It's getting warmer. This week I look at some of the consequences of global warming which have hit North America and China this year. It's getting colder, as winter takes over the northern hemisphere. Is Russian gas the best way of keeping Western Europe warm? And here in the UK, are there political changes afoot? And if there are, how will that affect our progress towards net zero?
Heatwave and Wildfires
Do you remember the small community of Lytton, in British Columbia, Canada? Back in the summer it recorded a temperature of 49.6°C, shortly before wildfires wiped it off the map. Of course those fires destroyed not just the community but acres of surrounding forests. Now the rains have come, exceptional rains, and we saw last month how without the forests to trap and slow down the water the deluge turned into devastating floods.
Vancouver, the principal port on Canada’s west coast was cut off for a time, although trains rolled back in last week. Nonetheless, further inland where the TransCanada Highway was cut by a landslide the rail link remained broken. Parts of other highways were washed away. For a time 18,000 Canadians were isolated, imprisoned by floodwaters without power and in some cases with no access to food. Others were evacuated from their homes.
Further south, California suffered floods as well. Ironic, given that California has been suffering drought conditions for years.
We’ve read, too, about wildfires across California. What you might not know is that Californian wildfires are still burning even now as winter approaches. There are fires in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana as well. According to the Fire Weather and Avalanche Center, there are 8 fires burning in California today, 2nd December, and 11 in other parts of the US. One started 8 months ago and is still burning.
For the year to date, there have been some 53,000 wildfires across the US, burning more than 6.5 million acres or 27,000 square kilometres. As a market trader would say, “When it’s gone, it’s gone.” Most areas will regenerate, but few will return exactly to their previous state and it will take years if not decades.
Giant sequoias are some of the largest and longest living organisms on the planet. Up till now these massive trees have been considered effectively fireproof, but the intensity of recent fires has destroyed thousands of them. When they are gone they are truly gone.
Across the world in China there were floods again this year. Floods come every year to China but this year the rainfall was described as 1,000 year event, or even a 5,000 year event by some. Flash floods washed away bridges, trapped people underground in subway trains and were particularly severe in the central province of Henan. The South China Morning Post reported last month that farmers’ fields were still waterlogged. They had lost their crops and their income, and China had lost part of its food supply.
I've repeated these stories because they are long gone from the front pages. Because they are no longer headline news it is easy to think that they're not important, it's all over and there's nothing to worry about. The truth of course is that the consequences of extreme weather persist for weeks, months and often for years.
We need our governments to take action to mitigate the climate emergency, to try to stop things getting worse. At the same time we must invest in adaptation, to protect ourselves and our communities against the likelihood of extreme weather that's already locked into the climate system.
UK Government - Leaders in Waiting?
And talking of governments, what's going on in the UK? Our current prime minister, Mr Johnson, has been controversial from day one, but there are now mutterings and suggestions that some of his Cabinet colleagues are lining themselves up to take over. One of these is Liz Truss, who is currently Foreign Secretary. She's recently been pictured riding in a British army tank. The picture looks very like one of Margaret Thatcher riding in a tank back in 1986. Not much subtlety there then.
It has been said that Ms Truss thought COP26 was a waste of time and that she would reverse Johnson's policies towards net zero. Asked about the private jets flying into Glasgow she apparently responded “… the way to reduce climate emissions from flying isn’t to stop flying – it’s to create the new generation of next technology, which we’re doing.”
In her previous role as International Trade Secretary she agreed with Australia to leave out any reference to the Paris Agreement in the trade deal which she negotiated between the two countries. It was worth doing this, she said, to get the deal over the line. So in her view it's more important to conclude a deal with a remote country which has the biggest carbon footprint per head in the world, than to stand by our commitments to achieving net zero.
Those opposed to Mr Johnson would be delighted to see him stay in office, because the signs are that he is becoming an electoral liability for his party. But don’t forget that warning from Hilaire Belloc:
Always keep a hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.
Nord Stream 2
How are we going to keep Western Europe warm this winter and for winters to come? The question is about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which has been laid under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. It’s cost $11 billion and it's now complete but it's not in operation because it has not yet been certified by Germany and the EU. Chancellor Merkel recently said that the pipeline should not be used by Russia as a weapon, but that could be a forlorn hope. It is certainly highly political and despite opposition from the United States, which opposed the original pipeline back in the 80s, it will surely be opened given that it has cost so much and that Germany needs the gas. This is partly a consequence of the German decision to phase out nuclear power rapidly following the Fukushima disaster.
Quite apart from the possibility that Russia could hold the West to ransom by restricting the flow of gas, a key factor is that the new pipeline bypasses Ukraine. The original pipeline passes through Ukraine and the transit fees which that country charges are a main source of national income. Following the invasion of Crimea in 2014 there is no secret that Russia has designs on other parts of Ukraine. If it's weakened by loss of gas transit revenues that country will be more vulnerable. Generating more renewables would go some way to solving the problem, by reducing the demand for gas, but that’s not an overnight solution and it wouldn’t directly help Ukraine.
I believe that all we as individuals can do is watch and wait.
And that’s it,
For this week. Next week the Wednesday interview brings you a conversation with the authors of the new book “A Chicken can't lay a Duck Egg”. Look beyond the title and don’t miss it.
I have two more Wednesday interviews lined up after that, and Friday magazine episodes will continue. I shall carry on through December but I'm planning to take a break in January, although the Wednesday interviews may continue during that month. I shall use the time to empty my inbox, now holding well over 1400 emails, and to improve the website and my presence on social media in order to spread the word about the Sustainable Futures Report.
I hope to increase the number of patrons on the Sustainable Futures Report Patreon site. You know where it is. Thank you, if you are, for being a patron and if you're not why not?
In any case thank you for listening and I hope you’ll listen next week. You can subscribe just to make sure you don't miss an episode.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
I’m Anthony Day.
Until next time.