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Global warming – local impacts and global catastrophes
By James Dale-Adcock
13 Nov

James Dale-Adcock is the author of our Geography for Common Entrance textbooks and Academic Deputy Head at Cranleigh Prepatory School. 


Agreed, it is relatively cold and wet now, but so it should be - it is nearly Christmas! Just take a minute to reflect on what happened with our weather in the period between April and September this year. On the 19th April 2018 the heatwave began with temperatures reaching a 70 year high of 29.4 degrees centigrade in central London. The following weekend the London Marathon was run in the hottest conditions ever. After a slight cooling in late April and early May the heatwave returned, and stayed, giving continuous temperatures in the mid 30 degrees centigrade and unbroken sunshine in many areas of the UK. It sounds lovely and many of us enjoyed this weather but it created many problems too.

Fig 1

Fig 1: Wildfires on Saddleworth Moor

 

Wildfires broke out on Saddleworth Moor and Winter Hill in North West England (fig1) which burnt out of control for five days. Nearby urban areas and parts of Greater Manchester were evacuated due to the danger caused by the smoke. It also caused vast areas of moorland, which is the natural habitat for many birds and other wildlife, to be destroyed.
 
Reservoirs ran dry in many areas of Britain due to the lack of rain combined with the massive increase in demand for water, with water companies reporting a demand of 500 million litres of extra water being taken from their reservoirs.


Fig 2

Fig 2: Contrasting surface colour in UK July 2017 / July 2018

 
The intense heat and sun-parched fields across the country caused crop failure (fig 2). The National Farmers Union estimated cereal production has been reduced by 10-15 percent as a result of crop failure which is being reflected in higher prices for products in the supermarkets.
 
Sadly, an increased number of elderly people and people with existing health conditions died due to the excessive heat of the 2018 heatwave. The Office of National Statistics reported an increase of nearly 700 extra deaths due to the heatwave.
 
Did you notice any problems caused by the heatwave in your local area?
  • Was an outdoor event you were to attend (like a concert or sports match) shortened, cancelled or brought inside due to the danger of sunstroke?
 
  • Did you have to limit using outdoor pools due to a hosepipe ban?
 
  • Maybe your Sports Day was postponed in the Summer Term or your rugby season affected by the baked hard ground?
 
  • Did any of the roads near you melt and have to be closed off?
 

Temperatures were even higher in Europe with wildfires breaking out in Greece and temperatures reaching well above 40 degrees centigrade in many European countries. Look at figure 2 to gain an understanding of the effects of the heatwave across the world and you will see that the impact on the UK was mild in comparison.


Fig 3 

Fig 3: The impact of the 2018 heatwave across the world

 

A combination of atmospheric weather patterns caused the 2018 heatwave in Europe, but this heatwave and other extreme weather events have been directly linked to the artificial heating of our atmosphere - otherwise known as global warming. Global warming is sometimes also known as the ‘greenhouse effect’ because sun rays are able to penetrate layers of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when they enter the earth’s atmosphere, but when they bounce off the earth’s surface and head out of the atmosphere they change wavelength. The exiting sun rays which travel on a shorter wavelength find it harder to penetrate the layer of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and some are retuned back to the earth’s surface again, therefore heating the lower atmosphere. For the past two hundred years human beings have been artificially adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal to create energy for industry and domestic use. Carbon dioxide is also an exhaust gas from cars.

 
Who is going to deal with Global Warming?
 

When there is such a big issue like Global Warming it is easy to feel it is somebody else’s responsibility. It is the government’s job, not ours as individuals; it is the global super-power countries’ responsibility to fix it, not smaller countries’; it is big multi-national companies’ job to operate in a sustainable way, not smaller, local firms. It is valid to expect these larger groups and organisations to lead and set an example with sustainable development, but smaller organisations and individuals also need to take ownership through different mechanisms such as trying to reduce your carbon footprint, engaging with local green initiatives such as recycling and, of highest long-term importance, maintaining an environmental morality through education into working life.

 

Wildfires, tornadoes, floods and droughts are real, life-threatening dangers that have been directly linked to global warming. But take a moment to think beyond the news reports and headlines to another level, to the long term. Earth’s human population is increasing at a rapid rate and will top 9 billion people by 2050. Food and housing demand will inevitably require more natural environments to be given over to use for human consumption, increasing factors which may accelerate the chance of extreme weather events happening. For example, global deforestation has many negative impacts on wildlife but also reduces the amount of carbon that can be stored on the earth’s surface rather than moving into the atmosphere.
 
Therefore we need to think, not just about using electric cars and green energy, but also how we develop as a society. There is no easy answer but it falls upon our young people to attack these global issues head on and prevent apathy (indifference) to climate change reports. It has, after all, now clearly been scientifically proven beyond any doubt that global warming is a real phenomenon that is causing extreme weather events, and is a direct outcome of human development.

Download a free activity sheet about global warming here.

 
Core terminology
Global warming
Fossil fuels
Sustainable development
Green energy
Carbon footprint
Multi-national companies
 
Galore Park book references
Human Geography pages 100-102
Physical Geography pages 78-82

Tags: Galore Park, Geography, Geography for Common Entrance

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