The extraordinary weather that the country is experiencing – Sky News – 19 December 15

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Sky News: Well let’s stay with that story about this extraordinary weather that the country is experiencing. We are joined now by Tom Burke, the chairman and founding director of the environmental think tank E3G. Tom thanks very much indeed for joining us. There’s this thing that we are having to live with now, isn’t there, where the weather is strange, and people say it might be climate change, and other people say no, no it’s just El Nino it’s something that happens in the south, and the jet stream changes, and it might not necessarily be the same next year. We’re stuck again with that decision aren’t we?

Tom Burke: Clearly climate change is playing a part. You have natural variability, and then what’s driving the base of that natural variability up is a changing climate, and it’s not just in Britain, it’s all over the world. We have had an extraordinary year, not just here, we have had flood in the Atacama desert, which is the driest part of the planet. We had the highest temperatures ever recorded in Antarctica. We have had the most extraordinary storms in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. So there is a whole series of things that can’t just be explained as the natural variability of the weather. 

Sky News: People put forward the thesis of climate change, and then the discussion was had, and it’s been being had for the last 20 years, have always been said that it’s not just going to get warmer, the weather patterns are going to change. And yet climate change deniers still feel comfortable about saying, look this isn’t the kind of evidence that I can change my mind about yet. 

Tom Burke: Well that’s true about the deniers, but then some people still think that the earth is flat, there is nothing you can do about that. What I think is really important that’s happening to people now is there own experience, year on year, is in fact endorsing what the science has been saying for some time. People, whether it’s birdwatchers noticing birds arriving earlier in the year, or whether it’s people taking care of their own gardens. Or in a much more unpleasant way whether its floods like we have just seen here up in Cumbria. What you’ve had is a one in a hundred year event happening three times in the last decade. So I think that the message is getting through as experience not just as the facts.

Sky News: Now meteorologists can explain the situation we are in at the moment, simply put I suppose we are stuck in a certain holding pattern, with weather that is more at home in North Africa than it is up here, unable to find itself being pushed southwards as it normally would be by a jet stream coming over the top of it. Does that mean that this is going to happen next year or the year afterwards, or perhaps just in a couple of years time and then two years after that. 

Tom Burke: I think that what we are going to see is more variability, It’s quite clear that the climate is beginning to influence the jet stream, as it slows down it is gets lazier, and so you get these periods where you have either a prolonged warm spell or a prolonged cold spell as you’ve seen in other parts of the world, and in a sense what you’ve got is a bit like a pendulum, and as the earth warms, it’s like putting more energy into a pendulum, so it swings more violently and of course it comes back across the middle every time, but the extremes are further and further out. 

Sky News: One of the things that people are noticing particularly in rural parts now, is that flowers are blossoming when they should be coming out in February, and trees aren’t shedding with the confidence they should and they’re looking a bit healthier than they should in winter. That is real evidence of and upset, and it’s hard to predict how you manage those kinds of upsets, because we do rely on the seasons very much don’t we?   

Tom Burke: Well if what we are seeing now is caused by quite early climate change, it’s like the prelude to the full movie, we really don’t want to experience the full thing, and that’s what the scientists have been warning about, that we must stay below two degrees, because as we edge up toward two, life becomes more unpleasant, in the way that you have described, and more unpredictable. So what scientist have advised governments is that going above two takes us into the area where the climate may become unmanageable. I think that is why we saw such a pulling together of the world at the Climate Summit in Paris last week, because I think this is now getting to the point where the politicians realize that the public is experiencing, as it were, the early onset of a changing climate.

Sky News: If you think back to the first Earth Summit in Rio, in 1992, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands these were were the guys who were always pushed to the front to explain the dilemma, they were seen as being on the front line, the water levels rising would be our first indicator. But now we’ve probably got no end of volunteers coming forward and saying our country also is starting to experience strange weather patterns. 

Tom Burke: I think you’re right about that. For a long time it was thought of as a problem that was over there, somewhere far off, and it was not really thought about, and I think that it is beginning to get through now that this is a problem that effects everybody. That’s why I think that we saw such a coming together in Paris. Nobody escapes the consequences of a changing climate. Not everybody has conflict, not everybody has illness, or ill health, or poor education, or a bad government, but everybody deals with a changing climate.

Sky News: Looking then at this Christmas for us, we can see people hovering, whether we are in Northern Ireland, or Scotland, or Wales and we are getting more wet weather on the west side but largely we are hovering around 12 to 15 degrees, it would take the jet stream to push that Saharan weather to the south. Do you think that will happen this year? and would it be quite sudden? Would we go to bed with 12 degrees and wake up with a fresh 5? 

Tom Burke: Well to get a really good answer to that I think that you would have to ask a meteorologist, and that’s not what I do. But I think the question is can you get quite sudden changes in the weather? And the answer is yes you can. It is like a pendulum swinging and is you put more energy into that pendulum swinging it swings faster and so the change that takes place is faster.

Sky News: And just briefly, just you idea on what type of weather pattern might the UK have to get used to over the next 10 to 15 years? I guess that wind and rain would be headlines?

Tom Burke: Well I think that depends on where you are. So I think we’ve seen wind and rain, but I also think that part of the outcome of a changing climate is that dry areas tend to get drier. So I think that we are beginning to see more periods, not of drought, but prolonged dry periods in the South East of the country. We see very visibly this difference between different parts of the country.

 

 

About tomburke

Tom Burke is the Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, and an Environmental Policy Adviser (part time) to Rio Tinto plc. He is a Visiting Professor at both Imperial and University Colleges, London. He is a member of the External Review Committee of Shell and the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board of Unilever and a Trustee of the Black-E Community Arts Project, Liverpool.
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