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Climate Change

Climate Change and its Consequences by Bill Giles O.B.E.,

The climate of the Earth is continually changing. The big difference this time around is that the major component of the change is not the natural variation but the activities of the predominant animal on the planet, namely the human race.

The Earth’s gravity enables it to maintain an atmosphere in which the oxygen enables animal life to exist but it also contains many other gases including carbon dioxide and methane. These gases have the property of allowing the sun’s short wave radiation to pass through almost unhindered but are only translucent to the returning longer wave terrestrial radiation reflecting some back to the Earth.

Far from being detrimental to life on Earth the naturally occurring greenhouse gases maintain the average global temperature at around 15 C. This is an ideal temperature for the human race, amongst others, to breed and to develop. Without this naturally occurring greenhouse shield it has been estimated that the average global temperature would be some 33 C lower at Minus 18C which, almost certainly would have inhibited our development and probably made sure that it didn’t even start.

However, by burning fossil fuels at an escalating rate, we are putting more and more of the greenhouses gases into our atmosphere which in turn heat up the atmosphere to such an extent that the last decade was the warmest ever recorded. As far as the average temperature for Central England is concerned (and this is the longest continuous meteorological record in the world dating back to 1659) it did not vary very much from 9.1 C but in the last ten year has jumped dramatically by 1C to 10.1C-a significant change. Assuming this to be mainly due to the increase of carbon gases and methane there is no reason why this trend should not continue and this is the basis of all the predictions from the International Panel for Climate Change.

Now it really matters little about whether the predicted increase in global temperature is 5 C by the end of the century or 8 C because there will be wide regional variations and even if we drastically cut back our carbon output we will still warm up since once in the atmosphere carbon can last up to 100 years. It has been suggested by a Royal Commission that the UK would have to cut back its carbon emissions by 60% to stop the warming getting out of control and the rest of the world would have to follow suit. Unless there is a radical change with a clean substitute for the industrial combustion engine and cleaner power stations this decrease in carbon output seems most unlikely.

So how is this going to affect the climates around the world?

Well in the temperate regions, where most people live, we are likely to see a change to a more Mediterranean climate with milder wetter stormier winters and longer drier warmer (but not necessarily sunnier) summers. Over the past couple of years I have been looking at combining the weather elements of temperature, rain, sunshine and wind to give a single index. The beauty of this is that the index enables comparisons from place to place and also a single place with time. I have found that the index in London for mid summer in 2030 is the same as Nice, France, of today and that by the turn of the century the summer climate in London will be similar to that of Athens at the beginning of this century.

If your dependants are in London in 100 years time the climate looks great, hot dry and sunny but what about the people living further south because as northern Europe warms up so it will further south (perhaps by not quite the same amount admittedly) and I put forward the hypothesis (which I postulated in The Weather Show over five years ago) that more heat arriving in the equatorial regions will make the upper level winds flowing north and south stronger. This in turn will allow them to move further away from the equator before they slow down and descend. At the present the descending upper winds which form the semi-permanent anticyclones is at about 30 N and looking on a world atlas that is where the hot deserts are situated. If the wind is a little stronger then the anticyclones could form at 35 N, which is the Mediterranean where a great number of people live. They would have to move and I see the huge migrations of climatic refugees, as being the major problem the World will face in the second half of the 21 century.

One last thought. As the weather warms up and dries out in the USA the country will find it difficult to grow enough crops to feed its own population. We have already seen great problems in the grain producing areas over the last few years and this is likely to get much worse. One of the main reasons that the USA became a super power is because for the last seventy years or so they have always had enormous grain stocks, which they could sell or not sell as their political masters decided and with this gained great political power. If, however, in a few years time cannot even feed themselves they could well lose a great deal of their world dominance.

As the USA’s agricultural potential decreases so it could increase in Canada, Russia and many parts of China shifting the political power base away from USA in favour of the new agricultural giants.

So purely by driving your car on short journeys instead of walking, not recycling efficiently, chopping down enormous areas of tropical rain forests and not developing energy efficient buildings we could leave an absolute nightmare for our grand children to live in. And to do this will need the co-operation of every single nation upon Earth, it cannot be done alone and I would hasten to add that it cannot be done without the USA.

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