Climate science / Mathematics of Planet Earth / Opinion

Climate change and me – let’s get serious!

Imagine a sun-sea-sand vacation. You are lying under a palm tree, sipping a drink and working on your tan; and when you get bored, you can catch a train and in about an hour arrive to London. If this is how the climate change will impact the UK, count me in. However, scientists prefer the reality to happy endings.

Although there is a lot of uncertainty about the details of the climate change scenario, two things are clear. Firstly, global temperatures have been rising and will continue to rise for at least a few decades, even if no more CO₂ is released to the atmosphere; just because of the greenhouse gases that are already there. Moreover, although getting rid of the warm jacket can be tempting, the negative consequences of the global warming will prevail.

All the time we hear about countries like the Maldives, islands that soon may disappear under the water due to the rising sea levels – and most of us only pretend to care. Media create the image that the climate change will just influence individuals in exotic countries.

Will it impact me here, in the UK, at all? The increase in British average temperature by 1⁰C over a century does not sound like a big deal. However, there is more to climate change than what thermometers indicate.

While far from the seaside I can feel quite safe even if the sea levels rise dramatically, I still might face serious flooding from the Thames. This is because the climate change will probably bring wet winters with more rain than our rivers and sewer systems can handle. On the other hand, summers are getting warmer and drier. Although UK residents do not have to worry about getting enough drinking water, we might get surprised by increased food prices. If there is not enough water for agricultural use, the good quality food becomes a luxury. Increased temperatures sound abstract – double price for my morning bagel can become a reality.

Recently I experienced the climate change effects myself. Flying back from New York to London was a scary and unpleasant way to spend seven hours. The turbulence was so strong that I could not sleep, eat or stay calm, it felt like we were going to crash any time. Yes, I know that such events happen. The problem is, as scientists from the University of Reading proved, turbulences are becoming more frequent and stronger due to the climate change. Furthermore, winds over the Atlantic Ocean have been gaining strength, so flights last longer. Thus not only does the aviation affect the environment by burning fossil fuels, but also rising temperatures have a negative impact on flights. What a vicious cycle!

I could keep listing how the climate change impacts ecosystems, water security, extreme events or human health. However, we all are aware of these issues. And I have a feeling that we are getting bored of the climate change. Scientists talk about it. Politicians talk about it. Media talk about it. But is anyone doing anything constructive to prevent it?

I believe that we have heard enough clichés. Scientists are doing great job getting and analysing climate data – but not so great when it comes to communicating it to the public. It is really confusing to hear that the temperatures will rise by between 2⁰C and 5⁰C, it gives the impression that researchers do not really know what they are talking about. Not everyone has mathematical background to understand that all measurements include some uncertainty. This is something that the society should be educated about. We need to understand that the climate system is complex, that its chaotic behaviour makes it hard to predict exactly what could happen, that it does not make the climate research an art of divination rather than rigorous science. Without such understanding the society will not trust scientists; and without the trust, there is no action.

However, how can we build trust and understanding when politicians keep fighting about this crucial issue? How is it possible that in the 21st century, when we have all the scientific evidence about the climate change we need, there are still so many climate sceptics? Instead of fighting with one another, we would be better off fighting our problem. For the future generations. And for ourselves.

There is no single right solution to the climate change; but every little step counts. It is not about altering the lifestyle completely, sacrificing all we love for some abstract idea. It is about working together, trusting the data and not hoping that “everything will be ok”. So switch off the light in your bathroom while nobody is there. The Earth will be grateful to you.

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