Updated: Aug 30
People often tell me that they want to take action on climate change because they are concerned about the future world they will leave for their children and grandchildren. This is laudable, but for me it about the here and now impacts of Yorkshire’s already changed climate.
Until a few weeks ago you could perhaps be excused for thinking that climate breakdown was a distant problem that was affecting other countries and future generations. The heat wave at the end to July changed that. We all got a taste of the disruption that our warming world is experiencing.
In soaring 39C temperatures schools such as Harrogate Grammar closed, Fountains Abbey discouraged visitors, LNER cancelled the Harrogate to London trains and the town centres of Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon fell silent as people stayed away in the heat.
Extreme weather has a major impact on our local economy. In the short term earnings are lost to businesses and children miss out on valuable learning as schools are disrupted. In the long-term extreme events like droughts, fires, heatwaves and storms are likely to cause economic harm because of their impact on our health, our productivity and the increased in costs for food and products such as insurance.
It’s hard to measure the long term cost of each tonne of carbon emissions we put into the atmosphere, but a recent study conducted by University College London (UCL) suggested that the economic damage created by could be over $3,000 (£2,500) per tonne of CO2. Given that on average each of us in the UK generates about 12 tonnes of CO2 a year though our energy use, travel food production and the manufacture of the stuff we buy, that is a whopping £30,000 of damage a year from our fossil fuel dependent lifestyles.
We can’t wind the clock back and prevent the increase in greenhouse gases humanity has already put in the atmosphere which is causing global heating now, but we now choose to rapidly move to a zero carbon economy to prevent accelerating climate change. We have the double challenge of adapting to a new, more extreme climate while also urgently needing to implement rapid decarbonisation.
While some of the actions needed to stop using fossil fuels can seem difficult, it is cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now than it is to deal with the economic damage from continued warming.
The extreme hot weather effected local wildlife too. HAPPY (Hedgehog Appreciation Prickly Pals Yorkshire) advised putting out water for hedgehogs. While many pet owns and farmers took action to ensure there animals stayed hydrated in the heat.
The traditional concept of the four seasons has also been altered by climate disruption, with spring arriving 8.4 days earlier that it did a century ago. The annual New Year Plant Hunt of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland in Staveley village near Knaresborough is recording more and more flowers in bloom earlier as our winters become milder.
Milder winters sounds appealing to those of us who are not cold lovers, but for our wildlife it’s a disaster. Our flora and flora are finely tuned to each other, insects and birds are dependent for their food sources on the timing of flowering plants and trees. As our seasons push out of sync it threatens the Yorkshire landscape and its traditions and culture that we love and the food and farming that we depend upon.
If we want to see a thriving local economy we need to become more resilient, adapting to the new normal of extreme weather events and shifted seasons, as well as looking to cut carbon emissions rapidly to secure a viable future for our children and grandchildren.