I had a brief outing on the BBC’s Birmingham and Midlands local radio station, WM. Is the present flooding caused by manmade global warming, they asked? They had just trailed the Met Office’s Julia Slingo as saying that climate change had caused the storms (though actually her remarks, though a little incautious, were fairly nuanced). Anyway, I was extremely cautious….

Well, it might be a bit of climate change, I said. In any case, it certainly looks like the kind of thing which has been advertised for 20 years as being the likely consequence of AGW (anthropogenic global warming). The difficulty is that – because God or Nature like an irony – we have had a decade or so of “Hiatus” (as it’s being called) under which AGW is not put on hold, but is sort of contradicted or complicated by a cooling effect of unknown duration and cause. (I liked this piece by Rebecca Anderson, of Team Scientist, Alliance for Climate Education at The Huffington Post.)

So, is the odd behaviour of the Jet Stream (which seems recently to get stuck in ways which can intensify both winter and summer weather in our part of the world) part of the AGW pattern, or of the “Hiatus” disruption of it? Obviously, I don’t know, and am looking forward to hearing more from the experts on the subject. (I thought Ian Roulstone of Surrey University was refreshingly clear and nuanced on Sky this morning.)

Meantime, asked the presenter, Pete Morgan, is there anything we can do? Well, I replied: there are two classes of action which we might attempt. First, we might try to slow or halt AGW by reducing carbon dioxide emissions (actually, all sorts of greenhouse gases), but this would require global (or multilateral) action (about which I am fairly sceptical). (This is called “mitigation” in the jargon.) But we can, nationally and locally and on our own (as it were, unilaterally) do a good deal to improve our resilience in the face of whatever AGW throws at us (this is called “adaptation”).

But investing in resilience is extraordinarily complicated. As in preparing for war or trying to run a stable economic system, humans are pushed to the limits of their intellectual and political capability in the face of such challenges. Over-assume you know what’s going to happen, and where and when, and you may over-invest in the wrong adaptation in the wrong place. You may, for instance, decide that you should have new fixed installations on the assumption that the Thames or the Severn or the Humber, or whatever, is the likeliest big ticket enemy. But it may turn out to be wiser to invest in, as it were, mobile resilience: the ability to rush the right responses to the right places at the right moment.

The next years will see extraordinarily interesting discussions about all this.

Meantime, I am struck by the relative poverty of the understanding and even interest from our 20- and 30-years olds on the matter. How many of them will bother to read the Summaries for Policy-makers put out by the IPCC? The latest on as it were the pure science of climate change is available here, and the impacts and responses documents will be coming along soon. (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/)

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Publication date

12 February 2014