Global Warming, Weather Extremes & Being Prepared

extreme weather defenses

As I woke up to the Five Live breakfast show this morning I was treated to a bit of climate change debate – something that I wasn’t expecting but that switched my brain on far quicker than normally happens (I’m not a morning person).

This segment of the show lasted just 5 minutes but it broached a rather important, if controversial, topic – weather extremes.

First we heard part of a pre-recorded interview with the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington who explained that the UK is likely to experience an increased risk of drought, flooding and other weather extremes over the next 20 years and that this is directly linked to the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.

Then came then other side of the argument from Dr Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation who thinks we need to be more cautious when predicting weather in the long term because there are too many assumptions that the climate will change dramatically in the near future.

He continued to say that nobody knows exactly what will happen in the coming 25 years and that on the issue of weather extremes there is no real scientific consensus. He concludes that Britain needs to be prepared for all eventualities and that the best policy is to make societies around the world more resilient to drought, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

What Do Other People Say?

There are some pretty eminent scientists who are readily convinced that a rising of the average global temperature is already causing weather extremes and that this trend will continue. NASA scientist James Hansen is one of the best known holders of this viewpoint and he delivered a very interesting opinion column in the Washington Post last year.

Recently, the director of the National Weather Service in the US said that there was a “likely” contribution from global warming to recent weather events in the States.

Other prominent scientists and climate authorities say we can’t yet make conclusions either way. Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, says it is too soon to say any evidence is irrefutable but that “this may remain the case until it is too late to do much about it”.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

I understand both sides of this argument and while I am convinced that we need to act to reduce the amount of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere, I also feel that we need to make plans for extreme weather.

We are not even close to the 2 degrees of warming that many scientists and governments say we should aim to keep below and yet we are already potentially experiencing the effects of a warming climate.

Of the things I have read, the one that makes the most sense to me is that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and that this moisture will inevitably fall as rain at some point. Heavy rainfall events are on the rise in some parts of the world (the UK included) and these can cause potentially huge problems in the lives of everyday people.

I’m not just talking about those people who have their homes and businesses ruined by floodwater and the huge bill that this generates, I am talking about more widespread effects such as rising food prices due to saturated ground or indeed a drought.

And if that precipitation falls as snow we not only get the economic impact as transport is hit and schools/businesses are forced to stay closed, we get the real human cost.

Are We Prepared?

I don’t know if we can ever be fully prepared for extreme weather events but I do think it is possible to mitigate some of the biggest threats. While it may be possible, I do worry that governments, including our own here in the UK, are not fully engaged in the issue and far less money is spent than is probably necessary.

This is despite the fact that insufficient preparation is likely to cost far more to the economy than the measures that could be put in place to lessen the impact in the first place.

And then there is the argument that I have made before that richer countries will be able to adapt somewhat easier than poorer countries where harsh weather conditions often take a heavier toll. With the best will in the world I can only see further suffering for the poorest and I don’t yet believe the developed world is prepared to help prevent this.

Sorry, I’ve gone all doom and gloom again….where has my optimist hat gone?

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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