The final flake of snow

My short book on snow is being read on Radio 4 this week, and it sounds more like an elegy than ever.

I wrote the text over a five months period, through the winter of 2015. The news of climate change throughout 2016 only serves to reinforce the underlying theme of the book – the warming of the world and the end of snow.

In part two, the episode that aired this morning, I wrote about how I’d contacted the Met Office to see whether it really snowed more when I was a boy. I mentioned that I drew up a graph with the figures they provided; so in case you’d like to see it, here it is:

Days of snow on the ground per annum, Manston Weather Station, 1961 to present

Yes, there are fluctuations. The climate’s like that. Yes, there were those two crazy winters a few years ago. Try not to be fooled by them. Instead, look at the trend line, the black line that slopes down over the years. As I wrote in Snow, this is accurate enough in its own way, but not exactly rigorous science. This is simple the data from one weather station, in Manston, East Kent, UK, a couple of miles from where I was born and grew up.

My book is to a large extent about living in the French Alps. Two years ago, the winter was the warmest on record. Last year’s was warmer still. As I’m writing this, the only snow in the ground is what remains from a metre that fell in November. (If that metre sounds a lot, previous winters have given us cumulative snowfalls of 20 metres plus). It hasn’t snowed since then, and today the thermometer is showing around 9-10 degrees Celsius. This is not rigorous science either, it just reinforces the notion that it’s hard to shake that the climate has moved beyond a point at which it cannot recover. Not for us, any least.

Any journalist will tell you that facts given as numbers are better than given as mere words, and that a picture is better still. That’s why an article like this one in The Guardian is so striking, with this accompanying picture:

Polar bears in the Hudson Bay, Canada, November 2016. Photograph by Lars Ostenfeld.

Or this one, with a suitably dramatic interactive map.

Or consider this from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in which they offer several graphs, including this one:

The NSIDC graph of the decline of Arctic sea ice, 1978 to present

Of course, you don’t have to look far to find someone trying to argue that we’re being lied to, that the data is wrong, that climate change isn’t real. That this is all just scaremongering, to sell newspapers and so on.

What’s notable about such accounts is that they tend to be websites and blogs published by lone individuals with some particular interest. Sites like this one, which essentially argues (with the usual somewhat ranting tone) that just because all the polar bears aren’t dead yet, that we’re being mislead about climate change.

What’s notable about the science of climate change is that they are the considered understanding of multiple international organisations with no ulterior motive for disseminating anything other than the true picture, as far as it’s understood now, of our changing climate. Perhaps newspapers have a self interest in garnering a few more clicks with dramatic headlines. There is no such intrinsic benefit to the IPCC, or the NSIDC, unless you have some deranged conspiracy theory…

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 12.56.29.png
The weird nonsense of a dangerous idiot.

…which doesn’t even begin to make sense.

Yesterday, we drove home on the route that gives us a clear view to the south, and to the perpetually white-capped peak of Mont Blanc. It’s hard not to imagine forwards to a day when there will be no snow even on that peak, at a height of almost 5,000 metres. But we won’t have to be worried about that, because for the temperature to rise that much at that altitude, we will by then be long gone.

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