[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Six Forum: Global warming
Dr Chris West, Director of the UK Climate Impacts Programme, answered your questions in the Six Forum, presented by Manisha Tank.



The weather in the UK hasn't quite broken records today, but Prince Charles says it's "bloody hot".

Temperatures are approaching 30C plus, and the hot spell is expected to last into next week.

The heatwave could be a sign that global warming is speeding up, according to Professor John Schellnhuber at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

But not everyone is enjoying the heat, as thunderstorms in Northern Ireland left tens of thousands of homes without power overnight.

What's causing the extreme weather? Is global warming accelerating? What are the consequences for the UK?


Transcript


Manisha Tank:

Hello and a very, very warm welcome to the Six Forum, I'm Manisha Tank. Temperatures in the UK have soared to near record levels and while the heat wave has been a blessing to sun-worshippers, it's wreaking havoc elsewhere - across Europe, forest fires continue to rage across parched forests, for example.

Well what's causing temperatures to hit baking point? Many are concerned that this might all be down to global warming. Joining is Dr Chris West, Director of the UK Climate Impacts Programme from our Oxford studio.

Good to have you with us Chris. First of all, a couple of e-mails that we've received that really engender a bulk of them. Bob Alexander, Birmingham asks: Is the world going to keep getting hotter? Because it certainly wasn't like this in the 50s? Also Max, London asks: Is the recent heat just a blip or could we see more of this in future?


Dr Chris West:

Let's answer those in two bits, both together, yes, it is going to go on getting warmer. The climate is definitely changing and it will get warmer until we do something about the greenhouse gas emissions that we're putting into the atmosphere.

But is this a blip? - Even if the climate was steady, we would expect some very hot years - like 1995 and 1999. But it's suspicious when we get so many record hot years coming so close together and that suggests the climate isn't steady and that it is changing. So I think this is a blip yes maybe but it's a good warning that this is the sort of thing we can expect more of.


Manisha Tank:

Lisa, London asks: Is the hot weather now likely to result in poorer weather later in the year for Europe?

There are a lot of people writing in and talking about the extremes getting even more extreme.


Dr Chris West:

Yes, that is certainly happening. As well as global warming, which is part of climate change, in the UK we can expect drier summers and wetter winters. So we can expect more miserable, long, wet winters - sorry there it is.


Manisha Tank:

Gordon, Scotland asks: Even in Scotland we are experiencing more extreme weather - from blazing sun to torrential rain. Why can't we have a clear explanation as to what is causing this?

While you mention things like global warming and the effects that it might have on climate change, there are some scientists who claim that it might not all be down to the same thing. But just describe our role in this because global warming could be beaten if only there was the political will.


Dr Chris West:

Yes, our role - that's your role, my role - everybody who uses energy that's produced from non-renewal sources - is responsible for this change. This isn't something that's being done to us, it's something we're doing to our planet. So it's within ourselves to change. Either we change before it gets dangerous - whatever that is - or we leave it until it becomes dangerous, it becomes a very deeply damaging event. But we will stop using carbon-based energy economy - guaranteed that there aren't the hydrocarbons to keep us going for very long.


Manisha Tank:

Chris, what does nature teach us? Tysic, USA asks: Is it true that volcanoes put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than we as humans do?

With that, looking at history, there were tales 10 - 15 years ago of scientists finding pockets of gases stuck in the ice in Antarctica and in the Arctic and claiming that actually we went through this once through this once before.


Dr Chris West:

That's very interesting. What volcanoes do, they do put out greenhouse gases, what they also do is put out sulphate aerosols and certainly Mount Pinatubo erupted there was a measurable cooling in the Earth's climate. But that's been taking account of in the climate models that make us expect a warming of the Earth's temperature.

Going back to those ice bubbles, there's a very, very long record of atmospheric samples being trapped in little bubbles in the ice and we can look back at a half a million year record from the Vostok Station in Antarctica and the levels of carbon dioxide go up and down. The levels we've got now are higher than any recorded in that half million year period.


Manisha Tank:

Paul French, London asks: What do you make of last week's news that the ozone layer is actually repairing itself?

What is the ozone update and where do we stand with regard to ozone in such high temperatures?


Dr Chris West:

Ozone has two roles: if it's high up in the stratosphere, it's protecting us from ultraviolet radiation and is performing a useful task and we were in danger of destroying that completely by using halocarbon propellants in aerosols. Now we stopped producing those halocarbons but they take a very long time to come out of the atmosphere. But that will slowly happen and the ozone layer in the stratosphere will repair itself. When the weather is very hot though, you get tropospheric ozone which is certainly harmful.


Manisha Tank:

Well Chris, I'm about to come onto how we cope with the changes then which is something I know you know a lot about. But before we do, a text message that we've just received from Becky in Norfolk saying, she's a geography student and has always been shown that the temperature has been gradually rising over millions of years, so asking the controversial question - does global warming actually exist?


Dr Chris West:

Yes, global warming exists. What we're seeing now is a faster rise in temperature than we've seen anywhere else in the fossil record. Over the last thousand years, there's been a very gradual steady decrease in the average global temperature and that's averaged over northern and southern hemispheres and that's been reversed over the last century and a bit.


Manisha Tank:

Ok, so it's accelerating - there's something to be worried about. How do we cope with change? A great e-mail from someone who calls themselves Flightless, London who asks: I've just been told that I can't pre-book an evening "flight" on the London Eye for this Saturday because of the heat! Why does this country stop functioning when it gets slightly hotter?


Dr Chris West:

Really because the climate here is so lovely. For centuries we've been able to go out and enjoy ourselves any day of the year - we've never really worried about what the climate does to us - what it does to our bits of machinery- because it's actually a very equable climate.

People are starting now to look seriously at those extremes. That the railways - say what you like - but they now starting to say well what are the temperatures that we can expect to be exceeded once a year, once in 10 years, once in a hundred years, once in a thousand years? And it's those extremes that are very hard to fix - to decide what level they are. But once you've done that and you can decide the actions you take in those instances, then you are prepared. There has been a tendency in the past, for British people to say, well most of the time it will be alright and I think that's now changing - people are saying, there is a risk that the temperature will go over - whatever it is - 40 degrees and - like the French had to this week - firemen had to go out and spray nuclear reactors. That's an adaptation to the current climate and we will need to do a lot more of that to adapt to a changing climate.


Manisha Tank:

Let's talk about the very real problem facing commuters today - the fact that there were rail lines that were buckling. In France, ok, they're dousing nuclear reactors with cold water but here we're having train line buckle. Janet, Shropshire asks: If these changes are permanent, will we have to rebuild the railway system from scratch (which doesn't sound like such a bad idea anyway)?

Paul Dabbs, UK asks: How do hot countries like India cope with it? Do they have any rail service at all?

Well of course we know they do have a rail service but this is a question of knowing what your climate is like and being able to adapt to it as you say.


Dr Chris West:

Yes, I think perhaps the extremes that we managed haven't been as extreme as on the continent, where because they're further away from the moderating influence of the sea, they do have a more extreme climate. I don't know, perhaps they spend more on their railway infrastructure.

Now I don't think we're in the business of completely rebuilding the infrastructure but perhaps the maintenance schedules will be changed so that the railways are set up differently for winter and summer - I don't know. But I'm sure the rail network will have to look at the extremes, not only based on what we've had over the last 150 years since we invented the system, but over the next 50 or 100 years, as, if you like, the rules have changed and we're going to have to start looking into the future and saying well this is what we think the extremes will be - how will we cope with the hypothetical situation, say, that we have an air temperature of 45C?


Manisha Tank:

Neil Hendry, Henley on Thames asks: Can a heat wave ever provide positive effects to farming?


Dr Chris West:

Farming will certainly adapt. Farming is actually very good at adapting. Crops change, they plant new varieties. Clearly a heat wave is good for some crops at some times - I'm told raspberries have done terribly well recently - I hope it's true. Wheat has done badly because it was a time when more water is needed and they haven't had it. So different crops benefit and different needs occur.


Manisha Tank:

Joanna, Shropshire asks: How will global warming affect the UK's wildlife?

We also hear horror stories about dogs left in cars - this is about humans being more aware and having to adapt to their new lifestyles. But also we were beginning to hear horror stories about mosquitoes moving up this way and the fact that we would have to deal with biting insects etc. How have things going to change on the wildlife front?


Dr Chris West:

You're right, it is possible for new species to arrive and to establish themselves and people are keeping a close eye on that. What will happen is some of the more northern and montane habitats will be reduced in size. So Scottish mountains - those habits will decrease in area and there are some species in Scotland that I anticipate will be close to extinction as climate change reduces the amount of, if you like, Arctic habitat in Britain.


Manisha Tank:

Julie, Newmarket asks: Will areas of the UK really be flooded if Global Warming continues? Could that be an advantage?

Now I imagine that flooding is never going to be an advantage and is going to cause us great problems. But there's a great issue here again on how we adapt - do we change the way that we live? Do we change where we live?


Dr Chris West:

I think we probably do change where we live. I think there is an enormously growing awareness, first of all that floodplains are actually there for a purpose - they are there to store water - and if we put houses on floodplains, we have to be very careful that we know what the risks are and that we manage those risks.

On the question of sea level rise, we're talking about something between a few inches and a foot or so over the next century. So if we choose to, we can protect all the coastline of this country. We might not choose to protect all of that coastline, we might choose to let some of it, be taken back by the sea and that will create interesting new habitats - salt marshes etc. So I think the rate of change of that is slow enough that we can adapt quite well. What we need to do rather faster is to look at the risks we run from things like storm surges that cause sudden over-topping and make sure that our flood management systems are proof against the changed conditions.


Manisha Tank:

Last question now - this one is from Lisa in Alderstone, UK who asks: What can we do then, as individuals, to help prevent global warming?

If there were little things that we could do every single day that would go towards that grand cause of helping reduce the problem.


Dr Chris West:

I was hoping that somebody would ask that question. Here's something we can all do: we can stop talking about climate change as if it's being done to us and we can start to take responsibility for it. We're all addicted to using energy - to burning carbon and to changing the way our life support system - that's the planet we live on - is working. So the first step is for all of us to acknowledge that this is something that we are doing and it is something that we can stop.

After that, yes, there are useful practical things we can all do. We can pressurise all the people we do business with to take account of climate change in their products. We can buy things that take less energy not only to make but to deliver to our doorstep. We can choose to live a less energy-intensive lifestyle - and that's not putting on a hair shirt, it's just thinking about the energy costs of what we do. And we call all pressurise, if you like, the energy supply industry to give us the green alternatives which are possible and which we all need.


Manisha Tank:

Chris, thanks for that final answer. Just to finish it all, I just think it's rather ironic that one electrical store, said it sold 30,000 fans in the first three days of this week and of course we all need that energy you were talking about to power to fans in the first place.


Dr Chris West:

A piece of cardboard does much better!


Manisha Tank:

That's a good piece of advice. Dr Chris West thanks very much for joining us. You've been watching the Six Forum, thanks for joining us, goodbye.




SEE ALSO:
Two die in swim accidents
06 Aug 03  |  England
UK lags behind on sun cream use
06 Aug 03  |  Health
Hot weather risks
05 Aug 03  |  Medical notes
Helping workers keep their cool
05 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Tube keeps running in heatwave
05 Aug 03  |  London


RELATED BBCi LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific