13 Jan 2010

Weather is not climate

OK there is still snow and more coming (minus 7.5C on my shed thermometer) - but the cold spell looks set to break - many of us are looking forward to stuff getting back to more normality - however many parts of the northern hemisphere are considerably warmer than usual at the moment. Alaska and much of northern Canada are 5C to 10C warmer than expected - still pretty cold with the air a biting –30C (–22F).

Photos: more local shots

It has also be shown that the first decade of the twenty-first century was the hottest since record keeping began in 1880. The year 2005 was the hottest on record, while 2007 and 2009 tied for second hottest. In fact, 9 of the 10 warmest years on record occurred in the past decade.

Of course Ruscombe Green blog readers will know that Britain's cold snap does not prove climate science wrong - but too many times I've heard folk question it - as Leo Hickman and George Monbiot write in their article: "Climate sceptics are failing to understand the most basic meteorology - that weather is not the same as climate, and single events are not the same as trends."

The other day 40 odd folk went to the Stroud Coffee House discussion despite snow - see report here - Copenhagen was depressing - you can see my previous blog here - existing greenhouse gas reduction pledges will not halt emissions growth until 2040, 35 years after the 2015 target called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2020 global emissions from all sources would be some 55 billion tonnes, up from around 46 billion tonnes today.

We are seeing predictions made years ago by climate scientists beginning to come true. Here is what Chris Johnson writes in his excellent The Great Turning Times of this and why many are still finding it difficult to grasp climate change: Annual UK rainfall has increased and heavy rainfall events, where it pours for many days at a time, have become twice as common in Northern England since the 1960's, and four times as common in Scotland. Australia, California and many Mediterranean countries are becoming so dry that wildfires are reaching new levels of intensity. In Africa, reduced rainfall is causing crop failures and increased conflict. The Arctic sea ice is melting, and even more rapidly than forecast by the computer models used for the last IPCC report. Worldwide, weather related disasters have been on the increase decade by decade, with, on average, 300 events recorded every year in the 1980's, 480 every year in the 1990's and 620 events a year over the last decade.

Pic: from Earth Policy Institute - see below

This list could go on and a recent survey of 24,071 people in 23 countries showed that 64% of those polled now recognise climate change as a serious problem. However, not everyone appears so convinced. You may encounter the view that climate change is some kind of hoax, or that if it is happening, the causes are unrelated to human activity. As well as looking at how people become inspired to tackle an issue, we also need to understand resistance and learn how to work with this. Part of this unwillingness to view climate change as a problem is linked to a very deliberate campaign by fossil fuel industry funded PR firms to undermine the science, drawing on their experience of similar well funded campaigns to cast doubt on the dangers of tobacco, asbestos and ozone depleting chemicals. I strongly recommend reading the excellent blog by Dr Jeff Masters where he describes these campaigns in detail. However I don't think we can put all climate change denial down to misinformation. We also need to understand why these campaigns fall on willing ears. It is here that I value what I've learnt from working in the addictions field.

Working with resistance

When we're making a significant change, there's likely to be part of us that wants it and part of us that doesn't. The part that wants it is our motivation. But the part that doesn't is also motivated, except in the opposite direction. In the language of addictions treatment, this is referred to as counter-motivation. What often causes change to grind to a halt is the ambivalence of conflicting motives. To understand resistance, both in yourself and in others, ask yourself "why might I or anyone else, prefer not to think about Climate Change? If I do think about it, what's attractive about the idea that it is a hoax? And if it isn't a hoax, why might I prefer to believe it has nothing to do with me?"

I'm suggesting empathy rather than argument. The danger of arguments, according to behaviour change research, is they tend to increase resistance. Battles can polarise. That doesn't mean we don't speak our truth or share our concerns, more that we recognise how win/lose interactions can give people a motive for discounting information they see as threatening to a position they've taken.

When I put myself in the shoes of the sceptic, I feel an immediate sense of relief. How much more comfortable is the reality that none of this is happening. How glad I'd be if the scientists, and all their measurements, were wrong. It isn't just an inconvenient truth we're facing, but one that can feel psychologically unacceptable. So what's on the other side of the balance? If it is true and as bad as some studies suggest, why might I want to face it? Why might I want to know and also to respond? The way to deal with ambivalence is bring it into the open where it can be worked with and worked through. Part of this involves acknowledging that this stuff can be hard to look at, hard to accept and hard to know how to respond to. If we accept these difficulties, then we can look at how we address them.

Chris goes onto talk more about finding inspiration and finishes with his book of the year: "Social Change 2.0" by David Gershon (High Point/Chelsea Green, 2009). He writes: "Drawing on decades of practice and research into what helps the shift towards sustainability, it describes social change tools that have been proven in the field. The core idea is that while campaigning and protest actions are hugely important, we also need an approach that empowers communities to reinvent our society from the bottom up. That's not a new idea; what is new is the way this book illustrates how community empowerment tools can address the middle bit of change, engaging people and their enthusiasm, mapping out design principles and strategies you can use in promoting the shift towards a sustainable society."

See about science behind recent cold here. Lastly an interesting - but deeply worrying article from the Earth Policy Institute on ice melting. They note that the most notable ice loss in recent years has been the shrinking of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean - see article for full story but here is a bit: "From the beginning of the satellite record in 1979 through 1996, ice area decreased at a steady rate of 3 percent per decade in response to rising temperature. In the following decade, ice area decreased by 11 percent, reaching a dramatic minimum in 2007. In September of that year, sea ice occupied only 3.6 million square kilometers, an area 27 percent smaller than the previous record low (in 2005) and 38 percent smaller than the 1979–2007 average. Summer sea ice coverage has increased slightly in the last two years, but it is still far below the long-term average....Declines in ice thickness and volume are just as dramatic. "


Anonymous said...

The Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institute of British Architects yesterday warned the future of cities including London, Bristol and Liverpool was at risk from seas which the Environment Agency predict could rise by as much as 1.9m by 2095 in the event of a dramatic melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

Guardian 15th Jan 2010


Anonymous said...

link to the paper in the journal not the dozy fucking Guardian