Friday, January 26, 2007

Something in the air: climate change is hot

Ominous-looking clouds viewed from my farm in North Wales

Top of the Pops: It's part of my job as a freelance climate change editor for to follow breaking news stories and the latest blog opinion from around the world. So I scan through hundreds of newsfeeds every week and I'm getting a concerted message, loud and clear: climate change issues are top of the agenda just about everywhere, but particularly in North America and, increasingly, China.

The Pigs are flying: Even George W managed to use the phrase 'global climate change' (once) in his lacklustre State of the Union address. ExxonMobil has suddenly become - or has appeared to become - greener, finally pushed by the Union of Concerned Scientists' report into the oil company's covert funding of climate sceptics. Yes, the climate pigs are in the air. The deniers haven't gone away but they're becoming marginalised. It looks like the year Sir David Attenborough, courtesy of the BBCthings are going to really start to happen. Politicians are picking up the scent and realising not only that many people but also many corporations want them to do something; to legislate. Sir Nicholas Stern has proposed a world carbon tax. Carbon rationing is being talked about as if it might actually happen. On 21 January, Sir David Attenborough presented Climate Change - Britain Under Threat at peak time on BBC television. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is now available free if you haven't seen it. A couple of days ago, BBC2 screened Should I Really Give Up Flying?

"What people (must) do is to change their behaviour and their attitudes. If we do care about our grandchildren then we have to do something, and we have to demand that our governments do something." Sir David Attenborough, BBC.

Is The End Nigh? But will all this frenzy of activity and potential action be enough and in time? Who knows, but we will shortly have a much better idea as the IPCC finalizes its Fourth Assessment Report "Climate Change 2007", due for release on 2 February. Pre-publication syntheses of this report do not make cheerful reading. Just about everything previously predicted is going to be worse than expected and happen sooner. So, as is it is becoming customary to say, when someone has just written such doom-laden words, we've got to change and we have to do it now. I am doing so. How about you?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spring or winter?

Cow parsley in full flower - but in early JanuaryWhat time of the year is it? It's 5th January, 2007. Today was mild and sunny and look what I found in full flower in one of the hedgerows: it's cow parsley (a member of the carrot family).

Where am I? Latitude 52.53 North (New York city is 40°47' N) where the days are, right now, almost as short as they get since we're only 2 weeks past the winter solstice.

What's the weather like? It's Wales so we expect gales and rain. And we've had gales and rain most of the time for a couple of months. Normally we'd expect a few frosts by this time of year but so far there have been none here (70 metres above sealevel on a peninsula surrounded by the sea though my farm is 5 kilometres inland).

What's up? My Oxford book of wild flowers tells me that the season for this cow parsley to flower is April-June. So what's going on? This 'winter' is the mildest for I don't know how many years. The Met Office says that '2007 is likely to be the warmest year on record globally, beating the current record set in 1998'. And that's after the warmest autumn on record. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what's up with the weather and the climate which hosts it.

The downside of mild winters: I grow vegetables for a living. The picture below is a view of my polytunnel crops this afternoon.
Vegetables growing in the polytunnel, but look at the way the mildew affects the lettuce leaves (inset) in this mild damp weather
It all looks quite neat and productive, don't you think? But look at the inset of the lettuce; the bottom leaves of the plant are all but consumed by downy mildew which is a serious problem in mild damp weather. If it's properly cold, the fungal spores become inactive but this hasn't happened at all this winter and the result has been serious damage to hundreds of lettuces. I've had to throw away many of them because of the mildew.

So it may be agreeable for many of us not connected to food production to experience mild winters but it certainly doesn't suit the plants, many of which think it's spring. As if to emphasise this point, I saw a really weird sight this afternoon: small potato plants growing in the ground where I'd left some tubers. Potato plants are particularly susceptible to frosts and would normally be wiped out in October or November. Not this year. A taste of things to come perhaps? Severe gales, endless heavy rain and mildness. Come to think of it, that's just what the climate models predict for a warming world, isn't it?

Finally, my Link of the Week from the Union of Concerned Scientists: ExxonMobil’s Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science