Bad weather, water and the urgency of climate science …

(Agostinho Pinnock looks at global weather phenomena and its impact on life in Britain in this two-part report on: ‘weather, water and climate science’)

Part One:

Bad weather, water and the urgency of climate science

What can you do other than just be alarmed, that is?

By Agostinho Pinnock

I was nearly stranded in Leicester on Thursday, 25 July because of bad weather. But likely not in the way you may think. I was heading back to Loughborough from a late dentist’s appointment. To my surprise I discovered that it was just too hot; too hot that is, for effective rail travel. Several trains had either been cancelled or slowed to a literal crawl that fateful Thursday in order to adjust to the heat.

In an effort to address the problem the East Midlands Railway (EMR) offered passengers the option of using their tickets the next day as well as later that week. Struck by the less-than-ideal possibility of overnighting in Leicester (I did not know anyone there at the time), I was forced to reflect on the changing weather systems in the UK in light of the immediacy of the EMR’s offer. Which was in response to what the Met Office later said was the hottest day on record in Britain.

Temperatures had skyrocketed to 38.7C (101.7F); that is right above the boiling index, and 0.3 degrees Celsius higher than the record taken at Kent back in 1993. As part of my reflection I discuss the effects of climate change here in the UK and, more specifically, its direct impact for our diets and lifestyles.

To achieve this, I recall that this school year (2019-20), Loughborough academics are focussing on ‘water’. It is one two key research themes being focused on by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS). The other is sound. Several activities are planned to mark this interest.

I also set out a brief timeline of water-related and climate impacted global events as context. The timeline is arbitrary and is solely to anchor the discussion. All biases are mine.

Time Periods Events
Since January, 2019 An estimated 906 thousand hectares of Amazon rain-forest has been lost to fire.Image

The astounding numbers have increased international concerns about the permanence of the damage and mobilised several governments to join in the fight to combat the problem.
A similar crisis is also unfolding in Africa. According to a CNN report larger numbers of fires are burning across Sub-Saharan Africa. However, unlike the Amazon, some of these help to improve soil quality and clear out the underbrush in forested areas. The more immediate concern though is the degraded air quality. All told, the loss of forest cover on the continent is adding to global fears of an impending climate disaster.
March 2019 Cyclone Idai swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Almost a 1,000 people were killed across the three southern African countries and another three million survivors displaced and are still in need of help. Support is being mobilised by NGO’s and other groups working to bring relief to their plight. The situation was exacerbated however by the arrival of Cyclone Kenneth two weeks later, further undermining the response capacity.
1 September 2019 A slow-moving Category Five hurricane named Dorian made landfall on Abaco island in the Bahamian archipelago in the Caribbean. Hurricane It destroyed both Abaco and Grand Bahama, two of the inhabited islands in the archipelago. Hurricane Dorian stayed for a record forty hours over the two islands. Despite ‘official’ counts which put the number of those missing below one hundred, approximately 2,500 people are missing, or worse, feared dead. A week later, a group of Bahamian ‘climate refugees’, en route to Florida, were turned away by US coastguards on the orders of the President.  
18 September 2019 Swedish sixteen-year-old and climate activist, Greta Thunberg met with members of the United States Congress. Greta She chastised the politicians, some of whom are still divided over climate science, for their failure to act decisively on Climate Change. She said: “[you] not doing as much as you could do”. Thunberg’s remarks made international headlines.
23 September 2019 Thunberg also addressed leaders at the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit in New York. She chided them for their “betrayal” and “inaction”  

Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, warned leaders at the UN Summit to expect a mass migration of ‘climate refugees’ in another few years, if global warming continues unaddressed. The leader of the Caribbean country noted that small, low lying island countries like hers, which are on the front-lines of Climate Change, contribute the least to the problem, if at all. However they face the greatest risks. P.M. Mottley said that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts that global temperatures are expected to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius from their pre-industrial baseline sometime between 2030 and 2052. She said: “We refuse to be relegated to the footnotes of history and to be collateral damage for the greed of others, for we have contributed less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions”.

…To say these are all urgent matters would be stating the obvious. In real terms however, the connections between them and a concern about water, and its related issues, can be clarified all the same. That is after all the blog’s focus.

Water is life. There is no doubting that. But so too is climate science. The two, water and the climate, are inextricably linked. Increases in global carbon levels have a huge impact on that. And it is a reality that does not appear to be going away any time soon. In fact, it is only slated to get worse.

The global outcry over the burning of the Amazon for instance has once again implicated international beef farming, raising questions about ethical production of multinational farmed produce, and the role of unquestioning demand for certain foods. Will such concerns translate into real action?

That is not yet certain. However according to the Brazilian government, the matter is private. The rest of the world is not entirely agreed.

Fires in the Amazon

The Amazon are the planet’s lungs. They act as carbon sinks absorbing much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, releasing oxygen in the process. This is a crucial function in a world constantly at war with itself about the effects of man-made global warming.

Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, thinks the situation is serious enough to warrant major intervention. He and other international partners were, at last report, mobilising to limit imports of Brazilian beef as a counter measure.

But regardless of how you feel about those actions, the potentially irreversible loss of the Amazon, as well as destruction of forest cover in Africa spell a dire future. Global food production is squarely implicated in all this, especially beef farming in the case of the Amazon.

Both the combination of land clearing along with the water needs of cattle, and the after-effects of their digestion, an increase in methane due to passing of gas at both ends, help drive the problem of global warming and ultimately climate change.

Fires in Sub-Saharan Africa

According to climatenexus.org, methane has 28 times the heating capacity of CO2 (carbon dioxide) over a 100-year period. Citing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), they say that “estimates are that the livestock sector as a whole contributes 14.5 percent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions – beef and milk production make up the majority of this”.

And it is not just the food side of the equation either. There is all the manure that is produced by the cows, which also releases carbon and nitrogen. Neither is ideal for promoting global oxygen levels. Depending on how much manure is produced (relative to the size of a herd) the figures can go up, which means that impacts are potentially greater.

The natural breaking down process of manure might be more preferable. But it is not always the first option. Both the size and effects of herds should worry us given the implications for greenhouse gas emissions associated with the animals. Climatenexus.org says concerns about animal welfare, water pollution and antibiotic resistance are equally as serious.

So how much beef and milk are you eating and drinking? Would you be able to cut back on burgers and other meat related and milk products in your diet? Or eliminate them altogether? Will that help lower the demand for land in other parts of the world and, with it, positively impact the environment and an impending climate crisis?

For some, much of that is conjecture. Regardless of how you feel about it though, one thing is clear: the loss of important microclimates and the permanent removal of certain flora and fauna in other parts of the world will have more lasting, longer term impacts.

According to a Press Radio International (PRI) report potential cures for cancer and HIV are being lost every time a shaman or other Amazon First Nation healers die. First Nation peoples are under threat of cultural loss, homelessness and death due to Amazon fires. Centuries of experimenting with forest wildlife and plants, some not as yet known to the outside world, will go extinct if the problem continues unabated.  

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