Another Flower in the Wind?

This time last year I posted a note on the increased numbers of plants spotted flowering in the UK on New Year’s Day. Today the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland released the results of this year’s plant survey.

Just to keep things in context…

Average expected number of species flowering – 20-30.

2015 number of species flowering – 358

2016 number of species flowering – 612!

 

I also spotted a report on the BBC News website this morning on how Britain’s birds have been coping with our weirdly warm, wet winter. What the dickens are swifts doing in the UK in December? They should be in Africa! Apparently summer migrants are still here (or back early?) and winter migrants haven’t arrived in their usual numbers (presumably because it’s mild enough in their summering grounds they don’t feel the need to head for gentler British climes?)

It’s nice to see more birds sticking around rather than leaving, perhaps, but the milder weather has also increased disease rates amongst wild birds, which isn’t so good. Garden pests also haven’t had enough of a frosting to keep their numbers down – let’s hope that the increased bird numbers helps to predate the slugs and snails to reasonable levels!

Storm Jonas is currently giving the west of the UK a hammering but, so far (touch wood!) up in the north-east corner here it’s merely windy and warm, not yet sodden. I expect local river levels to rise soon all the same, as it’s raining over the snowpack in the Cairngorms – bad news for the snowsports industry, as they’d barely got the slopes open before this thaw and wet weather hit them, forcing them to close again.

New Year, New Normal?

I’m referring to our weather.

There’s a basic difference between weather (the stuff that goes on from day to day) and climate (defined as averages taken over at least a 3-decade period). Admittedly, what we’ve been experiencing recently by way of floods might just be weather.

On the other hand, the fingerprints of climate change appear to be all over this year’s weather (if you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors).

It gets wet in the wintertime. This is not news. Being an island sat in the path of prevailing maritime winds, the UK can achieve ‘wet’ all year round but generally we do get more in the winter than the summer. We had floods in 2012-13 that were pretty devastating. We had floods in 2013-14 that were even worse. Now we’ve had record flooding across a massive sweep of the country starting in 2015 and more still forecast for the next few days at least.

In case anyone missed it, there was a hurricane in the Atlantic in January 2016. They aren’t supposed to show up until June. There was also an iceberg spotted off Newfoundland, where it shouldn’t have been until April. Greenland suffered a mysterious melt-water event just after Storm Frank dumped a load of hot air over that area of the world, at the beginning of the month. Hurricane Alex dumped more hot air into the Arctic last week. Arctic sea-ice, which should be growing rapidly in the depths of the Arctic winter, is at very low levels and practically stalled for a bit in early January (look at the graph of sea-ice extent on the link and you can see the growth of ice flat-lined for several days).

I’m not just listing random events, by the way. All will become clear.

All of this brings me to Storm Jonas. Like Storm Frank, Jonas started life by walloping the US East Coast and is now moving offshore, through very much warmer than usual North Atlantic waters, heading for a meeting with a pool of colder than usual water in mid-Atlantic. When Frank encountered the cool pool, the effect was to supercharge the storm with increased winds and moisture, and Frank then blew right into Britain. Jonas is forecast to do exactly the same, and should (if the forecasts are correct) be landing on our heads from about Tuesday onwards, before swinging up the coast of Norway and delivering, yet again, a dollop of hot air from lower latitudes into the Arctic.

There’s two different points here.

The first one is, should the UK be expecting storms to come off the US continent, spin up again in mid-Atlantic and smack heavily into the UK as a regular thing from now on? We’re on the side of a hill, well above local water courses, but we now know which of our sheds goes below the water table level first and if it rains non-stop for eight days, as it did during/after Frank in this area, we’re going to need a sump-pump in that shed. I’m still in the process of fitting a raised floor to Jet’s cage, because he did not take kindly to 2 inches of water underfoot! The freezers are up on bricks as a temporary measure to keep them running safely. (Bailing out a shed, on and off, for two days is not an activity that I enjoy very much.) Should we be planning for average precipitation to go up from here on in?

Of course, the point about storms gaining force in mid-Atlantic before they hit us brings us to the cool pool. This is an area of the North Atlantic that’s been anomalously colder than average (one of the very few places in the world that still is!) for a couple of years now. It seems to be cooler because it’s fresher water than the normal run of Atlantic seawater, and it’s fresh, cold water because it’s melting off Greenland. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so Greenland’s run-off is sitting on top of the warmer Atlantic salt water like a lid.

This brings us to the second point about these storms. Since the 1940s, when the Arctic temperatures started being recorded regularly, the temperature in the Arctic has risen to or above freezing 3 times, all in December. Storm Frank made it four times, just barely getting under the bar at the very end of 2015. Jonas might do it again this coming week, which would be a first for the records. (Hurricane Alex, incidentally, pumped air across Western Greenland that was 16-22 degrees C above average – but didn’t quite get the temperatures above freezing).

The more hot air goes into the Arctic, the faster the ice melts. The faster the ice melts, the more fresh, cold water goes into the North Atlantic cool pool. The bigger the cool pool, the bigger the storms, and the bigger the storms, the more hot air goes into the Arctic? (Note that question mark – it’s not proven yet, but I’m starting to wonder!)

As a side note, the bigger the cool pool the more it stalls the Gulf Stream going up into northern waters, so there’s a sort of backlog of hot water sat alongside the US east coast as a result, both raising sea levels and providing lots of energy and water vapour for coastal storms like Jonas.

This is beginning to look suspiciously like a positive feedback loop or, as my mother prefers to call it, a vicious circle.

If it is a positive feedback loop, then each time anything increases in that loop, everything else increases too, which means we can expect more ice melt to lead to more cool pool, leading to bigger storms, leading to more warm air going north, leading to more ice melt….. etc.

It’s always been said by climatologists that the Arctic will see most climate change, faster than the rest of the planet. Feedback loops (all, alas, positive ones) will kick in there before anywhere else. There’s another feedback loop that might tie in with the cool-pool/bigger storms/more ice melt loop, and that’s the simple fact that dark water reflects only 10% of the light (and heat) that falls on it, whereas white snow/ice reflects 90%. Replace Arctic ice and snow with water and the energy absorbed in the Arctic rises, which causes temperature rise, which causes more melting….. you get the picture.

Last week, NASA and NOAA joined the various other meteorological/climate science organisations in unveiling their analysis of 2015 global temperatures and, if you line up the 16 hottest years on record, 15 of them come since 2000 (and the other was 1998, which was freakishly hot due to a very big El Nino that year). Greenland ice melt has been accelerating and Antarctic melt looks like it will be, too.

Time to get that sump-pump fitted in the shed.

Climate Catch Up: just in case you thought it was over….

It ain’t.

In fact, the state of the climate is more worrying than ever, as the rate of climate change would appear to be accelerating rather than remaining steady. In other words, it’s getting worse, faster (more details here and here). This, in turn, will cause an acceleration in all the other problems we can already see starting, and which we should expect to get much worse in the next few years – increasing migration, decreasing crop yields, more droughts, more heatwaves, etc.

Globally, we’ve just had the hottest July on record, and those records go back to 1880. July 2015 has been the hottest of all those months, so the hottest month of the last 1,627 months..

Global average sea temperatures were 0.75 degrees C above average, too – the largest departure from the average ever recorded.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s almost certain that temperatures will continue well above average for the rest of this year and into 2016, thanks to what started out as a limp-wristed wimp of an El Nino but has now developed into what’s been called a Godzilla El Nino, with worse expected before this time next year. El Nino conditions tend to produce record global high temperatures anyway – which is why 1998 still ranks as one of the hottest years on record, thanks to a monster El Nino that year – but with global temperatures already well above average, nobody seems to know quite how bad the Godzilla of the Pacific might be, this year or next.

Both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice are below average extent at the moment – it’s high summer in the arctic and sea-ice is approaching its minimum, with both the North-West Passage and the Northern Russian Coastal Route open as seaways. In the Antarctic, though, it’s now the depths of winter, yet sea-ice is slightly below average (National Snow and Ice Data Centre has the details).

It’s not all bad news, though. Following the Pope’s recent declaration in favour of taking care of our poor battered environment, Muslim clerics are now standing up for the biosphere, too, with a recent gathering of top clerics from 20 Muslim countries calling on all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world to work to reduce climate change and transition to a zero-carbon economy by the middle of the century.

What effect China’s current economic belly-flop will have on their carbon emissions, I don’t know. It’s probably both good (less pollution from a less-active economy) and bad (less money to plough into greener initiatives and pollution clean-ups) but I expect, as always, that it’ll all be clear with hindsight.

And now back to everyday life….

Where Did All The Snow Get To?

Here we are, in April, officially now in Spring rather than Winter, and thinking back over the past season, I find myself wondering…. where was the snow? What happened to winter?

There are years without snow in the UK, as well as years with loads of snow (by UK standards – I can certainly remember snowdrifts over 5 foot in Cheshire as a child and we’ve been snowed in from time to time in Scotland, as well as having years when snowtyres are overkill and the salt doesn’t come out of the shed at all.) That’s just normal seasonal variation – “weather” rather than “climate”.

This has been one of the less snowy years. We have had a couple of days when we’ve watched snow blow past the windows, though nothing has stuck on the roads round here and certainly a drift hasn’t even been a possibility. It’s a mixed blessing – less snow, less frost, less powercuts and storms, less inconvenience…. but also less die-off of garden pests. We had slug problems last year because they weren’t frozen down to a smaller population in the 2013/14 winter, and this year undoubtedly we’ll have slug problems again, since they won’t have been frozen this year either.

But it always makes me wonder. If the snow wasn’t here, where was it?

Apparently it hasn’t been in the Arctic, where NSIDC has just reported the lowest ever sea-ice record for winter – and not only the lowest extent but the earliest-ever winter maximum as the ice stopped growing and started melting again earlier than usual.

It hasn’t been in Alaska, either. This year’s Iditarod sled-dog race had to be moved to a more northerly route to find enough snow and ice for the sleds – and at the “official” start in Anchorage, 350 truck-fuls of snow were spread around the city to make it suitably white and scenic! I associate many things with Alaska; until now, a need to stockpile snow for winter sporting events has not been one of them.

It hasn’t been in the Rockies in California, either. California’s water utility checked the depth of the snowpack at 6,800 feet of altitude in the Sierra Nevada recently and found….. no snow at all. This is the first time in 75 years that they’ve had no snow at this altitude on the 1st April, it appears, and doesn’t bode well for California’s continuing drought conditions. Nor does the newly-confirmed El Nino event hold out much hope for restoring California’s water balance – despite taking nearly a year to go from the first indications to officially declared status, this looks like being a very weak, late El Nino that won’t have much effect on US weather patterns, but may nudge global temperatures upwards a little more.

Eurasia also had below-average snowfall in February, though not below average for the year.

So where did the snow go? Apparently it all landed on the USA, mostly in the north-east but some even in such places as Virginia and Texas – not areas I immediately think of when it comes to snow storms!

Apart from the unusually heavy  snow and low temperatures in the north-eastern USA, this winter has also thrown up an unusually chilly patch of ocean off the north-eastern US coast. This is potentially not good news for Europe, as it seems to indicate a slow-down in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Currant (better known as the North Atlantic Drift and the Gulf Stream) which may chill northern Europe. On the other hand, it might help damp out the likelihood of heat waves, which the changing Arctic climate may be encouraging in Europe via fluctations in the Jet Stream….

That probably boils down to, if you’re in the UK, expect variable weather. It’s just a shame about all those non-frozen slugs and insects. They’re probably already anticipating a good nosh on the veg we’re starting to sow….

Drought in the Amazon

I’ve been keeping an eye on a long-running story in the Amazon basin over the past several months; an intense drought which has brought water-rationing to large areas of Brasil and just a few days ago threatened to depopulate Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America and home to 20 million people.

It’s not the first time drought has hit the Amazon basin. In 2010, the Amazon was hit by a devastating drought which caused major rivers to run dry, trees to die and led to extensive fires as the dry, dead wood was set alight by lightning strikes. There were astounding pictures of the Brazilian government flying water supplies to villages normally on the banks of the world’s biggest river, because there was nothing but sand in the riverbed. There was a lot of discussion at the time about climate change in the Amazon basin and what it could mean for the rest of the planet if we allowed the Amazon rainforest to disappear.

As we can now see, the net result of all that worry was….. nothing happened. No new reservoirs, no restrictions on logging, illegal or legal, and as a consequence, here’s another drought and it’s nearly brought Brazil’s biggest city to the point of rationing water to just 2 days a week to all its 20 million residents.

2 days a week. Think about that. How would you cope if you turned the taps on and nothing came out? You’d be okay for a day, perhaps, maybe go buy some bottled water? (Except there are other people with the same idea). Every human needs 2L of clean, potable water a day to survive – more in hot climates or if you’re working hard and losing fluids through sweat. You need more to cook food, wash clothes, clean your teeth, flush the toilet…. the average UK household uses 150L of water a day.

Do you have 150L of water stored in your home? It weighs 150kg, plus packaging, so be careful where you stack those bottles! Upstairs is not a good idea. Ideally you want it in a dark, cool place (to restrict the growth of algae) and on a solid floor, not the loft. You need to rotate your water stash – about every 18 months or so – otherwise when you crack open the bottle, you’re might find a complex ecosystem flourishing in there. A couple of drops of thin unscented household bleach per litre helps prevent it all going green, but over time the chlorine wears off and you need to empty the bottles, scrub them out and refill them.

That’s a fair bit of work, though you can spread the load over time by doing a few bottles a month rather than all at once. You can lessen the load by conserving water! 50L a day to flush the loo with clean drinking water? Do you really need a long hot shower every day? And don’t even think about watering the garden or washing the car….

Back in the mid-70s, we had a severe drought in the UK – the first I was aware of.  I remember my parents taking us for a picnic at one of the reservoirs for Manchester, up in the Peak District. I remember the cracked mud that stretched for such a long way (I was only small!) from the grass at the top to the not-very-much water at the bottom. Cars had bumper stickers reading ‘Save Water – Have a Dirty Weekend’ to remind everyone only to bathe when necessary. We shared bathwater – eldest brother had first dip, then next brother used the same (cooling) water for his bath, then my sister and I shared the (tepid and somewhat grimy) water for our quick splash around. We put a brick in the toilet cistern to reduce the capacity, so less water was used in flushing the toilet (you can get the same effect with a plastic bag of water – or anything else that displaes water and don’t bung the works up). As things continued, we had a rule that you only flushed for excrement, not urine. Then we went on to saving the washing-up water in a bucket to pour down the loo so we weren’t using drinking water for flushing at all. I’ve retained the habit of having a daily wash rather than a daily shower ever since. You can get just as clean from a basin of hot water, a bar of soap and a flannel as you can from a shower or a bath, and it saves an immense amount of water and heating energy!

Most people in the UK don’t store water. You turn the taps and it falls out, no problem. But the people of Sao Paulo thought that, too, a few months ago. Now they’re facing reservoirs with only 8.9% of their water and the taps don’t work. Restaurants can’t wash plates, people can’t wash clothes, schools can’t cook dinners. People are reduced to trudging to whatever water sources they can locate and filling up every container they can carry. The Brazilian government were getting close to telling people to leave the city and flee, apparently.

It’s now started raining there, apparently, so they’re breathing sighs of relief, but what odds they don’t learn from this lesson either? In which case, in a few years, it’ll happen again, when the next drought arrives.

I wonder if anyone in Sao Paulo will think to start storing clean drinking water?

And before everyone outside Brazil starts feeling smug, remember those drought predictions for the US? Here’s a good site to start doing some research, too. Pay attention to that throwaway comment on the fifth line about the Brazilian coffee crop not happening this year! (Hint: price of coffee likely to rise so stock up now, coffee drinkers!)

IPCC AR5 indicated that the dry areas would get drier, so a good guess as to future conditions can be made by looking at current drought areas and simply enlarging them over time. If (when?) the Amazon rainforest succumbs to drought, fire and logging, we can probably expect tropical and subtropical droughts to get much more severe and prolonged – the Amazon, like other large rainforests, creates its own climate and without it, rainfall is going to drop.

Think it can’t happen here? Think again. Think hard, particularly if you live in an area already prone to droughts, like the south-east of England. London already gets less rain than Istanbul!

There’s another question here that I’m mulling over, and that’s…. how long will people cling to their homes, jobs, businesses, when they know they face not having any water? (three days without water and your body starts to die!) And why? Did anyone look at the reservoir levels and think, blow this for a game of soldiers, I’m offski? Or do humans have this irrational attachment to place, even over survival? How bad does it have to get before you give up your belongings in favour of safeguarding your life?

More importantly yet, when dire circumstances do finally get people on the move….. how desperate are they and what will they do if you’re in the way?

Who’d a Thunk it?

Look out for formation-flying pigs! At last, the weight of the evidence and the severity of the crisis is hitting home for Big Business – and the ones with the biggest stakes in the denial game, too!

Some big companies have been active in climate change mitigation and adaptation schemes for some time – Apple, for instance, is a high-profile company which has for some time acknowledged climate change and sought ways to reduce its reliance on  fossil fuels. This week, Bloomberg reports Apple has invested $850 million in ensuring that it will be powering all its offices, machines, stores and data centres from solar sources for at least the next 25 years.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, had acknowledged the urgent necessity of dealing with climate change, reducing the world’s reliance on oil and switching to natural gas as a less polluting alternative, along with more renewables, and even called for governments to set carbon prices to discourage the use of fossil fuels.

Today, in reports from the Guardian and Telegraph, I note that British Petroleum, another massive multinational oil company, has stepped up to the plate. Increasing energy demand is not compatible with fighting climate change, its Energy Report has declared, and carbon emissions are ‘unsustainable’! BP, too, would like carbon prices, please.

Well, woo-hoo!! Finally, the emperors of carbon production are looking in the mirror and noticing a certain draftiness around their nethers! BP and Shell are two of the five biggest oil companies in the world – the others being ConocoPhillips, Chevron and ExxonMobil. When you consider the massive investment these companies have in exploiting any fossil fuel they can lay hands on, even two out of five ain’t bad (apologies to Meatloaf for misquoting!)

This is a long way from fixing any problems, but at least the big players are beginning to admit there are problems. If they withdraw their funding for climate change denial thinktanks and propagandists (and they should!)  then the artificial and false “controversy” over whether climate change exists and will be a major existential challenge for humanity should begin to die down. With their financial clout, these companies also have the ears of politicians and have for many years been stridently arguing that jobs now are more important than TEOTWAWKI for the next generation.

Maybe, just maybe, we can look forwards to getting to grips with the adaptation and mitigation measures our grandchildren need us to put in place.

Bad News for California….

…and the rest of the lower end of the US, by the looks of the graphics in yesterday’s Guardian article.

The NASA study which is the base of the article indicates that “quite soon” would be a very good time for Californians, in particular, to sell up and move northwards quite a way, before word spreads and property prices plummet. Over on Weather Underground, on the same subject of drought in the Sunshine State, it would appear we have a perfect example of the frog-boiler in progress.

I’ve probably used this metaphor before here, I quite like it and tend to use it in many places I go online. For anyone who hasn’t met it before, it’s a thought experiment (I hope…. I like amphibians!) whereby you take a frog or frogs and toss them into boiling water. They immediately leap out. Take the same frog(s) and place in cool water, then turn up the heat slowly, they adjust to the changing temperature and float peacefully around in the pan while boiling to death.

It would appear some Californians are oblivious to the bubbles in the water around them. It’s the worst drought in 1,200 years, groundwater is so low entire counties are having bottled water shipped in because the wells are all dry, snowpack is in very short supply in a state that relies on snow for 30% of its water, and people are celebrating because they can cavort about in shorts getting a tan in the middle of winter?

Not that this is a uniquely Californian outlook on dangerous situations, mind you. If you look around, you can see it in practically every aspect of life. Sheeple will sleep-walk peacefully into tyranny, war, starvation, rising sea levels, dangerous air pollution and many other things that an outside observer, seeing the more advanced state of events, immediately categorises as blatently stupid, provided you turn up the heat gently.

Frankly, I think the frogs probably have it over humanity when it comes to perception of danger.

Off the Scale….

I came across an article in the Guardian today (The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists’ charts) that is lightly-written, yet sobering to read.

Basically, the problem with climate change/global warming is that the Earth’s systems, in combination, hold more heat energy than they used to. In the past, there have been confusions because air temperatures rose for a while, then stopped rising, and denialists assumed this meant that global warming had stopped, too.

Alas, not so. The heat was still accumulating but in a different place, and when scientists looked in the right place, they found that the air temperatures has stopped rising because the oceans had taken over and were warming instead.

So, to get a more accurate idea of how much global warming is taking place, you need to measure both the rise in air temperatures and the rise in ocean temperatures, and NOAA has been doing that. The combined figures reveal how much more energy is being held at Earth’s surface (give or take a few thousand metres either way) as time passes and climate change really digs its teeth in.

Soberingly, NOAA have had to rescale their ocean temperature graphs, as the figures are now off the scale, and this is not the first time they’ve had to do so.

NOAA’s webpage on ocean heat content is here.

 

Migration

We’ve always been a nation of immigrants.

The first humans arrived here in the UK (on foot) sometime before 8,000 BCE, probably ambling over from the French/Spanish coastal plains as the ice retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, in search of mammoths to hunt.

The Celts arrived from the Belgium/France direction sometime around 750 BCE, bringing the Iron Age with them along with the ancestor of Scottish, Irish and Manx Gaelic. Another batch arrived about 500BCE, speaking a different dialect that went on to become Welsh, Breton and Cornish.

The Romans arrived in 55BCE. They came, saw, conquored, left around 450 years later, but left us our first evidence of cross-cultural marriage: the tomb of a Palestinian-born Roman soldier at one end of Hadrian’s Wall, his British-born wife’s grave at the other.

The Anglo-Saxons arrived, possibly before the Romans, certainly some came while the Romans were in residence, more again after the Romans left.

The Normans, famously, turned up in 1066AD.

I could go on – the first British Jewish community arrived in 1066AD, the Roma arrived sometime about 1500AD, etc.

The point about all these invasions, settlements, immigrations and arrivals is that they arrived in moderate numbers. A few dozen here, a hundred there. They settled down and became part of their communities – albeit, in the case of the Normans, as lords and masters. We’re used to economic migrants, asylum seekers, people looking for safety and security here after leaving somewhere worse off. We’ve also produced plenty of migrants of our own – Canadians, Americans, Patagonians (Welsh-speaking Patagonians, even!), Australians, New Zealanders, and so forth.

More recently, we’ve started to see increasing unhappiness in the UK with the current migration situation. It’s not as if we native-born British are exactly a minority in our own country – latest census data suggests we still form the overwhelming majority of the population, about 91.7%. Yet we still don’t like to see headlines like illegal immigrants quadruple in 3 years or Home Office loses 174,000 illegal immigrants. I certainly don’t like it when people arrive from other countries in search of that ‘better society’ and promptly import all the religious, legal, social, etc values of the society they’re fleeing, then insist that we extend tolerance to these values. If you want to come to the UK to work, settle, raise your family, become part of the British community, then fine. If you want to bring your own language, religion and so forth, keep ’em to yourself and off the street. (And anyone who wants to go off and become a terrorist, just stay there. You’re not welcome here and I deeply resent paying for your luxurious stay in a UK jail out of my taxes.)

Yet if we’re having trouble with the current rate of migration, what’s it going to be like in a few decades, when potentially “hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people would have to move” from environmentally unsustainable countries because of climate change? It’s not just a few Inuit villages sliding into the sea as the permafrost melts, or Tuvaluans as their islands are inundated – it’ll be the entire population of the Tropics as the temperatures rise beyond endurance, crops fail and water supplies run low.

People who face death by thirst, starvation or inundation by rising waters don’t really have many choices. They can stay where they are and die, or they can migrate to somewhere that they believe may be better. How many choose to sit and die?

Which means, of course, that all the places currently wrestling with increasing migration are going to see the problem go exponential in coming years. Europe already has an ‘under siege’ mentality developing as thousands of North Africans head across the Mediterranean on anything that floats, and despite the hundreds who die trying, they still prefer to risk it than stay in their own countries in poverty. How hard will they try when it’s a matter of life and death, not just more money?

How do we handle that many immigrants? They won’t accept being told to go home (I wouldn’t, under those circumstances!), they won’t wait patiently for paperwork before arriving, they won’t allow themselves to be rounded up and repatriated.

We’re in a slightly better position here than most of Europe, at least in theory. We’re an island. If things get desperate, we can at least consider blowing up the Chunnel, stopping cross-channel ferries and grounding aircraft. They’ll have to swim to get here, or build boats – you can walk to mainland Europe from Africa or Asia, just as our distant ancestors walked out of Africa and settled the rest of the world.

They’ll still get here, though, and then what? My imagination’s vivid enough to see what’s coming. Don’t politicians have imaginations?

On The Up: The Keeling Curve

Some time ago I posted a bit about the Keeling Curve. It’s a simple little thing, not hard to understand – every day, someone goes up to the top of Mauna Loa and takes an air sample, then measures the amount of carbon dioxide in it. When Charles Keeling started doing this back in 1958, the average CO2 was about 313ppm (parts per million),with a little seasonal variation.

In May 2013, the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere topped 400ppm for the first time. Last year, it exceeded that amount on March 12. This year’s benchmark crossing-400ppm-date?

January 1st.

It’s going to rise all the way from here to May or June before it falls. What’s this year’s record top figure going to be?

Remember that initial starting figure of 313ppm, in 1958? That wasn’t a lowest-figure-of-the-year, that was an annual average. So, what was the lowest figure recorded 2014/15, remembering that the Curve generally hits its low point in about September/October?

396ppm.

In 2013/14 that low point was 393ppm.

It’s well worth having a look at the record of atmospheric CO2 over the last 800,000 years. Most of that record, of course, is derived from ice core samples and not direct measurements, but if that spike at the end doesn’t worry you, all I can say is: you’re not like me. It worries me a lot.

It re-inforces other recent research results indicating that climate change has jammed its foot on the throttle and is heading straight for the edge of the cliff, and we’re still worrying about our economies and whether or not we’re paying enough into our pension pots.

Shouldn’t we be thinking about uncontrollable mass migrations on a scale never before seen, as approximately 23% of the world’s population decides living within 30 feet of sea level isn’t clever in a more hurricane/typhoon prone world? Not to mention the dropping crop yields as heat-stressed rice and wheat fail to grow normally? Does anyone think those hundreds of millions of climate refugees will wait for visas and immigration paperwork?

Don’t forget, the warmer it gets, the more positive feedback loops kick in to ensure it continues getting hotter, faster. Replacing reflective white sea-ice with heat-absorbing dark water, melting perma-frost releasing the frozen bogs of the tundra to rot and produce methane, destabilising methane clathrates to release (yet more) methane…. these all push the foot harder on the climate change pedal.

What about brakes?

Sulfur dioxide from volcanic eruptions can cause short-term climate cooling by preventing sunshine from reaching the ground, reflecting it back into space high in the atmosphere – but do we want lots of volcanic eruptions? Are we willing to bet on nature conveniently tipping off a few thousand extra large volcanos just when we need them? (At any time, about 1,500 volcanoes in the world are active – and they’re not slowing things down any at the moment!) And in any case, lots of sulfur dioxide in the air means lots of acid rain coming back down, sooner or later. Remember the troubles that caused, back in the 70s and early 80s?

How about more clouds? Clouds also block sunlight and reduce the temperature at the surface. Unfortunately, to get more clouds, we’d need more water vapour in the air and water vapour (unlike the water droplets in clouds) is a greenhouse gas, so that one may not work so well either.

Eventually, the Earth’s natural cycles will deal with all the carbon we’ve liberated into the air – but it will take hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years. Eventually, sea creatures building their shells from carbonates and dying, sinking to the seabed and forming silt will become new chalk and limestone deposits. Eventually, rocks weathering in the mild carbonic acid of rain will chemically react to remove the cardon dioxide from the air.

Any volunteers to wait that long? No?

There’s only one way to slow down the acceleration of climate change, and that’s to stop putting more carbon dioxide (and soot, and methane, and water vapour) into the air to begin with, which means we (humans) need to stop burning fossil fuels. Still no sign of any movement in that direction on the part of humans as a whole, so I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

Which means, logically enough, that we’re still heading towards that cliff, pedal to the metal.

We ain’t seen nothing yet. But we’re going to, and I’ll bet we see it sooner than anyone’s expecting.