Floods, storms and heatwaves have swept the nation. But take my word for it—we haven't seen anything yetby Bill McGuire / September 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
Like the proverbial frog squatting unconcerned in a pan of water as the temperature is slowly racked up, a significant chunk of humankind still fails to grasp that the end result of ever climbing temperatures will be our annihilation. Compared to earthquakes, volcanic blasts and hurricanes, climate breakdown driven by global heating is a slow-onset catastrophe. Never mind that our world is almost certainly heating at a faster rate than at any time in its history—for most of us it is simply too slow to notice.
For more than 200 years, we have been pumping carbon dioxide, the main planet-heating gas, into the atmosphere in ever greater quantities. In all that time, the global average temperature has climbed by a little over one degree. In the UK, the benchmark Central England Temperature (CET) has risen by around 1.5 degrees Celsius over the same period. Neither rise may sound like much, but bear in mind that the Earth’s climate system is so sensitive that just eight or nine degrees separates the deepest ice age from a hothouse world with dramatically reduced polar ice sheets and sea levels 10 metres higher than they are now.
Nonetheless, the smidgen of additional warmth that accrues each year goes largely unheeded by anyone who isn’t a weather forecaster or climate scientist. What does attract our attention, however, is the increasingly savage weather that piggybacks on global heating, which is beginning to open our eyes to the breakdown of our once (relatively) stable climate.
Of course, there have always been weather extremes, but in recent years these extremes have become much more frequent—and they are in danger of becoming the new normal.
This is now obvious to anyone who follows global headlines. As I write, wildfires have destroyed a couple of million acres in California and continue to rage. Out in the tropical Atlantic, two major storms formed in a single day in what is already an astonishingly active hurricane season, while in India and Nepal, monsoon floods have taken a thousand lives and counting. Predictions warn of more of the same, only worse. As far back as 1997, geophysical and climate hazards affected as many as 1 in 30 people worldwide. This figure has only…