Andy did a blog post a few weeks ago on a warning from the UK chief scientist as he retired about the dangers of climate change. At the weekend there was a very interesting article in the Observer (on our FB wall) about the weather we have had in the UK over the last three years. We have always had very changeable weather in the UK. We are right next to the Atlantic of another landmass Europe (which many seem to forget) and have weather systems that come from the Arctic and Russia (which is pretty much the next stop in some directions). Someone from the middle of Canada told me once that the weather changed very slowly there. If you saw a cloud you’d see it in the sky for days. I don’t know whether this is true, but in the UK we are used to changeable weather. We don’t get four seasons in one day but three is possible. This makes us talk about it obsessively even though in the past its not been extreme.
So we have been used to changeable weather. But what has happened over the last decade and a half or so has been something else. When looking back on when you were young there is a tendency to over romanticise and remember only the good weather. The summers were always hot and the winters were always snowy. This wasn’t actually true I’m sure. We had a famously hot summer with a very bad drought in 1976. There was water rationing. That summer we went on holiday to the south of France (which was normally very hot). When we returned my parents lawn was completely brown and dead. Then the government made Denis Powell minister for the drought and it rained a few days later. The lawn recovered so fast, greening overnight. However, in those days it rained steadily in winter with some snow. You could get snow in even March/April and we had something vaguely like a summer.
Fast forward to the mid nineties in Scotland and I see the weather pattern really start to change. In noticed when I had a garden with two plants in particular. One a climbing Hydrangea and the other a Viburnum. Both when we starting living here would start going into their Autumnal colours almost exactly at the end of August. By the end of September all the leaves would be gone.
By the millennium this didn’t happen. The leaves on these and all the trees around would stay on to an extent until November. The picture above was taken on the 20th October last year as you can see the leaves are just starting to change. In about five years my growing season had extended by at least a month. It has continued this way. At the same time the weather got warmer but wetter in summer. About 2005 we noticed we were getting very heavy localised downpours especially in the spring, much more frequently. Our gutters and downpipes couldn’t cope with the amount of water. The basement of my church flooded one Saturday afternoon.
The weather has continued to change. The winters had become so warm I can remember instances of not needing the heating on. Then in the winter of 2008/9 was extremely cold. The temperature almost everywhere didn’t rise above -6 degrees C for 6 weeks. The next winter was the same with a prolonged cold snap shorter (only a month) but with lots more snow. There was a brief thaw for a few hours on Saturday in the middle. That when we and half our city lost our gutters as the half metre of snow that had collected rolled down the roof and took the gutters with it. The next winter reverted to being fairly mild, but this one has been cold with snow even April something outside the memory of most of us.
More weather weirdness has followed. Last year we had the second wettest year ever after a very dry winter, large parts of England had a hosepipe ban going into the spring of 2012. This is another strange thing – very dry winters with no rain. A few years ago my Apple tree’s new spring leaves turned yellow and almost all dropped of due to lack of water in April! In late March last year we sat out in our T-shirts reading in the garden. The temperature was in the 20’s. Parts of the garden were so dry plants were wilting. Then the temperature dropped 24 degrees C in 24 hours and it started snowing. Then it started raining and didn’t stop much until the Autumn (it did clear up for the Olympics). Whilst America had a drought we had places that had never flooded, flooding more than once in the same “summer”. At the same time the heavy isolated short showers have stopped. The rain is now heavy and continuous.
The worrying thing is that this maybe related to man made climate change. This weather in the US and UK last year and Pakistan and Russia previously is due to the Jetstream. This band of air moves from West to East between the Arctic and tropics and is slowing down and meandering. Its traps weather systems beneath it when it does so. For us and the US its been trapping the wrong ones. The theory is this maybe due to the melting Arctic ice sheet in summer. This is a very worrying theory. Food production in the US and UK was devastated.
As Christians we need to take our responsibilities to creation seriously. The only comment I will allow myself to make on Mrs Thatcher was that she fully accepted the science of climate change. Sir John Houghton (an evangelical Christian) recounted how he was sent to Downing street with a flip chart to explain it to her.