Dire predictions about the climate crisis are already happening: Andy Brown

For a long time scientists have been making dire predictions about climate change.

They told us to expect increasingly erratic and wilder weather but that if we planned carefully we could keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial level before 2050 and that might enable us to avoid unleashing chaos.

It now turns out that they were wrong. We’ve already smashed through that 1.5 degree level 26 years ahead of the plan. As I write air temperatures across the entire planet are 1.77 degrees higher than the pre-industrial level and heading erratically higher. There will be dips and there will be jumps but there is now no prospect of holding global air temperature rises within reasonable limits.

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The situation in the sea is even more worrying. It isn’t easy to heat up water. Which is a statement that won’t come as a great surprise to anyone who has glanced at their power meter when they are boiling a kettle.

Cayton Bay in Scarborough as the sun rises on the Summer Solstice. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.Cayton Bay in Scarborough as the sun rises on the Summer Solstice. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.
Cayton Bay in Scarborough as the sun rises on the Summer Solstice. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

So, imagine how much energy it takes to raise the average temperature of all the surface water in all the world’s oceans by close to one degree centigrade. Over the past twelve months sea surface temperatures have jumped in an alarming and unexpected way and are now 0.81 degrees higher than the average which was recorded in the 1990s.

That isn’t just down to chance. The way scientists tell whether something is normal is by looking at how far from the average a particular measurement is and how often that might happen by random variation. One standard deviation from the normal is a boring reading that no one needs to worry about. Two standard deviations is also not a big deal. Some 95 per cent of all measurements fall within two standard deviations. But measurements that are further away from the average are very much rarer and by the time you get to five standard deviations it could only happen by chance once every three million times.

As I write global sea surface temperatures are showing at 5.68 standard deviations which means that something truly exceptional has taken place. Humanity has heated the entire air temperature of the planet and the seas have stopped absorbing most of that heating and transferring it to their depths.

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The surface is warming rapidly. This matters. Because all that extra energy doesn’t just sit there doing nothing. Hotter seas produce wilder and more unpredictable weather. Higher wind speeds and greater downpours of rain will happen in some place with burningly dry summers in others.

Given the seriousness of this evidence it is surprising that many politicians are telling us that we can safely move slowly, whilst some are telling us to do nothing at all. Yet for many people the reality of the relentless challenge of trying to cope with the cost of living looms a lot larger than the kind of planet we are going to hand down to the next generation.

Anyone trying to tackle the problems of global warming needs to recognise this harsh reality.

The good news is that the cheapest power is the energy that you don’t use. The practical alternative to high energy costs is not to produce more. It is to consume less. Almost every sensible scheme to reduce the output of CO2 involves an up-front investment that produces regular and reliable reductions in running costs.

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Insulation is one such solution. Solar panels on the roofs of buildings is another. Electric cars massively reduce your fuel bill. Yet budget after budget goes by without any meaningful help being provided to ordinary people or to businesses who want to make investments that help the planet and help cut their expenditure but can’t afford the capital cost.

Even more surprising is sheer quantity of money that is being wasted on investing in producing more energy at a time when so very little effort is being made on the quick and easy solution of switching to more off peak use of power.

The French company building the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station currently predicts that the cost of providing just one single nuclear power station will be £46 billion and that it will come on line three years late.

Provide incentives to consumers to avoid using energy at 5.30pm on a Friday in winter and consume it in the early hours of the morning and we won’t need all the luxury vanity nuclear projects that are planned. Cutting peak time consumption is something that can be achieved inside months at much lower costs and much more reliably.

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That is what so frustrates many environmentalists. We are constantly told that the country cannot afford their unrealistic idealist plans. The reality is that insulating Britain and switching to off peak energy are cheap practical solutions that are relatively quick and easy to implement.

Which leads some of us to wonder about why. Could it just possibly be that there is no profit for oil and gas companies in reducing consumption? Just good solid savings for customers.

Andy Brown is the Green Party councillor for Aire Valley in North Yorkshire.

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