Lessons from a cold spring

A helicopter delivering emergency supplies to farmers in Northern Ireland. Picture Credit Paul Faith/BBC

A helicopter delivering emergency supplies to farmers in Northern Ireland. Picture Credit Paul Faith/BBC

It’s been cold in the UK this spring 2013. Much colder than usual and even now at the start of April, the average temperature in London is only around 4 degrees Celsius.

In the North there is still snow on the ground, electricity supplies have been disrupted and livestock killed. The Daily Mail is shocked. The Guardian is concerned. And some even suggest this is a harbinger of changing climate resulting from last summer’s exceptional loss of Arctic Sea Ice.

Personally I don’t know if this weather does or does not result from the shocking Arctic Sea Ice decline. But I think there is one very important lesson we can learn.

This spring is only fractionally colder than most UK springs. And already we are losing livestock, crops yields are affected (so raising prices), heating bills are higher than expected, and it will cause significant road damage.

Now imagine if this happened every year. Or imagine if it happened for twice as long. Or for twice as long every year. In terms of climate change this would be the smallest of shifts. A small change in the position of atmospheric circulatory patterns. But life in the UK would be more unpleasant and more expensive.

At Protons for Breakfast people often askIs Climate Change a bad thing? Could there be a good sides to it? And of course Climate Change is not of itself good or bad. And there can be positive aspects to it.

What this spring brings home to me is how much our way of life is adapted to this particular climate, and how much even tiny changes leave us flumoxed. And that while we can adapt to changes – adaptation will cost money.

When climates have changed in pre-history populations have moved or adapted. But at no time in pre-history has the Earth supported 7 billion human beings. We now live highly optimised lives: crop yields that would have been an achievement 30 years ago would now be considered a disaster.

So even though climate change of itself is neither good nor bad. In almost every human situation, even a small amount of change – colder or warmer, wetter or drier – brings trouble, and extra costs.

World Population estimates from 1000 AD to 2011. Data fromWikipedia

World Population estimates from 1000 AD to 2011. Data fromWikipedia

One Response to “Lessons from a cold spring”

  1. Martyn Bull Says:

    I was always amazed at the extremes of conditions found in the universe and thought how lucky it was that I lived in cosy planet earth. Until I started travelling. Then I realised that even on earth, conditions are mostly horrible for living. Only 1/3 of the planet is land, significant parts are too hot, cold, dry, mountainous, or volcanic to be habitable. We manage to quite creatively exist within two narrow bands of latitude, which us really quite astonishing. And as you say, tiny weather fluctuations are enough to cause major inconvenience and havoc even in those areas. It’s astonishing we have survived this long!

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