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Evidence climate change is biting deeper-1-1
Dr Torill Bigg8 Aug 20235 min read

Evidence That Climate Change is Biting Deeper

Chief Carbon Scientist, Dr. Torill Bigg has written another piece about her personal perspective regarding global warming. It all starts with a frog. A friend told me the story of the boiling frog. He said that if you drop the frog in the boiling water, the frog will leap out. But if you drop a frog into cool water and gradually, over time, warm that water up the frog will stay in the water. Another learned friend tells me that psychologically as a species, we are not wired to react to a slowly-approaching threat; If something rushes at us we run away, but we’re just not wired to respond to a threat that creeps up on us, as global warming has. Indeed, I am guilty of using the phrase 'softly, softly, catchy monkey' as my mother did before me, which is a very old idiom (Sorry Mum) and tells us the same thing.

These are the best explanations that I have as to why, when we keep seeing evidence that climate change is biting deeper and deeper, and yet we continue with the behaviours that emit the greenhouse gases. Don McLean put it rather better than me in his song 'Tapestry', released before I was born and at a time when atmospheric CO2 was a nostalgic 325 ppm. Scientists, politicians, artists, poets and musicians have all, each in their own way, expressed their awareness and concern of environmental destruction for decades.

Recently the global heatwaves have been widely reported, partly for their scientific significance, though in no small part owing to their impact on our day-to-day living in the manner to which we have become accustomed.

It’s not just the weather that’s warming up. The oceans are absorbing the excess energy of global warming, with the resulting extreme marine heatwaves, including Atlantic heatwaves never before seen.

For nearly 100 years the Fastnet Race has tested the skill of sailing crews in a challenge that rounds the Fastnet rock southwest of Ireland. More boats than ever had taken part this year. But so many boats had to drop out that the remaining number is now lower than, the previous record of 388. 430 boats started. In conditions that were described as 'brutal', 86 dropped out.

brutal weather conditions hit boatsImage Credited: Paul Wyeth/

Coincidentally the marine heatwave has, for the first time, affected the North Atlantic, with sea temperatures off the West Coast of Ireland Being 4 or 5° C greater. 

A month earlier, in June, a sailor was lost to sea while on passage from Plymouth to Ireland, a month where, coincidentally, global temperatures were 1.47° C higher than the typical in June in the pre-industrial period. A figure dangerously close to the critical 1.5 C, we must keep below to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Is it coincidence or is the unfortunate frog more than metaphorical? Previously scientists have found that wave power increased as global temperatures warm. Studies have found that the wave power is greater, the waves are larger, and the power of erosion of the waves is greater as the seas warm up. These studies have occurred in the southern hemisphere, where ocean warming has been observed before.  Given this year is the first time that such warming has been seen in this part of the Atlantic so of course, no studies for here yet exist. Scientific studies take time, maybe more time than we have, to unpick the complexity of global influences on climate change and oceans. 

We can choose to bathe in the warming water while those studies unravel the evidence to demonstrate the relative effects of natural influences such as El Nino and those of man. We can elect to continue with consumerism, eating a high meat diet, flying on holiday annually, driving private cars with just us in it, heating homes with constant hot running water, fast fashion, neglectful energy usage, devices on standby, driving children to school over short distances. If we insist on continuing with these lifestyle choices, then we must accept the consequences far worse than disrupted holidays. We accept the planetary counter-consequence of more powerful storms, wildfires, heat waves, landslides, loss of species, more disease, excess deaths, parts of the world becoming uninhabitable, more crowded living conditions in the areas that remain, and the stress and conflict for limited resources. When Don sang it he warned us that we would pay with our lives for our greed. 53 years have passed, so we are now paying not with our lives, but with the lives of our children. So long as we are sure that this exchange is a fair one, and is one that we want, then we should continue to live our lives this way. 

Alternatively we already have what we need to make the necessary changes. Every carbon reduction plan I, and my team, have created has shown 50 to 70% carbon reduction achievable through actions that use technology available today. The remainder is offset to achieve a net carbon balance of zero. It does require investment and willingness. The achievable change, though, always startles and impresses me. I find myself imagining a world where we have slashed emissions to a third of what they are today. We slow global warming. We engineer for our grandchildren. We create a world that uses energy and resources with regard for their impact and scarcity. We deploy the offsetting as an opportunity to increase nature through improved biodiversity, protected oceans, greater carbon sequestration and investment in renewable energy technologies. In short we adopt a lifestyle that behaves as though we have just the one planet to call home. We bequeath to our children a truer and more genuine inheritance than mere redistribution of our single planet’s resources into 'my pile' versus his.  Whatever you think of climate change, living a nature rich, energy and resource efficient life will never be a bad thing.


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