Monsoons in Manila this August went down in history as the heaviest rainfall the Philippines have ever known, whilst on the other side of the world, the US weathermen were telling a very different story, as over 56% of the country was declared severely drought-stricken. Here in the UK, we’ve worn out our wellies during the wettest summer on record, looking on, somewhat enviously, at the record-high scorching temperatures across central and eastern Europe. Extreme weather seems to be the phrase of the day, and it seems it’s here to stay. For whilst we once might have looked upon that surprising heatwave, or that oddly early cold snap, or that freak flood as a blip on an otherwise-stable agenda, extreme episodes such as these no longer feel so extreme as they become more and more common.
According to climate change scientists, this is not surprising at all. We’ve heard the warnings for years: our human presence on this planet is causing global warming at an unmanageable rate, and as a consequence of our bad behaviour, we will have to reckon with the forces that be. The heatwaves and droughts we hear in the news so frequently are no longer matters of weather, that is to say the short-term (minutes to months) changes in the atmosphere, but are rather the effects of climate change, or changes in the long-term averages of daily weather. As the planet heats up, so we feel the effects of more severe and unpredictable weather.
This is not to suggest that all examples of extreme weather are directly linked to climate change, but scientists are linking individual weather events to climate change with increasingly alarming frequency. To take but one example, the unseasonably warm average temperature in the UK last November was the second hottest since records began. Researchers believe that this was at least 60 times more likely to be due to climate change than to natural variations in the earth’s weather systems. It seems it is becoming impossible to deny the global impact that our actions have upon our world.
The effects of climate change are felt everywhere, not least in our day-to-day weather. Economic, zoological, even …………… climate change affects our world in more subtle ways than we hear about on the news.
For example, climate change has resulted in US winters not being sufficiently cold to control the numbers of bark beetles living in the forests of the USA. Since 1996, these beetles have laid waste to 65,000 square miles of U.S. forest – an area roughly the size of Washington State. Cholera and mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria are all thriving as the Earth warms. In Bangladesh, for example, the resultant rise in water temperature has increased the risk of cholera outbreaks by up to five times.
Climate change can affect us right down to our housing insurance. In 2011, US insurance firm State Farm Insurance cancelled coverage for 11,000 homeowners in Texas because of exposure to extreme weather.
It seems that we are in the midst of a global climate breakdown, more rapid and widespread than climate change scientists ever expected. Let us hope there is still time to reverse it, or at the very least, slow it down to a sustainable level.