Extreme Weather Events In The Uk Environmental Sciences Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
Wordcount: 2660 words

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Intro: Global Warming is an undisputable cause of climate change in which the major cause of climate change is mostly induced by humans (anthropogenic), and not simply by the “natural course of nature”. The severity of its effects to weather conditions is always increasing day by day. Extreme weather conditions may range from floodings, heatwaves, droughts and other severe weather conditions. We are now experiencing each year drier plus burning summer seasons due to the increase in heat waves and global warming, whilst we have warmer plus rainier winters as a result of increased rain, snow and hail precipitation. Even stormy weather is on the increase. [1- 4]

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Who does it affect?: This issue of random extreme weather conditions affects everyone in every national and local communities across the world (even in the UK), particularly the most vulnerable people.. Disruption to the normal farming conditions due to random climate change will cause an imbalance to the soil quality which will mean that crops will not be able to grow[5], and fewer animals will be fit for consumption due to the increase of food poisoning and water borne diseases, therefore farmers will lose out on potential job earnings. This will make farmers less likely to keep up with their bills and live less comfortably due to the reduced income. At the same time, it will affect us as there will a shortage of good, nutritional food. They may resort to increasing food prices.

Since farmers supply food for many different food companies, it could indirectly pose problems to companies regarding the supply of food and marketing of their food products.

Drought which is the result of increasing global temperatures can severely affect water supply companies. Water supply companies may increase their water usage prices by at least 5 percent each year[6] due to the drought and the ever increasing demand of water.

Climate change and extreme weather can affect our health and make us more susceptible to much more illnesses than now and even cause death. Examples of illness conditions are hay fever, cataracts and skin cancer. It could even cause occurrences of Dengue fever and West Nile virus which are tropical diseases not normally found in the UK.[7]

Temperature rises and heatwaves are becoming more frequent than usual. The Met Office conducted an interesting research which showed Englands highest temperature recorded in a day. One of the figures was particularly striking which was found in Kent from the southern part of England. It revealed that Kent had the highest temperature recorded in January 2003 which was 17.6 degrees, and 38.6 degrees in August 2003 showing a shocking 21 degrees increase in just above 6 months.[7] Such extreme temperatures can present health problems to these vulnerable people. When exposed to heat long enough, Heat exhaustion may result to these people and possibly may lead to dehydration and even heatstroke which is a life threatening medical condition. Also, it will increase the amount of harmful UV radiation contacting our skins so increasing our skin cancer risk. Since Britain may experience further increase in temperatures in the near future, this problem needs much attention.

Moreover, the heatwaves may induce power cuts and increase water demand which will affect everyone including business people. Technology and water are in ever increasing demand therefore disabling the available technology around us due to power cuts, more droughts and increasing water bills may cause severe problems in our ability to cope without them at work and leisure. Also if business buildings are severely damaged, they may build a new building at another site which may cost more money than minor repair.

Not only does it affect us humans, it affects plant and animal life too. More heatwaves and other severe weather conditions will increase the incidence of forest wildfires, contamination of river water and damage to habitats. This will harm the plant and animal wildlife and they may struggle to survive. It will ultimately lead to affecting our lifestyles in the long term.[8]

Examples of damaging cases: In the UK (England and Wales), floods that occurred at Autumn in the year 2000 between October to November have resulted in massive damages which have costed at least £1.3 billion.[1] That autumn was the wettest autumn season ever recorded since 1766, demonstrating more than 500mm of rainfall between September to November, and insurance claims up to £3.5 billion were called for as a result of at least 10,000 flooded homes.[1, 3] .

Another case in the UK that is increasing even today is in the farming industry. Due to climate change, there is now a rapid growth of certain parasitic worms particularly the Helminth family that are affecting cattle and sheep livestock (affects both young and adult livestock). The most common Helminths are the roundworms (gastrointestinal nematodes) and the flatworms (flukes). The roundworms are thought to drastically reproduce far more quickly in higher temperatures and adapt very well to its surroundings due to its biotic potential and genetic diversity.[9-10] This means that they can potentially thrive in all four seasons. Global Warming may increase mean daily temperatures and therefore cause a upsurge in the reproducing rate of roundworms.[9] A specific roundworm species called Teladorsagia grows really fast in the Spring and have been causing heavy damage to young lambs and even death in South East Scotland.[10] There had been an outbreak in 2004 of another specific roundworm called Nematodirus battus, which have adapted to the Scottish weather so that they grow not only in Summer but also Autumn and Winter. They have been seen in young and old lambs.[10]

Furthermore, the European heatwave that the UK experienced in August 2003 was the hottest heatwave ever recorded. Altogether in Europe, 20,000 people died because of the heatwave. Out of this, a minimum of 2,000 people from the UK died as a result of excessive heat. One third of the 2,000 deaths in the UK were associated with air pollution. It even affected roads, train services, water and energy suppliers plus farmers. [11] Not only that, home building foundations (subsidence) were being damaged due to the drying of water from the soil and building foundations causing cracks to form and non-level home foundations. The subsidence insurance claims soared up to £400 million. [12]

Vulnerability of certain people types: In the UK, the magnitude of Heatwaves and rising sea levels (which may lead to larger wave heights, more floods and faster coastal erosion) are rising. Heatwave effects may be particularly significant in the South and East parts of the UK. These extreme weather conditions pose certain vulnerable individuals who:[2, 4]

have low income support – They cannot afford to buy accessories and other essential items that may help against short term and long term extreme weather problems.

live in low quality constructed houses (particularly more found in coastal regions)- buildings will trap the heat, making their homes hotter and more susceptible to weaker house foundations.

are elderly or quite young -more susceptibility to disease due to weaker immune systems.

have poor health due to illness – may increase their chances of catching other major or minor diseases, especially in cities.

are isolated from social links – finding environmental, social and emergency help may be harder

live near the coastal regions -particularly in the East part of England as these coast have low lying, soft sediment coasts that erode much more quicker.

Who live in cities – referred as “urban heat islands”, which means that urban areas produce more heat than countryside towns. Makes them more susceptible to illnesses and possibly cause city infrastructure problems.[13]

Cause of severe climate change and science: Many scientists agree that the major cause of the drastic climate change, global warming and extreme weather conditions are due to pollution mainly by certain human activities (anthropogenic) that emit greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide, water vapour, methane and carbon dioxide (CO2)). Of course there are natural equilibriums such as the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle and the water cycle that tries to balance the levels of these gases. Also, the ozone layer (O3) helps protect us from the harmful UV radiation from the sun. But these natural equilibriums have been disturbed by human activities. So now temperatures and sea levels are rising (glaciers in the Antarctica are melting as proof). [14-20]

A few examples of the human activity that has damaged the natural cycles are:[14-20]

the cutting of trees (deforestation) – increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to burning of trees. Trees are important in the absorption of carbon dioxide and water from the environment using the process called photosynthesis to release oxygen (O2) to the environment.

driving cars, buses and other transport (especially airplanes) – build-up of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere. Accounts for 21% of the emission of greenhouse gases in the UK.

industrial cooling towers- increases the amount of heated water into the atmosphere.

use of fertilisers and pesticides for farming – the ones that contain nitrogen increase the levels of nitrogen in the biosphere via contamination of water due to heavy rainfall. Therefore it affects humans, fish and animals. Accounts for 8% of the emission of greenhouse gases in the UK.

Burning of fossil fuels – done to produce energy. The biggest contributor in the UK of releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (65%).

aerosols that contain CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) – the CFC’s are sent to the atmosphere in which the UV radiation frees the chlorine from the CFC. This chlorine damages the ozone (O3) layer in the atmosphere.

Some may argue that natural causes are significant to the climate change effects. It is known that eruption of volcanoes, the output energy of the sun, ocean currents and Earth’s orbit changes do contribute to this but only play a minor role.[17,20]

Who can influence change?: The UK Government can help with the mitigation and adaptation strategies for sustainability development which includes social, environmental and economic improvements. Mitigation is trying to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in order to reduce the temperature rises. Adaptation involves doing things differently in our lives to reduce the level of greenhouse gases. They must consult with other business leaders and organisations to ensure mitigation and adaptation strategies are implemented for sustainability.

It could help the UK unemployment issue whilst helping biodiversity. However, greener solutions may require lots of financial and political help to implement them, which is the challenge. They need to use short and long term strategies for success.

What currently is happening and what extras can be done?

A study found that London was producing 44.71 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2008 from which major culprit the business workplaces contributed by a shocking 19.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide(43% of total). Also, homes and transport were emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide. The Mayor of London’s mitigation strategy to climate change is to lower London CO2 levels by 60% for 2025. It is currently under public consultation but sounds promising. The mitigation programmes include RE:FIT, RE:CONNECT, RE:NEW, the Green500, Electric Vehicle Rollout and Operation Decentralised Energy. It will involve installing new energy saving technology at businesses and homes, encouraging community to reduce CO2 levels, recycling waste into energy and get 1,000 electric vehicles and more. [21]

Advantages are that it explores different ways that can bring a change in CO2 levels so results can be seen relatively quick, it may provide many jobs in a variety of sectors for the unemployed as it is a concerning issue in the UK, the scheme is easy to follow, helps people save more money in the long term.

It may have problems with the project being expensive and refuelling electric or hydrogen fuelled vehicles as it may take longer.

Overcoming resistance needs more public awareness about the benefits, business and public role models to show public being greener is possible, and easy.

The Queen made a speech recently in which she said that policies and legislations of the energy security and green economy Bill are to be introduced and implemented by the Government into homes and business across the UK. This will enable more use of energy efficient technology whilst ensuring management of energy supply to keep up with energy demand, reduce greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide, encourage people to coincide with the demands set by the Government, and fund more projects that help the economy whilst reducing greenhouse gases via the Green Investment Bank.[22] This sounds like a good idea for mitigation and adaptation towards climate change.

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In the UK, Business and Government Leaders like David Cameron need to encourage greener jobs for benefit of the environment, economy and society. Unemployment still is a big issue across the world. Many people including graduates are claiming unemployment benefits and are unable to find work due to the credit crunch. Women are especially finding it difficult. In March 2011, the number of men on the benefits are 988,200 whilst number of women are 462,300.[23]

Recently, The Green Economy Council have fetched big business leaders (eg. Joe Greenwell, chairman of Ford UK) in its council to provide professional advice to the Government on policies that affect green business infrastructure, investment and regulation. They are setting up policies like Green Deal which may open a thousand new jobs. But policies need to be clearer on low carbon economy. [24-26]

They have not considered solar energy which has the potential to thrive. Mazhar Bari of SolarPrint said in 10 years, it could create 10,000 jobs, €1 billion of exports and €140 million of annual tax revenue.[27]

Public Biodiversity awareness needs to be more focused in the UK particularly to the medium/low class people due to low income. Certain celebrities can probably help with this. Solutions need to be easy, practical, involve little effort and cheap.

Health adaptation policies look good like the Heatwave Plan, Climate Change Act 2008 and the Annual Public Health Report of the Director of Public Health 2010 have been introduced to help healthcare professionals and public adapt to climate change and help health sector Government bodies and media to raise awareness of solutions. Also, diet and health advice to public is given by healthcare professionals. [28,29]

As far as farming is concerned in the UK, the Common Agricultural Policy needs to be reviewed again by DEFRA to convince the Government the benefits of the scheme.[30]

Funding cuts to UK flood defence may have serious consequences as those seen in November 2010 at Cornwall where 5 million poor people were at risk from flood damage. I think some property insurance cover and belongings can help in advance of flooding event so that less money is spent in aid. [31]

Conclusion: Much effort still needs to be done by everyone, although the Government and others have actively tried to reach sustainable development through mitigation and adaptive approaches. They seem to be in the correct frame of mind but farming and flood aid strategies still needs to be tackled.


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