Some years ago, I read a weather forecaster who said that the effects of global warming were unlikely to be what people were expecting – even looking forward to. Familiar weather patterns would not disappear, he said, but become instead more extreme. Droughts would occur more often and last longer. So would floods, snow storms, and deadly heat waves.
For Britain, the forecaster said, the chances were that colder winter temperatures would sweep down from the arctic. They might dump snow on America, but as the weather systems crossed the Atlantic, they would turn to rain, bringing more rain, gale-force winds, and potentially disastrous floods to Ireland and Britain.
Well, this might not be global warming. One can’t say with certainty until a clear pattern has set in over many years, by which time it may be far more difficult if not impossible to reverse forces that have been triggered by greenhouse gases.
But the weather we are experiencing now in Ireland and Britain sounds like it could be a brutal introduction to environmental change, and is breaking centuries of records. Storms have been arriving on a conveyor belt from America since December. Some people have been flooded out of their homes since before Christmas, and many will never be able to go back. Tens of thousands of acres of farmland are under water, and herds of farm animals are in grave trouble. Tonight more than a quarter of a million homes in Ireland are without electricity and half that many again in England. A thousand people were evacuated from their homes just last night. Sewage water is backing up into the streets and into people’s houses. Some homes have been told not to flush their toilets but to use porto-toilets. Gale winds have washed rail lines into the sea and blocked access to much of England’s south-west coast.
The army and navy are both out, supporting thousands of volunteers who have been working for weeks to try to hold the sea at bay, and politicians have been buying boots in order to wade about in the waters to make it look like they are doing something.
What is most worrying is that it is getting worse and there is no end in sight. These weekly – even tri-weekly – storms could last into the end of March, bringing more rain and floods, uprooting more trees whose roots have been loosened by the water, pushing more people out of their homes. When I hear weather forecasters telling Americans in the north that more snow is coming to be added to their already 15-foot snow banks, I tremble. I know what that kind of snow is like. But when it arrives as unrelenting rain, it’s devastation can be even worse.
We here in Cambridge are not getting the worst of it. Roads are closed and fields are flooded. Yesterday when we returned from shopping, we had to take four separate detours to get through.
But we’re not flooded out – yet anyway.
I won’t say it’s easy, but there is a spirit of determination among the English right now. I won’t say they aren’t angry. And they certainly aren’t enjoying it. But they are pulling up their boots.
If the only expected result of global warming were the potential for flooding, I wouldn’t worry about Britain. They’re going to solve this problem one way or another.
In the meantime, it’s wet. And depressing.
I think I’ll make a cup of tea