Britain has been gripped by the coldest winter for decades. Many parts of the country have been paralysed; children’s education has been interrupted and many businesses have had to curtail operations. The thaw has brought welcome relief.
I lived in Finland 2004 to 2008 where such weather is normal and may last for months. The Finns are equipped for such weather; the society and the economy hardly miss a beat, except in the most severe storms. Here in the UK, some people argue for better contingency plans, more snow ploughs and larger stockpiles of salt.
It is ironic that this spell of cold weather comes hard on the heels of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Climate change deniers have welcomed it with glee, claiming that this weather is proof that global warming is an elaborate hoax peddled by scientists wanting to keep their research funding. But weather is not the same as climate. Climate is all about long-term trends; weather is fickle and changeable. According to the UK Meteorological office, ‘the current cold weather in the UK is part of the normal regional variations’. Concurrent with cold weather in the UK, many places in the far north have seen temperatures above normal – in many places by more than 5 °C, and in parts of northern Canada, by more than 10 °C. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the cause of this warm weather in the Arctic is an ‘extreme negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO)’ – a natural pattern of climate variability.
Cold weather in the UK does not disprove global warming nor lessen its dangers. There is a simple fact that cannot be ignored; if all other variables remain the same, an atmosphere with a higher concentration of carbon dioxide will absorb more of the sun’s radiation. The weather may respond in a number of ways but the overall trend towards a warmer planet can only be stopped, and reversed, by breaking the world’s reliance on the burning of fossil fuels.
As for the UK’s contingency plans for a long spell of freezing weather, what should we do? We could procure all the equipment to be able to run our country like the Finns run Finland. This is not warranted. It would be more cost-effective to close down our little island for one week each decade than to keep it running through the rare big freeze.
We should remember that the sledging has been great and the weather excellent for building snowmen and for snow sculpture. The McManners tribe constructed a Tardis in our back garden which makes it look as if Dr Who has come to call. The kids may not have learnt much at school but they have had a lot of fun. Let’s stop work and enjoy the winter fun on the few occasions we have the chance, knowing that, for the UK, it is the most cost-effective solution.