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Why is the UK public more ‘climate sceptical’ than the rest of Europe

On one of the bbc blogs there was a quote “In general, the UK public is more ‘climate sceptical’ than the rest of Europe.”

Surely that’s because our “weather” is more evident than our climate.

On the continent they have “climate” of which their weather is a subset. In the UK we have weather, in summer it could be hot, cold, windy, wet, foggy, in extreme cases it might hail or even snow! In Italy in summer it is hot and sunny, it is hotter now than 10 years ago. In the Alps it used to be invariably very cold and snowy. Increasingly it is not so cold and not so snowy.

This trend is just not experienced in the UK unless you are interested, look hard and perhaps live in the country. Less snow isn’t a clue, but Swallows arriving early means Africa is hotter earlier. Bluebell walks increasingly seeing the flowers on their way out rather than in full bloom and Daffodils now blooming in late February !!!

Look deeper and we see fish stocks moving north, non native species appearing in our southern seas round Cornwall and Dorset, even up to Hampshire, Kent  and the Thames Estuary. Other effects are the real sea level rise, hidden to the casual observer due to wind, waves and tides but for the local, that 2 or 3 centimetres of sea level rise is a clear indication of change.

With the majority of people living in cities, in a largely artificial environment all of this just isn’t seen. How many Londoners know the frequency of the Thames Barrier being raised?

Going back to the title and the implications. If there is a strong public feeling that Climate Change is not real, the pressure on our Government to do something is slackened. Climate Change, unlike war doesn’t have  a fixed date of declaration, a point in time from which we can all work together.

Climate Change will keep happening and speeding up, perhaps it will take the destruction of a city to wake us all up to that fact? Perhaps not,. New Orleans was devastated, bad luck and an off course Hurricane was blamed. Perhaps when the Thames Barrier is overtopped the general feeling will be it was just a combination of weather events, no more than a perfect storm!


UK Climate – Sea Level Rise

The UKCP09 shows the most recent calculated projection based on existing data. As usual the big problems are 2 generations and more away!

So, something to not worry about now, lets get back to the banking crisis, unemployment, whose up for eviction on Big Brother!

But, it seems that each year these projections are released, they are invariably sooner and worse! Arctic ice was going to last the rest of the century, then it cam to 2030s then at least 20 years, then 2013 – that was last year (2008) But I wonder if we will see any real summer ice in 2010?

Sea level rise, again its going to be no more than a metre by 2100. But doesn’t that mean 1/2 metre by 2050? And that’s average sea level rises and most of that’s coming from the Greenland ice sheet melting!

Greenland, that’s not far away and for it to lead to a 1/2 metre global average increase, aren’t we assuming that the Greenland melt water is going to pretty quickly travel round the world and even out?

Add a bit of science here and avoid being simplistic – or even perhaps imagining the earth is flat. Its a sphere, in space and subject to its own gravity.

Why would a mass travel from its position at one side of the sphere to go to the other side when its already in equilibrium. The current mass (weight) of ice in Greenland, when melted will surely remain as close as possible to point of equilibrium. If a significant proportion were to somehow flow all the way round to the Pacific, the Earth’s centre of gravity would surely have to shift to compensate? After all this is a sphere subject to its own gravity!

That being the case, rather than this 1/2 meter increase by 2050 or 1 metre by 2100 being spread over the worlds oceans, won’t it be retained or spread out over the north Atlantic and Arctic oceans? Even were it to spread evenly round the globe, it would still have to flow through the Bering Straights – a fairly small gap, or take the long route via the Southern Capes, again a bit of a constriction before reaching the mass of the Pacific!

But I don’t see what science there is that makes a mass, even one that is liquid, flow out of equilibrium?

The North Atlantic and Arctic make up lets say 1/4 of the worlds Ocean surface. To my mind that means to keep our sphere in equilibrium, most of the sea level rise due to the melting of the Greenland ice caps will be remain in that region. A global average 1 metre will therefore mean we will see a local 4 metre sea level rise, perhaps significantly higher nearer to Greenland, after all, that is where the mass should remain in order to retain our world’s spherical shape without implying a marginal shift in the earth’s centre!

What with sea level just starting to make an impact and the prospect of relatively larger rises over the next decade. What would be a 10 cm average increase could of course be a 40 cm increase on the North European coastline. The North Eastern shore of the United States and Canada is a bit closer to Greenland.

The US fails in its Carbon Responsibilities

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the US will not be able to cut greenhouse emissions as much as it should due to domestic political opposition.

Basically, the worry is that if they do the minimum that is required, the public will object and turn away completely from any changes that are required to mitigate climate change. A bit like Neville Chamberlain and peace in our time, Climate Change is Czechoslovakia, that small uninteresting place far away.

Its just that by appeasing Hitler then we reaped the whirlwind.

By constantly putting off real action on Climate Change, there will be no whirlwind, more a perfect storm.  

Even where the USA is waking up to the need to make change, its only the big and manly projects they want to take on. When US policy advisers suggest that we would only need to put solar PV on just 5% of the worlds deserts, it shows how totally out of touch from reality they are. Meanwhile they miss the utterly outrageous waste of energy that goes on in the US. While we are adding a third or fourth layer of loft insulation, in the USA, most houses do not have insulation which is relevant both in the air conditioned South and the heated North!

If the USA were to take Climate Change seriously, surely they, as the remaining superpower has an real chance of  working towards a way of having a technical populous civilisation while preserving the climate that we know.

What about a Manhattan Project with Fusion power as the goal? Okay we have had JET and now ITER, but these are long drawn out projects that are more akin to basic research, Physicists playing! There is little desperation to take ideas through to the point where they are products.

JET at Culham was a project of the 1980s. That was 30 years ago! The Manhattan Project went from Nuclear energy as a theory to the bomb in 5 years, then little more than another 10 years to Britain’s 1st Nuclear power station!  

Perhaps we are too focused on Solar Energy?

Airport in the Thames – Actually not that bad an idea!

Boris Johnson’s proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary is simply a re-statement of an idea that regularly crops up. Back in the 1970s it was Maplin Sands or Foulness island off the Essex coast. The same contrary ideas were posted – bad for the local environment, the birds won’t have a nesting area etc. All ideas I would totally agree with, however there has been a major change since then which undermines many of the anti arguments and perhaps indicates this latest re-hash is a trifle underdone.

The Thames is getting Deeper

The London Airport on an island in the Thames idea, linked by bridges to Isles of Grain, Sheppy and the Essex coast misses the point that the whole area – which is underwater now, will be even deeper in the not too distant future, so any islands need to be raised higher than any prospective sea level increase.

One Metre Sea Level Rise – maybe in as short as 30 years for us!

But, isn’t the supposed 1 metre sea level increase not for at least a year? Well not such a delay if the recent research from Detleff Stammer is correct. See:  New Scientist article 12 July 2008 Atlantic Meltwater Threat commenting on Detlef Stammer’s work basically the simple and logical fact that next to thermal expansion, the major cause of sea level increase will be coming from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

Now, consider that the water from that melt has some distance to go to get to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, ie about 75% of the planets Oceans. Its hardly going to go through the relatively very narrow (40 miles) Berring Straights! The melt water is going to take some considerable time (about 30 years) to flow South and round the Capes (Good Hope and Horn) before it is able to start to average out globally.

And in numbers

Lets say there was ice loss leading to an average sea level increase of 30cm over 30years (ie the equivalent of 1 metre over 100 years), but if it takes 30 years for that water to migrate from the North Atlantic to average out over the world’s Oceans, that sea level increase will be multiplied many fold in the North Atlantic, good news for the Pacific Islands who will have a significant breathing space! Don’t forget that as last years meltwater flows south, there’s more backing up after it!

Do the Math

Atlantic = 25% of worlds oceans, 30cm average sea level increase melts from Greenland over a period of 30 years, takes 30 years to travel out of Atlantic.

Perhaps we should plan now for big problems?

Perhaps we are looking at a rapid sea level increase in our part of the world, something we need to prepare for now, rather than leaving it to our grandchildren, I’m 50, I would expect to see the ‘Hollywood style’ impact of global warming in my lifetime.

But, as long as the flow out of the Atlantic matches the rate of melting, we should see a fairly rapid sea level increase by say a 1 metre, but then it should stabilise as flow away from the Atlantic balances out the extra meltwater.

Okay, the numbers aren’t exact, but sea level increases are not going to be averaged out across the world instantly, we are relatively close to the major source or melting ice!

A new Thames Barrier

So, back to the Boris Johnson Thames Airport idea, change the bridges into barriers or Dykes as the Dutch would call them and not only will our Boris have resolved one of London’s immediate problems – the 3rd runway, but also built in London’s resilience for the next 100 and more years.

  • Boris MK1 = An island Airport plus some bridges
  • Boris Plus = The above plus Major sea defence works

The overall project would be Boris, plus the Environment Agency’s TG2100 which is a proposal for just this system of sea defences.  2100 refers to – lets leave it to our grandchildren – , but as per my comment above, it should be TG2030, the problem being clear and present! Also see:  http://www.audacity.org/IA-17-04-08.htm

Its a shame that we have the likes of Paul Carter of KCC critical of the plan, I wonder if this is just anti Boris, we will certainly have the RSPB etc ganging up against Boris MKI, certainly against Boris Plus. But as to the birds, their mud flats will be an extra metre underwater within 30 years so they are going to have to look for somewhere alse anyway, in fact adding the barrage scheme might retain more mudflats than would otherwise be lost!

For London, “Boris Plus” will also establish it as the coastal city that will still be functioning in 100 years, certainly save it from the sure fact of disaster within 30! Add some more plus points, a rail connection to the continent that isn’t via London, improved links between Kent and Essex and the barrier might well emulate the proposed Severn Barrage and generate some energy!

I’m for it! Its just that there is one not so little problem, the USS Montgomery, a fully loaded WWII weapons ship sunk just off Sheerness and hangs like a sword of Damoclese over that town. Also see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/3578244.stm