Paradoxical climate change

Are we enjoying our rather too prolonged winter this year? Have the climate sceptics started to feel a little triumphalist? Is this all rather unexpected?

The answers are, respectively, no, yes and no.

The point about climate change is that it is chaotic. We can point to trends extending over centuries (such as the change in atmospheric chemistry) or global average temperature but we cannot say for sure what the outcome will be for specific areas of the planet.

This week comes news of sustained minus forty degree weather in central Asia with vast losses of domestic animals and simultaneously there is news of a large island in the delta that forms a major part of Bangladesh being finally abandoned to the rising waves – the chief reason for the rising water being the thermal expansion of the oceans.

The areas of greatest warming tend to be in the polar and circumpolar regions where, nonetheless, it remains very cold by most people’s reckoning. Its only a few weeks since a slab of ice large enough to constitute a hazard to navigation in the southern oceans broke free.

That climate change is taking place is incontestable. That it is largely due to man’s influence is incontestable. That the future is only predictable in terms of general trends is incontestable.

We have started an experiment with our planet that has not been done before and we are living right in the middle of the consequences of our own actions. We have no means of altering the course of the experiment in the short to medium term but we can take steps to ameliorate the long term trends for the benefit of distant generations.

This debate has, unfortunately, been hijacked by the typical short termism of politics-as-usual. If we can learn to lengthen our political perspectives on this topic perhpas the benefits could be felt in other areas too.

This is a threat and a learning opportunity too.

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