LAST year was a historic year for the UK. It not only saw the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and rapid changes in prime ministers and many strikes, but it also the hottest year since records began in 1884.
An average temperature of just over 10 degrees Celsius was recorded for the very first time. For most British people, it was the summer heat wave extending into the early autumn when temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius that will stick in their minds. This extreme heat accounted for a significant rise in summer death rates. The highest temperature recorded was at the Royal Air Force base at Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, on July 10 at 40.1 degrees Celsius.
Globally, 2022 was the fifth or sixth warmest on record with world temperatures somewhat reduced by the effects of the weather systems generated by the second successive La Nina event. December 2022 saw a very cold snap in the UK with temperatures below freezing followed by a New Year’s Eve spell of very heavy rain bringing flooding and travel disruption as more people travelled by road as the result of a train drivers’ strike! The farmers’ fields had received weeks of heavy December rain and were so saturated that lakes developed in the country fields near my house. Runoff from the fields caused massive ponding on local roads as the drains were blocked by the debris of recent field hedge cuttings.
The previous warmest annual average record for the UK was at 9.8 degrees Celsius in 2014 with the warmest years occurring from 2003. Most of the top 10 coldest years were clustered around 1920 but the fourth coldest year on record was in 1963 when the annual temperatures reached 7.4 degrees Celsius. I well remember that particular year, when living as a youth at home in West Cornwall, famed for its subtropical climate with a tall palm tree in our garden. It was so very cold that the water tank in our attic froze and burst, with cascades of water running down the stairs flooding the ground floor of our house. Suffice it to say the palm tree sadly died from frost bite!
Around the world in 2022
The end of 2022 not only saw snow storms sweeping across the USA with sub-zero temperatures in the warmest states of California and Florida affecting the vineyards and fruit crops followed by exceptionally large rivers of moisture laden air causing extensive flooding from snowmelt. It now seems likely that most of our world’s smaller glaciers will totally melt by 2050 only leaving the very highest mountain glaciers still intact. Flooding occurred through exceptionally high rainfall inputs in Queensland, Perth, and northern Sydney in Australia at about the same time and displaced many people.
Climate change is now universally accepted and with the resultant rise in sea levels as the world’s ice caps quickly melt a new form of climate change refugee will see displaced folk worldwide seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.
In the past two decades, Malaysia has experienced rising temperatures, more frequent severe storms with heavier and more persistent rainfall, flash flooding, more frequent land slope failures, and even prolonged periods of drought. The traditional monsoon seasons seem to be knocked out of kilter. Can you remember the prolonged drought in the Miri district of Sarawak, leading to massive peat fires resulting in weeks of firefighting by the local Bomba? Last year, in the so called ‘Land Below the Wind’, Sabah, saw storm force winds and rain battering the western coastal districts with severe flooding with further severe flooding in the peninsula states of Terengganu and Pahang
Migratory bird patterns have also changed and a reduction of rubber and palm oil yields plus rising sea levels have all affected the economy from tourist inputs to agricultural outputs.
Wildlife around the British Isles
Owing to the warming of sea temperatures around the British coastline, bottleneck dolphins have overwintered off the Yorkshire coast with humpback whales seen around Cornwall’s coast. There, lobster pots have been found full of well-fed octopuses. A local Cornish fisherman observed that, during the summer months last year, he had caught 150 octopuses a day, amounting to 10 times his annual average. Unfortunately, octopuses do not reach the same price as lobsters in the fish markets!
However, all is not lost!
An unusual but natural way of limiting climate change has been discovered as a product of the melting Greenland icecap. The rock silt produced by the grinding of the rocks embedded in the base of glaciers and washed out as glacial outwash is eventually laid down on riverbeds. Today’s Greenland glaciers produce about 1 billion tonnes of rock silt per annum. Atmospheric carbon dioxide, producing a weak carbonic acid, falls as acid rain onto the basaltic rocks and turns the rock into a carbonate mineral which is eventually laid down on the ocean floor, thereby locking away carbon dioxide.
Tests have revealed that one tonne of glacial rock flour can absorb 250kg to 300kg of CO2 when applied to fields as agricultural fertiliser. This is a seeming paradox for rising temperatures, because of human induced CO2 emissions, cause the Greenland icecap to melt and the finest glacial silt particles washed out and eventually deposited in the sea helps limit climate change. The nutrient rich silt has been tested by British researchers at Sheffield University, who have discovered that if applied as fertiliser to agricultural soils, it can absorb between six to 30 million tonnes of atmospheric CO2 each year. This could prove to be of greater benefit in the long run by reducing the need for artificial fertilisers.
All countries in the world seem to be playing a catch-up game to strengthen their economic status whilst trying to cope with nature’s unseen intrusion into their affairs. Nature will take its course and all we, as ordinary folk, can do is to pray that world emissions of CO2 and other human induced gases will fall. Sarawak is ahead of the game with its ever-increasing amount of electricity generated by hydropower. As the UK is desperately seeking other ways of generating electricity through wind farms, solar panel farms, and nuclear energy plants so Sarawak is seeking to export its surplus hydroelectricity to other Malaysian states and neighbouring countries.
The old Iban saying, ‘Don’t shout until you are at the headwaters. Don’t shout unless you have reached the peak of the mountain!’ rings very true in today’s world where there is much to do, in a very short time, before reaching our objective in reducing ever rising world temperatures. Time, unfortunately, is not on our side.