Africa: Extreme drought continued to devastate the Horn of Africa, with up to 24 million people facing critical food insecurity.

Australia: The country experienced the second driest June on record, with rainfall 62% below average for the country as a whole.

Canada: British Columbia experienced its worst ever wildfire season losing almost 900,000 hectares to the flames. The unprecedented year saw 1,000 fires across the province.  Then came the rains.  Near Windsor, Ontario, in August a storm dumped 285 mm of rain in 32 hours. This was one of the wettest moments in Eastern Canadian history.

USA: The midwest, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and California were hit by a series of devastating wildfires over the summer months. In October and again in December, California experienced huge wildfires. Some 70,000 hectares were scorched; scores of people died trying to escape the flames; and almost 5,000 homes and businesses were destroyed.  Then in September, Hurrican Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Texas and Louisiana. Harvey was followed by Irma—the first time that two category 4 hurricanes had hit the USA the same year.

Caribbean: Hurrican Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded, devastated several Caribbean islands, tore through Barbuda, before pounding Florida. Irma was followed by Maria, another huge hurricane, which practically destroyed Dominica, and caused extensive damage in Puerto Rico.

Arctic: In July sea ice was 16% below the 1981-2010 average—the fifth lowest July sea ice xtent since satellite records began in 1979.

United Kingdom: The UK received 152% of its average rainfall during January—the 4th wettest January since records began n 1910.

Europe: Parts of Southern Europe suffered severe drought, with the situation in Corsica reaching near-record levels. The rainfall definit contributed to serious wildfires across the region at the end of July.

This litany of disasters—in just one year–is becoming the new normal [1].

But what climate scientists now know is that most of these problems are either directly caused, or indirectly accelerated, by the fact that the planet is getting warmer.

Not the trash in the oceans and the polluted air and rivers—that’s just industrial man in the Anthropocene Age making a mess. But the violent weather, droughts and floods, wildfires, heatwaves, bleached-out coral, acidic seawater, food insecurity, and melting glaciers and icesheets, are all driven either totally or in part by the fact that the Earth is warming.

It’s not an illusion; it’s not a hypothesis. It’s a scientific fact.

So who’s to blame?

The Climate Science Special Report published by the US Global Change Research Program in 2017 states unequivocally [2]:

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid 20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.

Good scientists are careful people.  The words ‘extremely likely’ are code.  They mean that the probability that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming is between 95 and 100 percent.

On the other pages of this website we will look in more detail at this global warming trend, how the climate is changing, and what we can do about it.

Don’t worry.  Yes, it looks bad, but there’s a lot we can do.

 

[1] This list of 2017 extreme weather events is taken from Beyond Borders: Our changing climateits role in conflict and displacement. Environmental Justice Foundation. EJF 2017. London, UK.

[2] See the US Global Change Research Program: Climate Science Special Report. Available here.