Sunday, 19 December 2010

Global warming or climate change?

My wife was due to fly to England today, but all the flights to Heathrow have been cancelled due to snow on the runway. In years gone by, the main meteorological risk was fog. But this is now the third year in a row that the UK faces 'unprecedented' wintery weather at this time of year.

Back in 2008/09, when the capital experienced the heaviest snowfalls in 20 years, London's mayor Boris Johnson said that investing in snow ploughs to keep London's streets clear would be a questionable investment. He said that the £27m cost of buying adequate numbers of snow ploughs (London had only 16 of them!) would be scoffed at should there be another 20 winters during which there would be no heavy snow.

Last winter, we turned up at Luton Airport to find our hire car under eight inches (20cm) of wet and heavy snow. "Please check the car on collection to ensure that there are no scratches or other minor damage for which you will be charged on return" - a joke. I was indeed charged £35 for a scratch to the front bumper - I could not prove it was not me, as I was unable to inspect the car on collection. And of course - no winter tyres.

Not only on hire cars - winter tyres are completely unknown in Britain. The police, fire and ambulance services do not use winter tyres. Buses do not use winter tyres. Nor do emergency breakdown services. Last Christmas, the battery on my mother-in-law's car packed up. The AA came to fit a new one - and the breakdown van got stuck on a relatively gentle incline. I had to help rescue the rescue service with a shovel!

Looking at the UK press reports of snow chaos, the words 'snow ploughs' and 'grit' are all over the pages, but 'salt' or 'winter tyres' are noticable for their absence. Grit is not an answer. The kind of road salt used in Poland (calcium chloride rather than sodium chloride or table salt) when mixed in the right proportions with water will only freeze at temperatures of -20C. This type of salt is used rarely in the UK. Grit improves adhesion between tyres and road but does not lower the freezing point of water.

So three snowy winters in a row in the UK after a long run of relatively warm ones. "Global warming? What global warming?" one hears. The phrase (used in connection with the results of rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels caused by human activity) has been superceded in the media and government circles by the term climate change, though the terminology is synonymous. Though when local temperatures fall as a result of an overall rise in global temperatures, the voices of the doubters become louder.

As the polar icecap retreats, so icebergs drift south, pushing the Gulf Stream, which warms Britain in winter, is diverted southward. And so a warmer globe paradoxically makes the UK subject to colder winters. In theory.

In practice, looking back since I started blogging in April 2007, I can see that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent; in the case of Poland it's summer flooding rather than unusually cold winters (which until recently seemed to have been getting milder).

My take on climate change/global warming is analogous to Pascal's approach to the existence (or not) of God. If God exists, and I don't believe in Him, I'm damned. If God doesn't exist and I do believe, I've lost nothing. If God does exist and I believe, I'm saved. Similarly, if the planet's climate is not changing due to anthropogenic causes, but I'm careful with my energy use, I've lost nothing, at best I've saved money. If my actions can help slow down global warming, I'm doing something useful. So cut your carbon footprint - couldn't hurt.

10 comments:

student SGH said...

Probably the answer to the goings-on in weather in Europe from December 2009 is Atlantic Oscillation - when it enters "negative phase", inflow of air from over Atlantic to Europe is blocked, thus winters are harsh and summers are hot. It is also conducive to formation of Genoa Lows, resulting in heavy snowfalls or floods like the one in May 2010.

Another theory is the solar activity, particluarly number of sunspots. In my view it is the solar activity that determines climate on Earth, not us. Putting down climate change to mankind is for me over-estimating our capacities. But saving energy is laudable anyway.

But today weather here is wonderful, isn't it?

Michael Dembinski said...

A wonderful day to be sure. I would question your view regarding anthropogenic nature of climate change. You are flying in the face of climate change consensus.

Intuition is one thing, but heeding the voice of the majority of scientific experts another.

sportif said...

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

Are we agreed then that the scientific community is engaged in a conspiracy against the rest of humanity? Just to amuse itself? Mischief? Left-of-center political agenda? Are our observations of our local conditions, frozen runways and snow nestling on bonnets of hire cars, theories on alternative external causes, and faith in maverick scientists in the pay of BP et all more valid than the observation made by the majority of scientific observers that this is so far the warmest year on record, observed globally.
Anyway, God knows, right? and after months of balmy, dry heat, it is snowy, Nordic skiing kind of scene here in this corner of the N.American altiplano where I have to put up with the weather, whatever it may happen to be...

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

oh, and I'm not commenting on anyone's comments when I question the anti-science stance so popular these days. Just had to get it out of my system.

student SGH said...

OK, to be more accurate, if mean temperatures on earth grow on average by one degree, I think no more than 0.3 degrees can be attributed to our activity, so if it hadn't been for us, temperatures would rise, but not that fast.

Again, humans aren't capable of fighting the nature...

Anonymous said...

Does Britain have no money in the budget for a few more snow ploughs? How embarrassing! And how much do they plan on spending on the Royal Wedding next year?

White Horse Pilgrim said...

Not only are there too few snow ploughs in London but the mop haired clown of a mayor is relying on a loan shark to subsidise travel on New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile the fragmented railway copes variably at best and the various parts blame one another for problems that a vertically integrated operation might better cope with.

But hey let's deny that huiman activity is responsible for most of global warming. Then people across Eastern Europe need not feel any guilt in copying the worst excesses of the West when they buy big cars, build big houses and let public transport sink into oblivion. Or is doublethink, that useful legacy of communism, still flourishing?

Maciek said...

Wow ! Still being misled by mass-media ? Sorry to hear that. Still taking "carbon-footprint" ? Please, grow up.

Michael Dembinski said...

Demonstrate some thought and I might be bothered to enter into an argument with you. Yawn.