It’s a lovely Christmas card scene. Snow is falling, snow on snow. A robin puffs itself up on the garden fence. The logs are stacked by the fireplace and the coal scuttle is full. The evocative smell of coal smoke hangs heavy in the high street. The only problem, of course, is that this is March.
The chaffinch is sulking on the orchard bough, in England now. OK so it’s only a plum tree but you get my point. The snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are once again vanishing slowly from sight. The seed tray that should have veg growing in it has instead been filled with bird food and sunflower seeds, and has been drawing finches and tits to the patio table in big numbers. Even two male blackbirds have apparently declared a truce and are sharing it with each other.
“So much for global warming,” people are muttering, as if this miserable, interminable winter offers some kind of proof that it doesn’t exist. Everyone seems to have translated the concept of “Global warming” into “My back garden warming”. If only.
Global warming in reality means less predictability, seasons that wobble and waver, wetter rain, hotter sun, thicker snow. Put simply, it means extra moisture in the atmosphere, which translates into more extreme weather on the ground.
It means all the right seasons, but not necessarily in the right order.
The current wintry weather is being directly blamed on the jet stream being in the wrong place. At this time of year, its high-level air flow should be streaming west-to-east over Scotland. Instead, it’s way south, nearer the Mediterranean than the North Sea. It’s not just the UK being hit by severe winter weather in spring. Roughly speaking, if you’re north of the jet stream you’ll be cold. If you’re south of it you’ll be warm.
Last year’s appalling summer was also blamed on the jet stream being off kilter for most of the season. It resulted in the constant pounding of the UK by one weather system after another. The soggy south-west bore the brunt. It was the wettest summer in 100 years.
Some scientists are now directly linking the wanderings of the jet stream to global warming. The theory is that Arctic warming makes the jet stream move more sluggishly, so making it more prone to being knocked off course by other variables in the atmosphere. This seems plausible to me (although I must admit my serious reading on climate change amounts only to Ian McEwan’s bizarre novel Solar).
Accepting that the world’s climate, and the predictability of the jet stream, are changing is, of course, completely different from accepting that it’s man wot dunnit. The concept of manmade climate change, is still, to coin a phrase, hotly disputed, albeit by a vocal minority.
Either way, it seems to me a simple matter of common sense that we should have greater respect for the planet – whether driven by faith-based reasons of good stewardship, the legacy we’re leaving for future generations, or a simple sense of living less selfishly and gluttonously.
Most of us are happy to mutter about the weather without expecting to make any changes to our own lifestyles. It’s a tricky one to judge. Hopping on planes as if they’re buses is great and liberating, but is it really wrong? I heard a young woman on the train a few weeks ago working out how to pick up a visa in London. “I’ll only be in Switzerland,” she said. “I can literally just pop back for it.”
Having perfect fruit, veg and meat flown in from the furthest reaches of the planet is also great, and provides income for farmers and growers. Is that so wrong? Tearing down rainforests to provide grazing for cattle for cheap meat does seem wrong. But does that make every single burger consumed an act of planetary violence?
You can’t uninvent the global village, or the jet engine, or the meat-eating millions, or the huge growth in developing economies. I still think we do bear some individual responsibility for our choices as consumers. Ugly local veg get my vote every time.
But on a more practical level, rather than being shocked every time it snows in March or the sun fails to shine in summer, or there are droughts, downpours or tornadoes, we should perhaps accept one simple fact. That climate change, like constant change, is here to stay. We’d better get used to it.