One of the concerns of climate change scientists in recent years is not so much that global temperatures will rise a handful of degrees, but that this will cause considerably more extreme weather due to greater energy in the atmosphere: Bill McKibben’s ‘global weirding’. Science isn’t in a position to predict what, where, or how much, except in extremely broad terms, but it seems from the evidence of the past few years that these kinds of changes may be beginning to start.
This has been picked up by the President of the (UK) National Farmers’ Union, Peter Kendall, as reported in the Guardian and was featured on Radio 4’s The World Tonight last night (audio from 21:58, may not be available long-term).
Kendall has been speaking to farmers about this and sums things up as:
A gentle increase in temperature is fine but extreme weather events completely stuffs farming: just look at last year. Farming is risky enough as it is.
As noted by a Welsh farmer quoted on the radio programme, the problem is that we seem to be getting long blocks of the same type of weather, often more extreme: drought, snow, rain and heat over the last year. These affect yields of both crops and livestock, and make feeding the UK more difficult.
Is this good news? Yes, in that an influential voice is raising the issue. But some farmers are yet to be convinced, and Kendall’s plans for action seem to involve other people taking action, not farmers. There is no acknowledgement that farming makes substantial contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and species loss and should at least re-examine its own practices.
Although an unprecedented stocktake of UK wildlife in May revealed that most species are struggling, Kendall said: “As I travel around, I see a fantastic British countryside and I do not accept that the countryside and environment is going to hell in a handcart.”
So this is an important step forward, but not the whole story. I hope that Kendall and others can have a frank discussion with environmentalists (some of whom in turn need to recognise that the need to feed the UK population puts some limits on what is possible) and all come to a suitable plan for adapting to climate change, together with helping to mitigate the worst effects.