UK Winter Storms 2014

I came across a Met Office report on this winter’s exceptional storms today, which not only outlined the reason for the flooding the UK’s been experiencing lately but also linked through to a more detailed briefing report which took me slightly out of my depth but boiled down to, I think…. the UK has had unusually heavy storms and rain, and the USA has had exceptionally heavy snow storms and cold temperatures, because the Pacific Ocean around Indonesia is somewhat warmer than usual.

A better demonstration of how weather systems interlock around the world you couldn’t hope to find!

The immediate question that occured to me is, of course, that as climate change will warm the oceans in the future, are we likely to see this currently-exceptional weather pattern become more common in years to come? It may be that the answer to this question is buried somewhere in the scientific literature and I haven’t come across it yet – which is very likely, since there’s a heck of a lot of scientific literature out there! – or it may be that someone’s working on it at the moment, but as an ordinary person living in the UK, is this a risk that we’re going to have to consider in the future?

How many of these ‘exceptional’ winters does it take to render some of the UK’s richest farmland uneconomic to maintain and use? It’s been estimated that the Somerset Levels, for example, may still be flooded until May – which means there’s not much hope of getting any crops off them this year and even pasture grass will need re-seeding before livestock can graze there again. How many times can a farmer struggle through a winter like this, buying in feed for his livestock until midsummer, before he can’t afford to continue?

Of course, the answer to that is something we can only find out when the situation arises, if it does arise, but I wanted to mention it as an example of one potential problem for future consideration. Weather isn’t climate – weather is something that’s hard to predict and changes from day to day, while climate is the summation of trends measured over years, decades or centuries – but the IPCC’s AR5 does indicate that wet areas will get wetter in the future, while dry areas get drier.

Are more winters like that of 2013/14 on the cards in the future?

One point that’s often made in climate change literature is that, while it’s believed that the climate can ‘flip’ from one relatively steady state to another in relatively short periods of time (which is to say, over a few decades to a century), the amount of climate variability that occurs during that transition can be very high. We should all be expecting a rise in ‘extreme’ weather events – heavy rain will get heavier, for example – and it’s possible, I suspect quite likely, that this winter’s extreme weather in both the UK and the USA will turn out to be a manifestation of this increase in variability.

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Adaptation and Mitigation – an explanation

A lot of people seem to get confused by ‘adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’. I thought I’d just make the differences and the need for both clear.

First of all, what are they?

Adaptation is the process of changing how we live, work or do things in order to reduce the risks and challenges we face from climate change, to change ourselves to live in a different set of climatic circumstances. Adaptation could be remembering to put sunglasses and a hat on in hot sunny weather, or putting on waterproofs when it rains. It could also be designing floating houses, as the Dutch have done, to cope with rising sea levels.

Mitigation is the process of changing what we do and how we live in the hope that we can prevent climate change happening, or reduce it if we can’t stop it. Mitigation involves trying to reduce our emissions so we don’t have so high a concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or taking steps to reduce soot emissions.

Is we can adapt, why do we need to mitigate?

The answer to this one is quite simple. If we don’t mitigate climate change by taking some very drastic action in the very near future (such as reducing our emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2020) then we will face changes too great to adapt to. Imagine, for example, that global average temperature rises by 4 degres celsius. According to most calculations, 4 degrees of temperature rise would see dramatic changes in the Earth’s surface – sea level rise over a metre, the loss of permafrost, wildfires as far north as the Alps, summer rains failing 70% of the time in the Mediterranean, Australia, India, North, Central and South American deserts expanding, summers in the UK reaching 45 degrees Celsius, droughts commonplace across Northern Europe. Can we really ‘adapt’ to a world like that? Where do all the people from the affected countries move to? How do we feed them? Where do we find enough drinking water for that many displaced people?  So, we need to mitigate climate change as much as possible.

But if we can mitigate climate change, why bother adapting?

“Some degree of climate change is inevitable because of past and present carbon emissions. Even with strong international action to curb emissions, global temperatures still have a fifty percent chance of rising above 2 °C by the end of the century.” (from the Committee on Climate Change’s website). In other words, no matter what we do now, there is some change ‘locked in’ to the Earth’s future that can’t be prevented. We must adapt to that, and the less mitigation we do, the more adaptation will be needed.

Adapting to likely changes ahead of time is cheaper and easier than trying to play catch-up after the fact, so the time to consider adaptation strategies is now. LIkewise, the more we can mitigate the future climate change, the less adaptation we will need to do – and the sooner we take steps to mitigate, the easier it will be to achieve.

Food Security in the Warming World

I’m just coming into the final week of an online course on climate change (via Coursera) which discusses the degrees of warming we are currently on course for in the next century. It’s both depressing, in that we’re aiming for 2 degrees of climate warming by 2050 and over 4 degrees by 2100, and inspiring, in that there are still things we can do that will reduce these figures significantly. One of those things is to reduce our emissions on the individual level and this post discusses combining that reduction with another topic close to any survivalist’s heart – food supply.

One of the biggest looming problems that is really going to bite in the coming decades is the global food supply. At the moment there are about 7 billion humans in the world. By 2050 it’s predicted there’ll be 9 billion humans, which will require a 70% increase in agricultural production world-wide if everyone’s going to get enough to eat. We’re already cultivating 40% of the world’s useable land (http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2005/12/1209_051209_crops_map.html) and every year some of that land is degraded beyond useable condition due to our farming – soil degradation, desertification (http://www.worldometers.info/). The scale of the problem is quite well laid out in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s webpage where they list all the various areas of food production that need to be boosted to achieve this aim – basically, all of them. (http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/roadmap/priorityareas/food/agriculture/) Do we really think we can achieve all of this, when we also know that climate change will reduce both available agricultural land and crop yields across large areas of the Earth’s surface?

Whether we do or we don’t, how can we secure our own food supply? Not by importing food from abroad, as the UK does now with over 40% of its food supplies! (http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/issue/uk.html) I’m tackling this aspect of future-proofing my family’s food supplies not just by resorting to the survivalist’s traditional tool, which is to lay in a stock of preserved food for emergencies, but also by working to grow more of our own food. This year I’ve taken on a 20m by 20m plot on a local allotment site to supplement the deep beds in the back garden at home. This way we’ll know that the food we eat is fresh, healthy, local (hasn’t been flown half-way round the world, with associated emissions!) and since I’m hand-cultivating and using home-made compost, we’re also avoiding emissions from tractors and the use of fertilisers derived from hydrocarbons.

This isn’t new to us – my grandmother got her family through WWII on the produce of her garden, my mother brought us up largely from her allotment and I’ve had allotments and smallholdings in the past. We’ve always had rabbits, both as pets and, for three generations, for meat and fur production. The allotment should see us producing most of the food we need for the bunnies we have at the moment, together with a lot of the food that our flock of 6 chickens need to continue laying us a couple of dozen healthy fresh eggs each week.

I’ll be keeping records of what we produce both at home and on the allotment, so watch this space for details of how we’re succeeding in securing our food supply and reducing our emissions simultaneously!

Better yet, by meeting others on the allotment site, I’m engaging with my local community and have the opportunity to assist my neighbours with their own adaptation to future climate change by improving their food security. That will reduce their reliance on others, enable us all to gain friends and skills, and knock-on to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases for the entire community.

Welcome

Welcome to Adapt, Mitigate, Survive – a survivalist’s approach to the challenges we will all face in the coming decades as climate change really begins to bite world-wide. I’ve started this blog as large parts of the UK, my home and native country, lie under flood-waters, rail-links have been interrupted and in one case destroyed by storm damage, and billions of pounds of property, agricultural and business damage have been sustained across wide swathes of the country.

I’ve been aware of the problem of climate change for a good few years now, but in the last 12 months I’ve really been studying the subject intensively, trying to understand what I and my family (and many others) may face in the remainder of my lifetime. More importantly, I’m trying to work out how I, and we, can best adapt to changes we can’t prevent, mitigate changes where we can, and survive the immense challenge of global climate change if we can.

It’s going to be a very bumpy ride in the next three or four decades. I hope you’ll read my thoughts and that they’ll prove useful for helping others form their own plans to adapt, mitigate and survive. Please explore what I’ve written to date via the menu above and check back in the future for updates and progress reports!

Welcome aboard!