Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Camels in the air?

There's been an explosion in Ashfield. It happened on Sunday. The light was blinding. The heat was intense. And when I stepped outside to see what had happened I found that we'd been hit by a heatwave. In the space of a few hours the natural world had exploded into summer.

After weeks of grasping for the first straws of spring - oystercatchers, celandines, butterburs, bees - as they seeped inch by inch into the landscape of the new season, they had now erupted in the blink of an eye. Buttery celandines are now spread thickly over the fields; the air is dense with bee-hum; and while on Friday I had rejoiced at the single peacock butterfly, by Sunday they were everywhere, dancing in the spotlight of the bright sun.

I've thrown caution to the wind and cast my clout well before May is out. It's wonderful to feel the sun on my peely-wally arms and legs for the first time since last August.  It will end in tears of course - at least for me. The heat can't last, and I will find myself one morning shivering in shorts and sandals in an icy north wind. And others may suffer too. Early breeding birds and invertebrates, emboldened by the warmth, may well pay a heavy price for their joie de vivre.

We should all know better. How often this happens! We have been schooled by stories and poems to expect the seasons to gradually morph one to the other, the temperature to gently warm as the days lengthen. Instead our seasons go two steps forward and one back - although the current heat wave feels more like ten steps forward - it's been 19C instead of the average of 10C for March. Apparently hot North African air is being sucked north. 'You can smell the camels' - according to one weather forecaster! It's caught us all out. We didn't expect camels in March.

I worry that climate change will be like this. We expect things to gradually warm up. We expect governments, and their people, to gradually come round to the fact that things need to be done, and to gradually decide to change our lifestyles. But from everything I now read, it isn't going to be like that. 'Feedback mechanisms' mean that, just like in the current heatwave, changes will be explosive. Melting ice caps will reveal dark land and sea that will absorb heat much more efficiently. Melting tundra will release millions of tonnes of methane that will accelerate the greenhouse effect. Warmer seas won't be able to absorb as many greenhouse gases. So I think it's vital that we try to spread the message that the changes could be sudden, exponential - and unstoppable.

I'm enjoying the current blip in the climate - even sniffing hard to try to find the camels. But I don't want to wake up one day in a few years time and find them sitting on my doorstep because climate change has taken 100 steps forward overnight.

1 comment:

  1. I saw more small tortoiseshells today in Stirling than I've seen in the last 2 to 3 years combined. Top that off with an incredibly early male orange tip and it looks like we've skipped spring this year and gone straight to summer. Let's hope that we still get a summer when we're meant to!