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Breakfast with Frost
On Sunday, 10 August 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with Helen Young, BBC Senior Weather Forecaster, Sir Crispin Tickell and Tim Smit, Eden Project Founder

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Well during the past week the weather has caused more misery on the railways, smog over the capital and apparently it's responsible for more food poisoning, heart attacks and even domestic violence too.

And across Europe, of course, we've seen those dreadful forest fires. So is this the shape of things to come? The doomsday scenario of the earth overheating?

With me in the studio is the familiar face of the BBC's senior weather forecaster, Helen Young, and Sir Crispin Tickell, who has advised successive governments on climate change. And joining us from St Austell in Cornwall is the founder of the Eden Project, Tim Smit. Welcome all, but let's start with Helen - blind us with a few facts and figures, Helen.

Helen Young, BBC's senior weather forecaster
Helen Young, BBC's senior weather forecaster

HELEN YOUNG: Well this week we haven't broken our all time record yet, the all time record stands at 37.1 degree Celsius, which is about 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

That was set back in 1990 on the 3rd August in Cheltenham. We're getting very close to it, on Wednesday we had the peak of our heat wave so far and we got up to 36.4 degrees at Gravesend.

We also had 36.4 degrees yesterday in Enfield and in London, so we, we're sort of getting very close to it. Today there's a chance that we could, as you've heard, get very close to it indeed and break the all time record.

But so far we've already broken lots of local records, across Scotland, across England, across Wales. For example, as far north as Kirkwell we've seen temperatures around 25 degrees, setting a new record there.

Across the Murray Firth temperatures have been up to 32 degrees. In Aviemore, temperatures up to 31 degrees, you know, well above expectations for this time of year.

PETER SISSONS: Now in the debate about what causes it, where do you forecasters stand?

HELEN YOUNG: In terms of this heat, I mean there's certain atmospheric conditions that you need to get this type of heat. Primarily you need an area of high pressure, a settled area of weather where you don't get the, the cloudy skies by day or by night; you need the strong summer sunshine and you need the right wind direction.

And this is why it took a while for the heat wave to actually arrive across some parts, we had to wait for the winds to swing round to a south easterly direction to start bringing the really hot air up from the near continent. And as you've heard in Europe we've had, you know, very hot, very dry weather throughout this summer.

So once that started, from about the 2nd of August onwards, we've started building this heat wave. Now we are actually seeing more heat waves, in the last 30 years the incidence of heat waves has actually increased, so yes things are, are getting hotter. And certainly in the winters we're seeing less frost, less snow, so again the winters are getting milder.

So in terms of are you asking me is this, is this indicative of something else, then it looks as though it could be but you can't pinpoint one weather event to climate change or global warming.

Sir Crispin Tickell, climate change expert
Sir Crispin Tickell, climate change expert

PETER SISSONS: Well one's very impressed by how cautious weather forecasters are about climate change and global warming, Crispin, there seems some broad agreement that human behaviour can affect the climate but no agreement on how much or how little, or on the price we should pay for taking remedial action, would you agree?

CRISPIN TICKELL: I agree entirely. We, the science is not absolutely clear. But the science is pretty clear about the trend, because if you look at the graphs you see that in the last 120 years things have been moving up steadily, with one or two blips but nevertheless moving up.

And we don't know where the thresholds are, that is the great difficulty about climate, predicting climate change, is that it's never quite certain when you're going to go over a threshold and get into a entirely new regime. But the consensus of scientific opinion is that the current measure of warming is at least mostly due to human activity.

PETER SISSONS: Well, but are we getting a sort of big climate change industry built, built on rather dodgy foundations, because we've had heat waves before, they say the 13th century was a massive heat wave, we've seen all these, the pictures of the Romans growing vines on Hadrian's Wall and making wine up there and all that sort of stuff.

There were no cars or aeroplanes then. How do you separate out the natural changes, the great cyclical changes caused by sun spots or whatever, from what man does?

CRISPIN TICKELL: It's very difficult to do but the, the world's scientists have got together in a series of reports and the one they produced at the end of the year 2001 shows pretty clearly that human activity is having a big effect. And I suppose the alarming thing is whether in fact it isn't to some degree being masked, so that the effect could be very much greater if, for example, we didn't pollute the air so much. Because if you pollute the air with lots of industrial particles you tend to keep it a bit cooler than it would otherwise be. So the great search at the moment in the science is after the thresholds, where it is that you tip over.

Because I should say there are two risks, one is that the effect of melting the ice, which is what's happening in the high latitudes, could mean that in fact at a certain point it could become very much colder. And the other danger is that you set up what's called runaway greenhouse warming, which means that you might get into a very, very serious situation indeed.

Tim Smit
Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project

PETER SISSONS: I want to go down to Cornwall to Tim Smit -Tim are you there?


PETER SISSONS: The weather today in Cornwall looks pretty good, soon you won't need your domes.

TIM SMIT: Well the sooner we don't need the domes the better, I would say, as a philosophical proposition. But actually Cornish weather has a, has it's own fair share of horizontal mist for some of the year so we'll need them for a long time yet I guess.

PETER SISSONS: But Mediterranean climate, if we are in for that, because of long term climate change, could be sensational for Cornwall. It wouldn't all have a downside down there, would it?

TIM SMIT: It wouldn't all have a downside in Cornwall but I think that we live in a rather large world and I'd hate to see, think, that the profit of Cornwall's decent weather would be a lot of islands disappearing under the sea and a lot of places having droughts.

So while I might enjoy seeing even more Mediterranean type climate down here - because of course you must remember that we have some of the finest Mediterranean style gardens in the world here in Cornwall already - I think the price might be rather high to pay.

PETER SISSONS: I remember when I was taught O Level biology being told that carbon dioxide was an essential plant food, plants get about 60% of their food from the air, shouldn't we be getting lusher growth the more carbon dioxide is pumped into the air?

TIM SMIT: Yeah you would, you would get lusher growth but the trouble is a balance, isn't it? I mean in our biomes we find that when the carbon dioxide levels go higher the plants grow like billy-oh, but the fibre content inside the trees means we have to, it gets kind of weak, so you have to give them fitness training and shape them and hug them and move them around to get the strength up.

And they discovered that in the experiments in biosphere 2 in Arizona as well, that these trees will grow at amazing rates absorbing carbon dioxide but at a certain point then it's no good because it's actually not good for the plants, they can't take any more really for being healthy.

PETER SISSONS: How, what sort of a project do you have down there to make sure your own carbon dioxide emissions are limited?

TIM SMIT: Well obviously, obviously it's often been pointed out to us that it could be seen as hypocritical having an environmental project which attracts car.

PETER SISSONS: Well you have the biggest car parks in Cornwall.

TIM SMIT: Well, yeah, maybe we do, other than some of the supermarkets, but the truth is that actually we've worked very, very hard with the bike trail people and the railways to make sure that in fact 20% of our visitors actually don't come by car, they come by train and by coach and by bicycle and walking.

So we're very proud of that. But, you know, I mean if I'm allowed to put a sort of a bit of a knife in the ribs of the train service, it's a ridiculous situation to have railway trains coming down from London with a maximum limit of six bicycles on a train, which makes it rather difficult for the rest of us to encourage everybody to get on a bicycle.

PETER SISSONS: Tim Smit, thank you. Coming back to Crispin Tickell, need governments actually do anything?

In 20 years time we won't have the internal combustion engine, shortly, I mean we'll have hydrogen cars, we'll have more forms of fuel being made, we'll have fusion power, the governments may decide to go back to nuclear, as France, the French do, they don't seem to have any problems with nuclear.

Governments actually might be best advised to leave well alone and not do this great Kyoto thing, stifle growth in the hope of some intangible advantage.

CRISPIN TICKELL: Well I don't agree at all.

PETER SISSONS: That's why I asked the question.

CRISPIN TICKELL: That's why you asked the question. At the moment I think one has to look at a few figures. In the - if you look at the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that has been put there largely by human activity, it is now greater than in the last 460,000 years.

So we're getting into new territory all the time. Now this great build up is something that you can control. The Kyoto Protocol, even if it worked, would never provide all the answer.

PETER SISSONS: At massive cost as well.

CRISPIN TICKELL: No, don't you believe it.

PETER SISSONS: 180 billion.

CRISPIN TICKELL: No - you've, you've - it's not going to be very expensive to put the Kyoto Protocol into effect because you save all over the place - energy efficiency, it is a whole variety of other things you can do which are not in fact going to make very much difference to the national economies.

The economists really are looking, are very much tend to be short term people. Y

you've got to look 20 or 30 years ahead. I don't believe the Kyoto Protocol is expensive at all, I think the problem is that it doesn't go nearly far enough, and you're going to have to do a great deal more.

And that, to be fair, the British government is among those that are recognising that. Tony Blair said it was the biggest environmental problem there is, we have a programme to reduce British emissions by quite ambitious targets, we're not, we may not be able to meet those targets ...

PETER SISSONS: Are we building more roads?

CRISPIN TICKELL: No - well that - you can address that point to Mr Prescott. One of the most dangerous things is the fact that you have a whole variety of things in which the left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing.

HELEN YOUNG: Can I interject as well -

PETER SISSONS: A final word from Helen Young.

HELEN YOUNG: As somebody that is expecting at the moment for me -

CRISPIN TICKELL: I would never have known -

HELEN YOUNG: - but climate change is something that you can't just switch off today. The pollutants that we've already put into the atmosphere are there and they have half lives, they take a time to actually disappear, don't they?


HELEN YOUNG: So even if we stop doing what we're doing today, nothing would change for at least 40 years.

Now looking ahead to the future generations, our children, our grandchildren, that's what we're looking at, and if we don't do anything we're seriously in danger of damaging their life place, their work place.

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