Climate change

Let’s just take a moment to check out what we know about how the weather seems to be getting more intense, more unpredictable and more destructive. It’s not like it used to be. Something’s happening:

  • 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.

What’s going on?

Just look at the roll call of extreme climate-related events that have occurred over the last couple of years.

Drought in Kenya in 2018

China 2017: Tropical cyclone Hato brought high winds and rain to Hong Kong and Macau on 23 August devastating Macau. In 2018, typhoon Mangkhut again ravaged Hong Kong (and the Philippines).

Russia 2017: 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 2017: 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. A heat wave in the summer of 2018, hospitalised 22,000 people. This was followed by record-high rainfall, extensive flooding and landslides that killed over 120 people.

Bangladesh: In May 2017 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 2017 , 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. In 2018, drought in Madhya Pradesh caused significant migration. In August, Kerala experienced heavy rainfall and one of the worst floods on record leading to hundreds of deaths.

Bahrain: in June 2017, the kingdom experienced its highest ever mean and maximum temperatures. The nation’s July minimum temperature was the third highest on record. In June 2018, the temperature in Oman rose to 42C, ,a new Asian record.

Torrential rain during Hurricane Harvey in Texas

East Africa: Extreme drought continued to devastate the Horn of Africa in 2017, with up to 24 million people facing critical food insecurity.

Australia: In 2017, the country experienced the second driest June on record, with rainfall 62% below average for the country as a whole. In 2018, there were scorching heatwaves and devastating bushfires. Thousands of bats died from the heat–in some cases falling out of the trees in their thousands as temperatures hit 46°C.

Canada: In 2017, 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 weather events in Eastern Canadian history.

USA 2017: 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. 2018 was worse. California saw its most destructive wildfire in history, killing 85 people.

In September 2017, 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. The following year, hurricanes Florence and Michael, two of the most destructive storms in in US history, caused extensive damage.

In July 2018, temperatures in Southern California rose above 43°C. The demand for air-conditioning electricity was so high, several areas lost power.

Boys cool off during heat wave in India

Caribbean: In 2017, 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 2017, sea ice was 16% below the 1981-2010 average—the fifth lowest July sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979. In early 2018, sea ice extent was once again at record lows.

United Kingdom: In 2017, the UK received 152% of its average rainfall during January—the 4th wettest January since records began in 1910. In 2018, it was fires–in peatland moors which typically do not experience these events.

Europe: 2017: Parts of Southern Europe suffered severe drought, with the situation in Corsica reaching near-record levels. The rainfall deficit contributed to serious wildfires across the region at the end of July. In 2018, Greece was hit by extensive wildfires that killed over 80 people. The same year drought in Sweden ignited wildfires even above the Arctic circle.

This litany of recurring disasters is becoming the new normal [1].

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.

Fort McMuurray fire in 2016

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.

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

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.

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.  Yes, it looks bad, but there are solutions to this problem.

To read more about climate change go to this page:

[1] This list of 2017 extreme weather events is taken from Beyond Borders: Our changing climate—its 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
See also : Our climate plans are in pieces as killer summer shreds records, accessed here