Where’s Winter?

***Updated Feb.5***

“Oh Good” says he, looking at the forecast for the upcoming week, “it looks like we are going to get a bit of cold this year after all”. So far there have only been a handful of frosts and a few nights when the temperature dropped below freezing. It has stayed mild and wet and grey and dull, just a never-ending Autumn except all the plants have died back or gone to sleep. Well, not quite all. The grass has continued to grow, which (combined with the lack of frost, which impedes most of the different jobs we do) gave the gardening company I work for its busiest December ever. And then there’s this:

daff

A dwarf daffodil flowering in a client’s garden on the 2nd of January. Snowdrops have been out too, and I’ve seen more daffs on their way. My boss said he had never seen them out so early. Then he came out with a classic line while discussing the unseasonable warmth: “I don’t know what’s causing it, but whatever it is it’s good for business”. Truly remarkable for someone who watches forecasts all the time and keeps track of weather trends year after year as one of the major parameters of his business to be unable or unwilling to connect this in his mind to the warnings of catastrophic global warming that scientists and environmentalists have been talking about for 40 years or more. I’ve heard him parrot denier talking points before so it’s not a lack of awareness, just a stupendous level of denial keeping his own personal observations in a compartment of his mind separate from what those crazy lefties and hippies are saying. I’ve not made any serious efforts to challenge him, only a few offhand comments here and there disguised with humour, and I didn’t respond to the above comment at the time because, honestly, I’ve grown tired of banging my head against that particular brick wall (always make it polite, just ask gentle steering questions, ask for clarification, don’t dismiss the argument or do anything to cause offense or manifest intractable disagreement and totally incompatible worldviews – remember he has power over you, blablabla). So the answer came while biking in to work one morning and unhealthily stewing over it in my mind: “Let’s see how good it is for business when we have to try and garden underwater.” Yes! Slam-dunk! I could tell the cows in the field next to the road were impressed…

Anyway, maybe there has been a change because he volunteered the information about 2014 being the hottest year ever recorded in the UK, sending a link to this article on the BBC by Roger Harrabin which surprised me by mentioning climate change four times, even providing a quote which connected it to ‘human influence’. The context, appropriately enough, was the discovery of a record amount of plants in flower on new year’s day in the British Isles:

Botanists have been stunned by the results of their annual hunt for plants in flower on New Year’s Day.

They say according to textbooks there should be between 20 and 30 species in flower. This year there were 368 in bloom.

It raises further questions about the effects of climate change during the UK’s warmest year on record.

“This is extraordinary,” said Tim Rich, who started the New Year’s plant hunt for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.

“Fifty years ago people looking for plants in flower at the start of the year found 20 species. This year the total has amazed us – we are stunned.

“During the holiday I drove along the A34 south of Newbury and saw half a mile of gorse in flower when gorse is supposed to flower in April and May. It’s bizarre.”

“We are now in our fourth mild winter. Normally flowers get frosted off by Christmas but this year it hasn’t happened.”

He said 368 species in flower is an unprecedented 15% of the flowering plants in Britain and Ireland – an “amazing” total. The high count was partly due to the growth in the number of volunteers – but mostly due to climate change, he said.

Dr Rich said it was possible that plants in unseasonal flower might be badly hit if February brought very cold weather.

Usually the BBC turns cartwheels to avoid talking about extreme or unusual weather events in the context of climate change, as in this recent hour long documentary on the flooding of the Somerset levels last winter which didn’t even once bring up the topic (h/t scrabb on MLMB). The purpose of this is to shape public perception along denialist lines so that the important alarms aren’t raised and the fossil-fuel economy – and the social power structure sucking on its black teat – remain unchallenged and can continue to go about their business of turning this planet into Venus. The depressing thing is that it’s probably not even an active conspiracy from the BBC and other media organisations manipulating the debate in this way. They just have a collective understanding of “how we talk about this subject”, which does not include criticising corporations, governments, capitalism, industry or civilisation itself (of course the media fails to criticise itself too, being an integral part of the same systems), and always has to introduce an element of doubt, no matter how lacking in credibility the source. Anybody who fails to act according to these unspoken rules faces discipline, flack and ultimate dismissal if they do not conform.

Meanwhile, 2014 wasn’t just the hottest year on record for the UK, but for the whole world. Here’s another MET office chart with commentary from Joe Romm on the Climate Progress website (my emph):

globe_annual_ranked

It is not remarkable that we keep setting new records for global temperatures — 2005 and then 2010 and likely 2014. Humans are, after all, emitting record amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the air, and carbon dioxide levels in the air are at levels not seen for millions of years, when the planet was far warmer and sea levels tens of feet higher. The figure above from the Met Office makes clear that humans continue to warm the planet.

“The provisional information for 2014 means that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “There is no standstill in global warming.”

As Peter Stott, Head of Climate Attribution at the Met Office, explained: “Our research shows current global average temperatures are highly unlikely in a world without human influence on the climate.” While it has been on the cool side in parts of the United States, the Met Office reported that the United Kingdom is headed toward its hottest year on record. Stott noted that, “human influence has also made breaking the current UK temperature record about ten times more likely.”

This happened in an El Niño-neutral year (apparently it bumps up the average global temperature), and with that cycle due to kick in again next year 2015 seems likely to be even hotter. Romm’s conclusion:

The only way to stop setting new annual temperature records on an increasingly regular basis — until large parts of the planet are uninhabitable — is to sharply change the world’s carbon dioxide emissions path starting ASAP.

And we all know how likely that is in the absence of fundamental upheavals in the way our societies operate.

For my part I’m looking forward to putting on long johns and two pairs of gloves for the 40min commute on Monday morning. It feels wrong to be sweating from the outside heat at this time of year, and I don’t like the work schedule being just as busy as the summer months even if it does fatten my paycheck, which normally dwindles by several hundred pounds over December, January and February. It ain’t right, I tell thee. That energy usually goes towards other projects, including personal recuperation, taking stock, making plans, philosophising (on these pages and elsewhere), doing some reading, maybe playing a little music… Bloody climate change is going to rob me of my peace and quiet! I wonder if the plants and other animals are looking at it in the same way?

***Update***

View from my window the other morning with work snowed off:

Optimized-DSCN2094

Be careful what you wish for! (I spent most of the day devouring The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time.)

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10 Responses to “Where’s Winter?”

  1. Ian M Says:

    Scrabb’s post for posterity:

    Somerset after the floods — BBC2 documentary

    Posted by scrabb [User Info] on January 9, 2015, 2:21 pm

    I watched almost all this hour-long documentary last night about the Somerset floods (missed the last 10 minutes) and the aftermath of people trying to get back to normal. There were many references to dredging (or lack of it) the rivers as being the main reason why the floods had been the worst in living memory.

    There were confrontations between the locals and a chap from the Environmental Agency who denied that they had deliberately transferred a huge volume of water to the area surrounding the village ofMoorland in order to save other more ‘important’ communities.

    Never once, in the 50 minutes I watched, was there any mention of climate change or global warming. (I said I missed the last 10 minutes because they might have used those phrases then, though I very much doubt it).

    My question is a very simple one. How can producer Emily Hughes and executive producer Simon Ford make a programme purportedly about disastrous floods and not – even if only in passing – raise the subject of climate change and discuss it as a probable or likely cause? I mean, how can you NOT mention it? How and why was the decision taken to omit any reference to it? Did the instruction come from above (not god but someone high up at the BBC)?

    It it very difficult not to harbour conspiracy fantasies in a situation like this in which you suspect there was wilful denial of the truth by the producers or blatant censorship imposed for political reasons.

    Other views and comments welcome.

    I watched the thing all the way through and can confirm that there was no sudden deep analysis of the root causes of the flooding in the final ten minutes of the program.

  2. Christine Says:

    What ho, how interesting. As far as our media are concerned, you lot are having a mini ice age.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/cool-britannia-icy-weather-has-britons-grumbling-on-social-media/article22516223/

    It’s climate extremes all round. We and most of the rest of North America have been plunged into deep, deep cold following on the heels of weird warmth with ice storms and all manner of, well, crap falling out of the sky.

    My 87 yr old Dad, who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba (which was never fit for human habitation to begin with) is simply not going to accept the phrase “global warming” when it is -50C outside his door winter after winter, the record snowfalls pile up then flood half the province. He will go along with “global weirding” though. Maybe your boss will too?

    Our media play up “climate change” every chance they get, but then bleat out of the other sides of their mouths about what a disaster for the Alberta economy cheap oil is going to be.

  3. Ian M Says:

    Wow, slow news day in Canada! I think it’s been a little colder up north but how does -2 or -3 in British cities become a major story on a different continent? Are they trying to bury the story about that CBC news presenter censoring negative info about the banking industry?

    Will my boss accept ‘global weirding’? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t really care any more. He’s living in a largely fictitious past on so many issues I don’t think it’s worth the effort of trying to change his mind. There’s that Kuhn quote about paradigms only changing when the kids are being taught the new one and the people who believed the old one slowly start to die off and/or lose their influence. I know very few older folks who have maintained the ability to reconsider their opinions, if they ever had it in the first place. Not that young folks are hugely better at this…

    Confirmation bias rules supreme. I used to think I was more in tune to the news about climate change because I had seen its effects first hand when I was still a child – we used to go on cheap skiing holidays most Februaries to a small village in the french alps and I could see a gradual trend of less and less snow as the years went by, with the nearby lifts being closed more often and a consequent need for us to drive to a ski station at a slightly higher altitude further up the valley. But there are other reasons why news and observations of environmental destruction crosses my boundaries with ease, not least the implications they have for massive changes to a society I never felt like I fit into or felt like I was a part of. Naomi Klein has been making this point explicitly in her latest work, spelling out how climate change means the age of neoliberal capitalism has to come to (or be brought to) an end, and more equitable social relations have to come to the fore if the problem is to be dealt with. Music to my ears! But to others who have a stake in the system, as well as considerable emotional investment in its ongoing ‘success’, this is a perfect cue for them to ignore the science, ignore even the reality of their own senses, and put the whole thing in a mental box marked ‘socialist conspiracy’. I don’t think there’s anything to be done about that kind of denial when it’s built into the very core of peoples’ identities, unless realworld disasters can eventually shake them loose.

    Our media play up “climate change” every chance they get, but then bleat out of the other sides of their mouths about what a disaster for the Alberta economy cheap oil is going to be.

    Interesting, it’s not the same over here. Last year, in the early stages of the same Somerset floods (wiki) the Carbon Brief website analysed newspaper coverage of the flooding and found that, out of 3,064 articles only 206 (6.7%) mentioned climate change at all. There are new studies from Cardiff university showing that UK media coverage of climate change and other environmental issues has plummeted from what were already appallingly low levels (my emph):

    Various studies have suggested that media coverage of climate change – and environmental issues more generally – has declined precipitously since 2009/10. Boykoff and Mansfield suggest that this is a global trend. Recent research in my own school (not yet online) suggests that this decline is particularly notable in UK media coverage.

    Vicky Dando has compared the British press reporting of two risks – climate change and terrorism. She found that coverage of terrorism has remained fairly high since 2001, while attention given to climate change has declined markedly since the relative high point between 2007 and 2009. This decline has been a steady and consistent, with more than a five-fold decrease between 2007 and 2012.

    She also found that while the seriousness of the terrorism threat was unquestioned, there was notably less certainty and urgency in the press coverage of climate change.

    In soon to be published research, Richard Thomas has recently compared two full years of broadcast news (the 10pm weekday flagship bulletins on ITV and BBC) in 2007 and 2014. He tracked the coverage of more than 30 topics and issues and found that while the attention given to the economy has increased significantly, environmental issues have almost disappeared. In 2007, the percentage of news time devoted to environmental issues was 2.5% on ITV and 1.6% on the BBC. By 2014, this had dropped to just 0.3% on the BBC and 0.2% on ITV.

    […]

    In 2007 the Madeleine McCann story [a lost child, cute, white with blonde hair], on its own, commanded as much attention as the total number of environmental stories broadcast that year. Even at the time, this might have been questionable. Yet, remarkably, seven years on – well after the Madeleine McCann story has faded from the news agenda – this comparison holds up. By 2014 there were still as many broadcast news stories about Madeleine McCann as there were on the range of environmental issues.

    Coverage of immigration, by contrast, appears to have retained its news value. In 2007, the BBC devoted only slightly more time to immigration than the environment, but by 2014 immigration received six times as much coverage. On ITV the shift is even more dramatic, with immigration receiving ten times as much coverage in 2014.

    The two issues are, of course, related – climate change will unleash significant pressures on immigration as people are displaced by extreme weather and drought – a point rarely made when either issue is aired. (link)

    On the falling oil prices, being on the consumer end we get pathetic applause for the renewed growth of the economy, no matter what the consequences:

    In this grand narrative, environmental issues are put on hold while we focus on restoring economic growth. As Tim Jackson has shown, this postponement masks a troubling truth. In a fossil fuel-based economy, the more economic growth we have, the more we increase greenhouse gas [e]missions – pushing the goal of reducing them to sustainable levels even further beyond our reach. Recent stories about the fall in oil prices illustrate this myopia well. This is, for climate change, very bad news, pushing our fossil fuel emissions even higher, but it has been reported almost exclusively in terms of its impact on the economy. (ibid)

    The perennial defense will be that the public is not interested and that media apathy simply reflects this. I say: Bollocks. The media’s role is to actively shape public opinion and the issues on which the attention of the masses is to be focused, as well the issues to be well steered-clear of. Climate change and stories about ‘the Environment’ come with too many uncomfortable truths and have the potential for encouraging criticism of the dominant social relations, with the potential of even unseating them if people follow through properly on the implications. Definitely not a subject they want us to dwell on!

    Thanks for stopping by 🙂
    I

  4. Christine Says:

    Very interesting Ian, you should monitor the Canadian news sites to see the differences in slant. Maybe climate change is so high on the agenda here because there’s such a push toward wind power (highly controversial for those who live near the turbines but the science against them is poo-poohed regularly!) From what you say above and what I see of our media, it seems that we live in very different worlds. But then, CBC is very much the thorn in the side of Big Oil and our PM who is their dedicated champion. We have David Suzuki here, remember?

    As to the CBC reporter trying to bury the banking story, I hadn’t heard that part, no, but she certainly wasn’t successful. It was huge and led to some real embarrassment for the Gov’t on it’s “temporary worker” policies, which it has since been forced to change. Believe me, the “Harper Government” rarely responds to a public outcry but it did to that one.

    As well, I noted a story (which disappeared rather quickly) that CBC staff are no longer allowed to do paid speaking engagements – clipping Amanda Lang’s wings nicely.

  5. Ian M Says:

    Hey, yes I’ll have to take a look. Difficult to believe sometimes that a major national media organisation can operate differently to the totally servile way in which the British ones do. Where does CBC’s funding come from? Seems doubtful they could really stick it to Big Oil if they were operating on a corporate model themselves and making most of their C$s from advertising (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_model#The_filters). I would expect their criticism to be limited or tempered in some way – yes/no? Presumably they don’t consistently make the case for the total dismantling of the globalised industrial economy? 😛

    Good to hear the temp worker thing caused a scandal and a u-turn. Would be nice if that happened more often – that little thing called democracy which people talk about sometimes…

    While we’re on the subject here’s a cartoon you might enjoy more than I did:

    cheers m’dear,
    I

  6. Ian M Says:

    Woah, wasn’t expecting that to show up here. Bonus!

  7. steelweaver Says:

    Wait, what do you mean “devouring The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time”?! This is the most shocking revelation of the entire post!

  8. leavergirl Says:

    Hey, sorry about the winter in Europe. In the U.S., we seem to be blessed with those newfangled polar vortices. Lots of snow in Colorado at the moment. Hoping for more — March is usually the snowiest month here.

    Folks into exploring the roots of agriculture, please join me at
    http://leavingbabylon.wordpress.com

    Just posted maybe my last post saying ag is not the root of all evil! 😉

  9. Ian M Says:

    Tolkien bored me with all his dwarves in the start of The Hobbit when I was 10. Not something I easily forgive and forget…

    ‘ag is not the root of all evil!’ – Heretic!

  10. wildcucumber Says:

    I found Tolkien a big yawn too.

    I’m not touching the ‘ag thing ;-P

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