You could look at 2012 and smile when you think back to the hosepipe bans at the start of the year, and then the tension as we wait now to find out whether it was the wettest year on record or not – in the end it has gained the No. 2 slot. It’s good sport to smile at the water authorities – but look closer at the data and I think the message is rather different.
Four of the five wettest years on record have been in the last 10 years – something is clearly happening to our climate. This makes me reflect on a book I have recently finished, “Why the West Rules, for now…” by US Historian Ian Morris. I would need to read more widely to hear different views on the ‘patterns of history’ to truely put his thesis into context but a couple of things struck me. (1) The world has in the past often hit ceilings of development, which it has taken a breakthrough to pass – the most recent being the limit we could pass thanks to harnessing the power of coal in the industrial revolution (2) One of the ‘5 reasons’ common behind the fall of empires has been climate change.
That the climate is changing now – at very least in it’s stability / the presence of more ‘extreme’ and less humdrum weather – is not a new thing. My school education in history was poor verging on pointless, but life has shown me the value of understanding events of the past to better understand and manage events of the present. If (as an individual or as a society) we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are destined to repeat those mistakes. Are we about to hit another ceiling? If we do it is likely to cause our ‘social development’ to fall back dramatically for a a few 10’s-100’s years. (or so history suggests – we don’t just bump along such ceilings, we tend to rebound backwards to a lower state of development caused by the challenge that sustains the ceiling)
History shows us that a change in world climate is a significant matter – it is not just a matter or buying a new raincoat and choosing to holiday in different destinations to those we went to in the past, it is a whole lot more significant than that. The ability of certain countries to grow their traditional crops will change. Places which were good for agriculture will shift from one country or continent to another – and with the shift in food production we are likely to see a shift in population – migration. Again history shows us that significant levels of migration are another of the ‘5 reasons’ common behind the fall of empires.
When we see (and in Lancashire really feel!) the rainfall data it should be telling us and our politicians that we need to adapt the way we live and the way we organise ourselves if in the next 50-100 years we are not to ‘fail’ as a nation (let us not forget the impact on the developing world too – but that’s a topic for another post). Ian Morris suggest that what is needed is organisation on a pan-country basis – this seems reasonable, as the issues of CO2 emissions – for example – cannot be dealt with by one country or continent alone.
So, UK Government – what are you doing to –
Smooth out the weird weather by better capturing the excess rainfall of the wet season for distribution and use in the dry periods?
Encourage people to become less dependent on unnecessary travel – why do so many people drive for an hour to get to work, rather than live where they work, or (in our increasingly interconnected world) work from home?
… as but two examples?
But remember that as individuals we all have responsibilities too –
Could you install a water butt (or two) to make better use of rain water?
Could you cycle to work rather than drive?
Could a small car take the place of your 4×4 status symbol?
Could you turn your thermostat down from 20 to 18 Celcius
Could you eat one non-meat meal a week?
I’m not a fan of the EU – but it seems that pan-national organisations are going to be needed. I wonder, could they spend more time preparing Europe for changes in climate / society and less time measuring and then defining the maximum arc allowed in the shape of imported banana’s or paying subsidies for southern European farmers to claim set aside on car parks?