Today I was listening to the BBC’s flagship evening current affairs program, PM. I can’t remember what I was doing exactly – maybe pre-rinsing the plates before putting them in the dishwasher (a lie. I don’t have a dishwasher). At about five minutes into the program, after the headlines, presenter Evan Davis started to talk about climate reports, two of which were released today. What followed was an interview with Professor Sir David King, and it was so extraordinary that I’ve just wasted half an hour transcribing it. Seldom have I heard such tosh coming out of the flagship program of the flagship station of the flagship broadcaster of the (former) flagship country of the world. I leave King’s errors unremarked upon. Where King speaks of the Arctic Sea, I think we are supposed to hear the Arctic Ocean. Transcript begins:
DAVIS:……..that other paper published today. It is from a group called the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, founded by the former UK Chief Scientist Professor Sir David King, with an uncomfortable suggestion that the global warming we have braced ourselves for is having a starker effect on climate than we had imagined. This is through the effect on the Arctic and the jetstream, the jetstream, a core of strong winds travelling west to east about 5 to 7 miles above the Earth. Well the new paper links all of that to the weather disasters we have been witnessing around the world.
…wintry weather across portions of the US……water was gone at 8.30, power was off……it’s cold……it’s really hard to overstate the extent of the damage here in Sinzig, the water mark reaching above most front doors, er, in some cases above first floor windows……first the potential for life-threatening heat again on the west coast – when will this new heat dome take hold?…there’s gonna be a lot of people ending up in the hospital and being really really sick from this……yesterday in Palm Springs, 123 degrees……it’s just unbearable… it’s impossible to be out so never seen anything like this. I hope it never becomes like this ever again!
DAVIS: Well, from heat domes to snow in Texas and of course European floods more recently. Now the paper from the Climate Crisis Advisory Group is not peer reviewed but says these outlier events exceed what one would expect from the warming that we’ve seen. Sir David King explained the findings to me earlier.
KING: The rate of change of the global extreme weather events and the things that are happening around the world today are much more serious than we anticipated this time. In fact, we are about 70 years behind in terms of our predictions, in other words, we’re seeing things today that the climate predictions didn’t say would happen until towards the end of the century. What is happening in the Arctic Circle today is impacting virtually on the whole world. So over the last 15 years or so the Arctic ice that has been covering the Arctic Sea for so many thousands of years before has been melting and has been melting far more quickly than predicted and this means that today during the Arctic summer the Arctic Sea is at least 50% exposed to sunlight. Now blue water soaks up sunlight very efficiently and therefore warms up quickly whereas the ice sitting over the Arctic Sea reflected sunlight back into space very effectively. So it’s a very dramatic change and when I say dramatic, a member of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Tero Mustonen, is based in northern Finland, quite close to the North Pole. I spoke to him 6 weeks ago and he told me the local temperature was the normal about minus 30 degrees centigrade. Then I spoke to him 2 weeks ago, and he said, it’s now plus 31 –
DAVIS (interjects, sotto voce): Wow…
KING: – a 61 centigrade temperature change over that time. As Greenland warms up due to what I’ve just described, it’s also losing its ice more and more rapidly with time, and as there is enough ice there to drive global sea levels, global sea levels, to rise by 7 and a half metres, 23 feet, you can see that this is an extremely worrying outcome.
DAVIS: Can you relate what you’re saying and what is happening in the Arctic to the extreme weather that we have seen in Europe and around the world?
KING: Right. So what has been happening in the past, is we have a circular wind blowing around the Arctic Circle region which has been called the jetstream. It’s now become very significantly distorted. Now imagine this. I put warm air around the North Pole so that the north polar region is one of the warmest parts of the northern hemisphere – which is a stunning thing to be saying – and this means that you drive the cold air away from the north polar region. So the cold air is driven down and pushes on the jetstream to distort it. So in some areas the cold air goes quite a distance south. Texas, minus 16 centigrade this year. The whole of Texas was under snow and you might have seen the electricity systems failed because all the heating was being turned up. California is in the opposite position. Warm air has come up from the central region of the planet where it’s very warm, around the equator, and has gone up to Canada. So what we see is very hot temperatures being observed, totally unusual, up to 50 degrees centigrade –
DAVIS: And yet everything you’re saying really reminds us that when we talk about a one and a half degree rise in global temperature it doesn’t sound like that much, the difference between 20 and 21 and a half on a spring day, but the effect of that on weather systems can be much much greater than people have been thinking.
KING: It’s dramatic. So the Arctic Circle region as a whole is now at 3.5 degrees centigrade above the pre-industrial level and that is what’s driving these changes around the world.
DAVIS: Could the obvious conclusion from what you’re saying be: we need to think a great deal more about adapting to climate change since it’s already happening and will happen further even if we do everything that we need to do to stop carbon emissions.
KING: If I can take you to mid century we’re actually saying that this is more or less on the cards unless we take really dramatic action, that south east Asia will be suffering from floods that mean that cities like Calcutta and Jakarta will no longer be liveable – by mid century, that’s 30 years from now.
DAVIS: But is that baked in, or is it avoidable at this point?
KING: Well, I’m going to say it is avoidable. What we’re saying is that we need three elements to the solution. The first is Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases deeply and rapidly, much more rapidly than any country is currently aiming to do. The second thing is, all of this is telling us that we’ve already put too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. We are sitting at 500+ parts per million today, the pre-industrial level was 270, I believe we need to aim to get it down to 350 parts per million. We will only manage this by the end of the century, but nevertheless we have to aim to do that to create a manageable future for humanity. But the third thing is we need to buy time. It’s going to take too long to reduce emissions and remove the greenhouse gases so we need a program of Repair, the third R is repair, and repair means in this case, refreezing the Arctic region so that the Arctic Sea is covered with ice during the Arctic summer. And that’s what we here in Cambridge at the Centre for Climate Repair Cambridge are doing. We’re working out and doing experiments to see that we can refreeze the Arctic during the three months of the Arctic summer, reflect sunlight away from the ice that was formed during the previous winter. If we can achieve that year on year then we should be able to buy time while we Reduce and Remove. I don’t think we’ve got much more than 4 to 5 years to put in place this whole program of work to create a manageable future for mankind.
DAVIS: Professor Sir David King, the former government advisor, chief scientist, and also the man who created this Climate Crisis Advisory Group, talking about its report today.
Transcript ends. Your author stops shouting at the radio.