Flaming February

By Steven Allain

Image credit: Jingda Chen | Unsplash

On the 26th February, the UK saw its warmest recorded winter day with a high of 21.2ºC, at Kew, London. The previous highest temperature recorded for February was 19.7ºC in Greenwich, London back in 1988. Warm days in the middle of winter are not uncommon, but seeing as the weather we experienced was closer to that of August, it is a cause for concern.

We cannot link the weather event to climate change, but we do know that more hot days like this are on their way as the climate changes. As it does so, it will not only affect ourselves but also our wildlife. Birds, amphibians and flowers have all seen a shift in when they emerge from their winter slumber over the past couple of decades.

This can lead to huge population declines as their prey has yet to emerge. In some cases, the animals themselves have not properly hibernated, and so emerge in the spring to breed and can’t keep up with the competition that has been able to hibernate properly.

It is rare that the UK is hotter than a number of European holiday destinations, such as Spain – particularly in the middle of winter. The warm weather we observed is colloquially known as a ‘fool’s spring’. What is worrying is we are unsure as to how these weather events will impact not only our wildlife but also our economy in the long run.

The hard thing for climate scientists to do is to link climate change and weather – the reason being is that the two are completely different to one another but not mutually exclusive. The climate of a particular region can define the weather but not the other way around. Climate change sceptics often point to cold weather providing evidence that everything is fine – just think about Trump this winter. Unfortunately, what we have experienced this winter is not a one-off and it is linked to a global event unwrapping before our very eyes.

When trying to make sense of climate change, it is easy to look for trends and one of these is very alarming. Nine of the ten hottest years on record globally have occurred since 2005, and January of this year was Australia’s hottest ever recorded monthwith average temperatures topping. Elsewhere prolonged droughts have been recognised as worsening California’s destructive wildfires, which have been in the news recently due to their sheer size and destructive power.

These events should be the red flags that alarm us to danger,but instead humankind is still burning fossil fuels at an alarming rate and deforesting areas of land that would have once acted as carbon sinks. Climate change isn’t a cataclysmic event that happens in an instant, it’s the continual degradation of a global system that sustains all life on this planet. We’re soon going to reach the tipping point, where there is no going back. Unless we act now, we may well see sunbathing in February as the new norm.