Climate Change and Weather
The UK covered in snow. Click for large picture to open in a new window.
It’s a little colder than usual in the UK at the moment, even though globally this looks like being another warm year – possibly one the three warmest on record. Noticing this reminds me of two particular features of discussions about global warming.
Perspective: In the UK, the winter of 2009-2010 was cold, and the summer was not particularly warm. And this winter 2010-2011 has started off with a strikingly cold period in which temperatures around the UK have been at or close to zero and have fallen to -27 °C in northern Scotland. So from a UK perspective it is shocking to learn that globally this looks like being one of the three warmest years on record. Looking back, there were particularly warm events – perhaps most notably the extreme heat in Russia which led to widespread fires and even a ban on the export of wheat. And to me thus just emphasises the complexity of weather and climate. It is hard for us as individuals to understand the long timescales on which climate evolves, especially in the face of the large variability of weather on daily monthly and annual timescales.
The big effect of small changes: The ‘cold snap’ is actually not that extreme in weather terms – but it has drastically affected life in the UK. There have been road closures, school closures, crops have been left in the field and entire villages have been shut off. If this kind of weather became more common in the UK, even though it would represent only a relatively minor climate change- it would change the way we live and work – and cost a good deal of money as we adapted. Similarly, if equally minor changes in weather patterns became more common in poorer regions then it is easy to see how even relatively minor changes could be catastrophic.