climate change

Opinion: February madness


UK wildfires in February.

By Anders Lorenzen

Whilst it was nice to forget about the winter for a short while and say goodbye to the grim, cold and wet February days and pretend it was summer, the weather we experienced in the UK at the end of February was unprecedented.

Many things we once considered to be stable and ‘normal’ are changing in the UK (Brexit) and the one thing Brits have always sought solace and comfort in during change, is now evolving too; the weather.

Whilst there has always been variation in springtime weather, the ability to wear shorts and T-shirts four days in a row during February, for some even whilst eating ice cream lying on a beach whilst wildfires raged elsewhere in the country, is a novelty and definitely unprecedented.

Some will be looking to analyse whether this is just a freak event and has anything to do with climate change at all, citing the now familiar line that it’s impossible to blame any particular event on climate change, but the writing is on the wall.

Every year, our extreme weather events are becoming just a little bit more extreme; this year we experienced a brief ‘Indian summer’ in February, in 2018 we experienced the Beast from the East in the latter months of spring, and in 2017, the temperatures hardly dipped below 10 degrees C during the winter months in the South East of the country.

Whilst we must be careful with scaremongering, this is a frightening rend; if this is the type of change we’re witnessing with roughly 1 degree C of warming, what will things look like with 2, 3 or 4 degrees of warming?

Shortly following the unseasonably warm weather last month, there was a climate debate in Parliament which approximately ten MPs turned up. This is a shocking turn out compared to the Brexit debates in which hundreds of MPs turn up, often at short notice. Whilst Brexit, of course, is a serious matter it pales into significance compared to the potential effect of climate change. We can undo the Brexit damage over time, but we can’t undo climate damage.

In his recent book The Uninhabitable Earth, writer David Wallace-Wells emphasises, in no uncertain terms, that climate change is much worse than most of us are expecting and that we are most likely looking at a temperature rise of 5 degrees C and over. His view is that most of the existing climate science reports are far too conservative in their estimates.

But not all, last summer a climate report released by the Stockholm Resilience Center predicted that we are heading for what they dubbed a ‘Hothouse Earth’ scenario and rapidly approaching irreversible temperature increase tipping points which won’t be prevented unless drastic actions are taken, including:

  • Matching our 2030 and 2050 emissions reductions and renewable energy targets with aggressive and bold politics that attack current emissions
  • Completely revisiting our agricultural policies and hugely reducing the meat levels we are consuming today
  • Urgently deploying technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere and capture carbon from transport and power plants, even before they become profitable

People, whether rich or poor, need to revisit their lifestyle choices because these tipping points and climate breakdown are coming for us, and based on the speed at which these extreme weather events are accelerating, it’s coming for us fast.

We can try to pretend climate change is not happening and continue eating our ice cream in the park or we can do everything in our power to prevent the cascading catastrophe hurtling towards us.

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