Weathering Through Climate Change: It’s more local than you think

Climate change is often considered a problem for the poorer, hotter parts of the world. In Nicaragua, for example, it has combined with El Niño to cause worsening droughts for the Latin American country. Or consider that, just last November, Prince Charles joined a growing chorus of experts who linked the war in Syria with climate change. The long-term drought there has been disastrous for the country — jobless young men have taken up arms, while millions are fleeing.

The current refugee crisis is one way climate change is having an indirect impact on the South East of England. West Sussex County council has pledged to welcome 240 Syrian refugees over the next four years, and other councils in the region are expected to follow.

Yet the South East is also experiencing more direct effects of climate change. And it is threatening to become deadly.

For the UK as a whole, 2015 claimed the title as the hottest year since 1850. Of the warmest 15 years in British history, six occurred in the past decade. This week, it was revealed that climate change could account for an extra 1,200 UK deaths on average by 2015 as a result of a fruit and vegetable shortage.

Scientists predict that the South East is most at risk of rising deaths because of climate change. Researchers from Imperial College London found that for those living in London and the South East the chances of dying from heart or breathing problems increased by over ten per cent for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature. Indeed, the region will remain one of the hottest and driest parts of the country.

Drier summers will mean water shortages and worsening conditions for farming in the region. Yields of traditional crops will get smaller and the geographic range in which they can be cultivated will move towards the colder north.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said, “Climate change is already directly affecting South East England. The average temperature is rising with increased risks of heat waves, and shifts in the start and end of the seasons, which many gardeners and farmers are noticing.”

This view is echoed by local gardeners. Penny Joseph from Brighton, is concerned about such developments.

She said, “There wasn’t enough sun last year to ripen many of my tomatoes or runner beans. We may have to rethink how we grow our food.

“Also I think we will be experiencing much more violent weather episodes which could cause a lot of disruption in our food production.”

And it’s not just the hotter summer that is having an impact, milder winters are equally damaging. Trevor Passmore, a farmer in Sussex, has experienced this first-hand. The 65-year-old, who has worked at Passies Perfect Tackle, a South East England farm all his life, admits that recent winters have “certainly been warmer than usual in the past few years.”

We like the frost because it kills bugs,” he added.

Nor will Mr Passmore be able to rely on birds to keep the insect population down. The rise in temperature is also causing some animal and plant species to migrate northwards. Over a quarter of British birds are in danger in Britain partly due to pollution and declining food sources.

There will be a major change to the types of birds in the South East, too. Some species of birds could vanish from the region, such as the lapwing and tree creeper, while new breeding species, such as the hoopoe and the purple heron, may colonise from Europe.

The New Atlantis

There are also fears that the South East is crumbling into the sea, with some of the fastest erosion rates in Europe. The flash floods and stormy seas anticipated because of climate change pose a major threat to the South East coastline.

Mr. Ward warned that, “The frequency of intense rainfall events is increasing, raising the risk of river and surface water flooding. And rising sea level means a higher risk of coastal flooding, which is a particular problem for South East England because most of it has been sinking since the last Ice Age.”

National scenic spots, such as the White Cliffs of Dover and Hurst Castle Spit, in the South East could soon become distant memories for many as landmarks such as these are swept into the sea.

Davy Jones, the prospective Green MP for Kemptown, Brighton said that:

“Climate change is not just the biggest challenge facing humanity as a whole — as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said; it is also a local issue for us in Brighton and Hove.

“Not only is it likely to dramatically affect the local environment — greater flooding, rising sea levels, coastal erosion, loss of fauna and flora — but it might also threaten the city’s tourism industry and pose significant challenges to local public services.”

Climate change is not often thought of as a localised issue. ‘Yes, it is happening but not in our backyard’ was the general response your correspondent received from asking people around the South East. But as the region heats up, threatening human and animal life, it is time to consider climate change as a lot closer to home — and coming sooner than you think.