I have just returned from a holiday in Crete and relaxing there I had a chance to reflect on just how profoundly variations in weather can affect our lives. Looking at data from the Weather Underground, I see that at the start of our 10 day break the maximum daily temperature was 29 °C with a mean relative humidity of 60%: perfect weather for a beach holiday. At the end of our stay, the equivalent statistics were 30 °C – barely warmer – but with a mean relative humidity of 83%. This small change was enough to occasionally bring me to the brink of panic at the thought that I would be unable to get cool. Outside of an air-conditioned room it would be unthinkable to undertake any activity beyond gentle exertion. I mentioned this before when I discussed the role of air conditioning in the US. But weather events around the world also caught my attention
- In Russia, the warmer than average weather created the potential for wildfires that have killed many and disrupted lives across thousands of square kilometres.
- Thinking about the flooding in Pakistan in this context may seem insulting. To say that people in Pakistan who have abandoned their homes and farms have been ‘affected’ by flooding is an understatement. Their lives have become dominated by fear and chaos in a way that I can scarcely imagine. But at the root of it, all that happened was that it simply rained a bit more than usual.
- As in Pakistan, all that happened in China was that it rained more intensely than usual creating soil instabilities giving rise to catastrophic mud-flows.
Weather and Climate
Many news reports state the weather is unprecedented “in living memory”, or they describe it as the worst ‘for a hundred years’. Well every 100 years we need to expect weather events which have not occurred for 100 years! And ‘living memory’ is not a long time. Putting this point aside, the devastation that these events bring to our lives coupled with our complete inability to control them, is simply frightening.
And now I would like to mention Climate. None of the above events is any indication at all of any kind of a change in global or regional climate. However, these events are so deadly that (a) if the climate were changing, and (b) if these changes might reasonably be expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, then we should really pause to consider what we are doing. Even in the face of significant uncertainty about the magnitude and extent of any possible climate change, these extreme weather events are so overwhelming that they hold the potential to create multiple simultaneous crises on a pan-global scale.