05:50 GMT +324 October 2018
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    Brave New World

    Is There Really a Link Between Climate Change and Extreme Weather Patterns?

    Brave New World
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    John Harrison
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    At a time when 100 mph winds have devastated large swathes of the Southeastern United States, sweeping away lives, livelihoods, properties and futures, should we connect the dots between extreme weather patterns, which we are indeed witnessing, and climate change? Joining the program to get to the bottom of this is geographer Ross Hunter.

    Ross states that there is a link between climate change and extreme weather patterns. "The key point is that the weather and climate are not the same things. In general terms, you cannot point to extreme weather and say — there you go — this is because of climate change." However, with hurricanes, because the cause and effect are local it is very possible to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather patterns, Ross says: "You cannot have hurricanes unless you have sea temperatures of about 26 degrees. That guarantees that hurricanes can only form in the tropics to the East side of each continent, plus the Bay of Bengal. They are formed in shallow seas; the sea temperature has gone up, and this supplies the energy that gives the hurricane its bite. As the sea temperature has risen, both the frequency and nastiness of hurricanes has gone up… We can definitively say that rising sea temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean have made recent hurricanes worse than they otherwise would have been."

    Ross is dismissive of climate change deniers: "Climate change requires at least one hundred years' worth of evidence. We have 150. The evidence is absolutely clear, obvious and irrefutable. We know the mechanism, we know the cause, we can see the consequences."

    Not everybody has accepted that the climate is even changing, host John Harrison points out. "No, the climate change deniers point out that the climate is always changing, and that we are still in the middle of a long term inter-glacial period. The ice ages haven't finished yet, however the changes that you may expect from random variation are nothing in comparison to what has been happening in the past 150 years. They have taken us well outside the statistically probable envelopes of natural change… Over the past half million years, thanks to the ice ages, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere varied between 200 and 280 parts per million, in the last 50 years it has shot up to 400."

    What does this mean, are we all going to die from lack of oxygen John Harrison asks? "There is plenty of oxygen around, or at least there will be if we don't carry on chopping down the rain forests which recycle our breath and turn it back into fresh clean air. Too much carbon dioxide changes the atmospheric heat engine and stimulates higher temperatures… You can take about 1850 when the industrial countries, particularly in western Europe and the United States started burning coal at a phenomenal rate, then add in about 1920 when oil started being used on a massive scale, and throughout the last 100 years as people have got richer; they use a lot more energy, plus the world population has doubled and doubled and doubled again. So you have greater use per person and an awful lot more people….The driver for climate change is massive industrialization which started in Britain, and spread very quickly to North America and across Europe. That was stage 1. Stage 2 was with the transfer of manufacturing to places like India and China, they are playing catch up and their emissions and energy use are now rushing ahead, and stage 3 of the equation is pressure on the world's forests. Changing the biosphere has as equally a bad effect as burning fossil fuels, and the loss of forestation changes the reflectivity of the earth's surface and makes the problem worse."

     A discussion is held as to what we, ordinary human beings can do about the situation. Ross says: "Organize, mobilize and commit our governments to be doing more, and at the personal level do all we can to reduce our own carbon footprint. Use public transport where possible, double glaze your house, put solar panels on the roof, try not to use the car, try not to make frivolous journeys by plane. We in the rich countries are the ones using the most energy, if we made a 10 or 20 per cent reduction in our own energy use, that is the equivalent of people in the tropics doubling their energy use."

    John points out that for many living in poor countries, all of this is academic. "If you haven't got a roof over your head you are not going to quibble over double or triple glazing…" Ross says that "because people in developing countries are using far less than we are, it is not particularly their fault. If you take somewhere like China, whilst China has been building coal fired power stations, they have changed course at speed and are on course to become the world's biggest generator of green energy. Whereas President Trump is going backwards and promising to open long dead uneconomic coal mines, China is saying: we will very quickly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and put far more into wind. Even Britain has recently established days when we have generated all our electricity without using any coal at all, and just this week it has been announced that creating electricity from wind is now cheaper than building nuclear power stations. Because it's a dark time; we must work harder to reduce the impact that we're having."

    We'd love to get your feedback at radio@sputniknews.com

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    Hurricane, Science, Climate Change, Nature, weather
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