Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Turning up the heat


One day in the future the Wash will extend inland as far as the cities of Peterborough and Cambridge. That means much of the Fens - including the market town of Spalding where the Lighthouse Keeper currently resides - will be under water.

And, if as expected, sea levels rise significantly the story will be repeated throughout the country - not to mention key cities and settlements around the world.

On the English south coast, the naval bases of Portsmouth and Plymouth will largely disappear. Further north, Hull will be lost, as will much of south Yorkshire.

Middlesbrough would succumb to the waves and, in the northwest, Chester would be flooded. In the east, rising sea levels will eventually claim Felixstowe, Southend and Great Yarmouth.

Around London, the Thames estuary would probably expand to three or four times its current breadth, eliminating most of Dagenham, Stratford and Ilford in the process.

And, unless huge flood defences that dwarf the current barriers are created, the whole of central London would become very seriously water-logged.

But we have to be honest. Despite the mounting evidence are we capable of mitigating such an impending disaster?

Part of the problem is that the world’s own climate disaster movie will be years in the making and is set for release only on an indeterminable date in the future - a distant event horizon.

The worst effects of climate change and global warming for most of us may be perhaps still some 50, 100 or 150 years hence.

But what we don’t know is whether this estimated timescale is fixed. Or will significant trigger points - like the melting of polar ice - have an exponential and accelerating effect?

If the recent European elections are anything to go by climate change, energy policy and the environment will likely disappear into the murky background of science denial and fear in Europe of far-right politicians before the UK’s national elections next spring.

Earlier this year, amid growing warnings about a potential link between global warming and extreme UK weather, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, raised concerns that political consensus about the need to tackle climate change was in danger of breaking down.

He said that the actions of climate deniers - and those in the Conservative and UKIP parties who try to discredit the science - is "undermining public trust in the scientific evidence for climate change".

Criticising those who seize on "any anomaly in the climate data to attempt to discredit the whole", Mr Davey added that "we can see around us today the possible consequences of a world in which extreme weather events are much more likely".

A joint report this spring from the UK Met Office and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, entitled ‘The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK’, points out that the 12cm rise in sea level over the 20th century has already exacerbated coastal flooding.

It goes on to say that a further rise of between 11cm and 16cm is expected by 2030, two-thirds of which is attributable to the effects of climate change.

Last month scientists at a NASA conference announced they had collected enough observations to conclude that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen sea sector of West Antarctica was unstoppable.

Its disappearance will likely trigger the future collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet - which brings with it a global sea level rise of between three and five metres.

Eventually, rising sea levels will displace millions of people worldwide and one headline in a US magazine reporting the NASA conference ran the headline - ‘This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like’.


For those who have seen the recent film ‘Noah’ starring Russell Crowe, based on the story of a Biblical flood, there might be parallels to be drawn.

"For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away."                           Matthew 24:38-39

Like the people of Noah’s time, we remain wilfully oblivious to the looming human ecological catastrophe.

Are we prepared to accept huge changes in living standards merely to limit - rather than halt - the rise in temperatures and ensuing problems?

And where capitalism rules, can anyone persuade our politicians to put the future ahead of the present, apart from in a sound bite?

Sometimes the task ahead feels as hopeless as arguing against growing old. This is, indeed, a ‘holy shit’ moment for the world and it seems like something of a miracle is needed.


The Lighthouse Keeper is written by Clive Simpson - for more information, commission
enquiries or to re-publish any of his articles click here for contact information

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