Climate Change is Like Flicking a Switch

Climate Change is Like Flicking a Switch

Sarah Johnson

In The Winds of Change (2007), Eugene Linden suggests that before catastrophic climate changes, the climate in areas experience not prolonged climate change that gradually increases but a flickering of drastic changes. When reading this analysis, I am met with my experiences living in the United Kingdom (UK) as a graduate student. These flickering events I experienced in a year unveiled the effects long-term climate change could have on this region, as the UK infrastructure could not cope with the drastic changes.

These flickering events are “the beast from the east” and the summer heat wave. The beast from the east was a snowstorm in 2018 that resulted from easterly winds from the near continent. According to the met office, “When pressure is high over Scandinavia, the UK tends to experience a polar continental air mass. When this happens in winter, cold air is drawn in from the Eurasian landmass, bringing the cold and wintry conditions that give rise to the ‘Beast from the East’ moniker.” In most parts of Edinburgh, Scotland, the snow was no more than three inches deep, while other parts of Scotland experienced ten-foot to twenty-foot drifts. This caused a massive shutdown of the country. All trains, buses, and schools were canceled across the UK. When speaking to the locals, they said they had not seen a snowstorm to this scale in Scotland before. According to the Washington Post, this has not occurred since March 1979. Edinburgh’s infrastructure could not support three to eight inches of snow, causing tourism and travel to shut down for a week. This flickering during winter continues in 2021, with another beast from the east set to occur this month, plummeting temperatures in the highlands to -12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit). At the same time, England goes on red alert to brace the storm. Although these storms show, the impact one can have on travel and tourism. One thing I witnessed first-hand was the food shortage at grocery stores before the storm came. Although this is usual human behavior, “get the milk and bread before the snowstorm,” the grocery stores within the city took two weeks to bounce back. Tesco (a major chain grocery store in the UK) had to shut down for a few days because workers could not get into the store. In addition, there was not much food to sell since trucks that would replenish the shelves were not traveling. It took two whole weeks since the storm hit to stock grocery shelves back to the normal amount. This was only one storm that lasted for 2.5 days, should this flickering stop and cold spells continue, it shows a potential problem for food shortages in major cities.

The flickering episodes and climate change in the summer also continue to be an issue in the United Kingdom. In 2018, the UK experienced a heat wave in which temperatures across the UK rose to 15.8 C (60.4 F), which is 1.5 above average. In mid-august of 2020, the UK continued to experience 30C heat waves longer than a heat wave of 1976, along with higher temperatures than experienced in 2003. These heat waves continue each summer now, indicating that they are more the norm than the exception. These heat waves influence the population and the land where the infrastructure was built for a cool, wet climate. There are no air conditioners in UK buildings, and although an average annual temperature of 60 degrees may not seem warm to a New Yorker, the effect on society showed the issue. During the heat wave, trains shut down within Scotland as many people passed out on the trains due to the heat. The rail services across the UK were at risk of derailment as the tracks had a risk of buckling in the heat. Besides, electric lines could overheat in the temperatures causing them to drop and risk the incoming trains. In a further effect on travel, roads also began to melt due to the heat. This caused an issue within small towns as people attempted to navigate around them. During this period, the heat affected the land so drastically that it revealed lines of scores of archaeological sites across Ireland and the UK, dating back to Neolithic era monuments. Although this is a win for archaeologists, it shows the effects of drought and gorse fires on fertile land.

I focus on the United Kingdom, as I saw the effects on society first-hand while a student, but I also believe it highlights a huge impact a 1.50 C temperature increase can have on society. An average annual temperature of 60.50 F degrees may seem manageable to New York, countries that have not been built to endure drastic changes in temperature for short periods are significantly affected.