Leading Article: Stop talking about the weather - do something about it

LIKE A Napoleonic general, the American Vice-President Al Gore had a slice of luck earlier this week. He rushed, with our own John Prescott close behind him, to announce scientific evidence that July had been the hottest month the world had experienced since records began, telling a hastily called press conference: "You don't have to be a scientist to know that it has been dangerously hot this summer."

Happily, Washington did not suffer a downpour minutes after Mr Gore began speaking, for that sort of coincidence is exactly the sort that the (many) Americans sceptical of global warming would deem sufficient to torpedo his argument.

Had he spoken just two weeks ago, Britons would have gazed up at the dismal skies and sneered, "Dangerously hot? Chance would be a fine thing." Even the roasting sunshine that much of Britain experienced last weekend is now giving way again to the usual old grey and damp.

That is the problem with trying to understand global warming. As a species, we are much better at understanding local changes. We do not really move around that much. We can imagine that if migratory birds could talk, they would tell us a lot about the changing conditions they see.

Instead, we see only a tiny sliver of what is happening and can only glimpse what life might be like when the accelerating effects of global warming really take hold. The scenarios include malaria in the Surrey stockbroker belt, while low-lying islands in the Pacific are submerged; or Britain, deprived of the warming Gulf Stream, shivering year-round with freezing temperatures like Newfoundland's, while in other countries farmland turns to desert.

We occasionally spot differences here and there: hasn't it been rainy this summer, aren't the flowers out early this spring? It takes a more subtle understanding of what is going on to realise that if Britain has a wet summer, then that probably does mean that sea temperatures are higher than usual.

As Sir John Houghton, chair of the International Panel on Climate Change, explained last week, most of our weather comes from the Atlantic and, the warmer that is, the more water evaporates from it before falling on us as rain. "Rain is stored energy," he said.

So, American sceptics will ask, why isn't it raining in the Midwest? We do not know - the planet is not so simple that we can put all its vagaries into an equation.

Pulling together the wider picture into a global Gestalt takes a gargantuan scientific effort, and even that is not infallible. On Thursday, two American scientists announced that the satellites used to make some atmospheric measurements were slowly, slowly falling towards the Earth. That, they said, explained why those satellites were suggesting that parts of the troposphere were cooling, instead of - as the computer models suggested - getting warmer.

Yet, America in particular continues to resist calls to limit its production of greenhouse gases and push energy efficiency. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, deserves credit for constantly pressuring the Americans to take action, though it is noticeable how much easier it is to criticise others' inaction than to take action at home. What price cheap public transport? When will company car subsidies be ended?

Even so, it is the biggest players who can have the biggest effect on this situation. It is odd that while the US preens itself for its global influence in the sphere of human interaction, it has so many people ready to deny that their gas-guzzling cars and the enormous distances that they transport inessential goods could possibly alter the planet's weather. Mr Gore said in his speech, "It is really hard to ignore the fact that something is going on - and that something is global warming." But the real danger is that the immediate issues of American political life - attacks on embassies abroad, inquisitions into presidential fumblings with interns - will keep providing that excuse to ignore reality.

Glued to the television coverage of this trial, or that rescue mission, nobody will notice the weather outside until it is too late.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all