In 1988, the UN chose to formally adopt the term ‘climate change’ rather than ‘global warming’, recognising that the climate was being destabilised in unpredictable ways. Some parts of the world might warm, but others might not. Some might see greater extremes at both ends of the temperature scale.
This year’s weather proves the wisdom of that decision, as the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere refuses to deliver a neat linear increase in warmth. Following last year’s drought and then relentless rain, 2013 has delivered an exceptionally cold March and a delayed spring. As a gardener, this grieves me – I’d really like a ‘normal’ year.
“In a sense we have moved from the idea of global warming to the idea of climate change” said Britain’s chief scientist Sir John Beddington this week. “Temperatures are increasing but the thing that is going to happen is that we are going to see much more variability in our weather.” As evidence that that view is gaining acceptance, consider that you can read Sir John’s comments in the Express, in an article that doesn’t use the word ‘hoax’ even once.
This year’s cold spring may well be linked to climate change. One hypothesis is that as Arctic sea ice retreats, it changes the Jetstream that governs weather over the northern hemisphere, moving cold air further south.
This wasn’t expected. Ten years ago Britain hadn’t had serious snow for years, leading climate scientists to speculate about whether children would even know what snow was. We’re catching up with a dynamic climate system that we don’t fully understand.
The effects of our destabilised climate ripple out and overlap with other large scale problems – food, energy, resource depletion, and a struggling economy.
I look at my fruit trees and wonder if they will blossom at all this year. Britain’s farmers are fighting to save the season’s lambs. Extra gas supplies have come in from Qatar, Trinidad, Belgium and the Netherlands as we carry on using our heating more than usual. Economists fear an unprecedented triple-dip recession as people stay at home in the cold. Climate change is keeping all of us on our toes.