climate change current affairs media

Are record temperatures changing people’s minds about the climate?

I can’t remember the last time it rained in Luton. Was it in May? It must have rained overnight since then, but I couldn’t say for sure. What I do know is that it’s been almost uninterrupted sunshine for weeks, our rainwater storage has run down and everything is looking very dry indeed. This happens from time to time in Southern England, but it’s a wider phenomenon this time around.

Temperature records have been set this year right across the Northern hemisphere, from Eastern Europe to Canada. Algeria set a new record temperature for Africa at 51.3C, Pakistan hit a new high at 50.2. China saw a new record in Shanghai, and previous highs were topped in Iran, Ireland, and Spain. It’s dry too. Britain has had a number of brush fires, which is unusual. So has Sweden. Denmark has been discussing support for farmers. German farmers are struggling to find fresh grass to feed their cows. Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because it is so well irrigated, but it is facing drought conditions at the moment.

So it’s not just me.

When we get snow or a cold snap, it’s usually not long before the sarcastic comments about global warming start flowing. The same hasn’t been true the other way round – heatwaves, storms and floods haven’t necessarily convinced people that climate change is happening. Even epochal events such as Katrina or Sandy didn’t fundamentally tip the balance. But since this is specifically heat – the first thing you think of with global warming – will it make an impact?

I’ve noticed a shift in the British press. The Daily Mail was still running climate sceptic stories last year, but wasn’t shy to say that “global warming” was to blame for the heatwaves. “While an isolated heatwave can be put down as an anomaly, the scale of this phenomenon points to global warming as the culprit, scientists said.”

The Daily Express is a bastion of climate scepticism in Britain, having declared it a fraud many times. But if there’s one thing they love, it’s extreme weather stories, and they appear to be coming round. They still publish a lot of nonsense, but multiple articles this year talk about climate change as a reality.

Less anecdotally, the number of people who don’t think climate change is happening has fallen to 4% in Britain, and those who think it’s a purely natural phenomenon stands at 12%. Unfortunately many of them remain in government, and they probably read unrepentant publications like the Spectator and the Telegraph. Still, 84% of Britons recognise climate science. Those are the 2017 figures, and they may change again this year.

In the US, acceptance of climate change is at a record high, with 73% agreeing that it is happening and 60% recognising the role of human activity. There’s still a big divide along party lines, but as the statisticians say, climate change is becoming lived experience. “People are telling us they are experiencing a climate that isn’t what they remember in the past and the evidence itself, such as declining polar ice, is having an effect.”

I think that makes a difference. Obviously it’s easy to agree with a warming world during a heatwave, but when it goes on for a while, the conversation starts to shift. Perhaps we start to think about how we need to make some improvements to the house to reduce solar gain, or plan to fit another rainwater barrel. Maybe we notice how much we could have benefited from all that uninterrupted sunshine, and finally get around to phoning for some solar power quotes. In other words, we start doing some domestic climate adaptation.

Perhaps public perceptions will fall again once temperatures drop off. But since these sorts of heat events are likely to be much more common in future, I think the climate change movement could capitalise on the lived experience factor. We can talk about how people are adapting. We can give people tips on staying cool. We can provide the context that helps people to make sense of the weather and its long term trends. It could prove to be powerfully persuasive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is actually cloudy today and I’m going to go and place empty buckets all over the patio in case it finally rains.

2 comments

  1. Well it rained hard here in Saddleworth the night before last, finally putting out the last bits of the huge fire up on the moor. I wonder how many millions of tones of carbon were released into the atmosphere as a result of that arson?

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