Wednesday, February 13, 2013

For Better Or Nicer: Climate change

Reports of findings which suggest that climate change will make the weather in the Balearics "better" and the islands a "nicer place to live" don't reveal the whole story. For every better or nicer, there is also a worse or less nice.

Javier Martín-Vide, professor of physical geography at the University of Barcelona, and Elvira Carles, director of the Business and Climate Foundation, have released a report entitled "The evaluation of the effects of climate change on the Pyrenees-Mediterranean Euroregion"; the Balearics being a part of this region.

The headliner good-news aspects of this report are the weather being better and the place being nicer to live in. They also cover sun and beach tourism; its future is assured, says the report. The better weather will be as a consequence of longer summers, and these will bring benefits in terms of extending the main tourism season. But there are downsides. One of them is that temperatures might just become too hot and for too long a period in the height of summer. By 2020, the number of days when temperatures will reach or exceed 30 degrees will increase by around a quarter. By 2050, the number will double - to an average of 73 days.

Some might wonder how this can be a downside. There are certainly those people, primarily holidaymakers, who like things hot, hot, hot rather than just hot. So where's the problem? For holidaymakers, I'm not sure that there is a problem. For people living on the islands, there might be. If you can recall the summer of 2003 when temperatures were 30 or higher for several weeks, then be careful what you wish for in terms of hotter summers.

The heat is only part of the story, though. Rainfall is expected to remain at its current level until 2020, but by 2050 it will have decreased. Longer summers and so therefore shorter winters will mean a lowering of water resources. But there will be a heightening of a different water resource - the sea level.

Nothing in this report is new, but its good-news aspects drown out the findings of other reports, those which estimate the rise in sea level and which also predict more extreme events - hurricanes and tsunamis. All the good news could potentially be washed away, unless decisions are taken by those in authority who might presently prefer to bury their heads in the sands of a Balearics beach but who eventually find themselves asphyxiating as the rising sea crashes over them.

The changing climate does undoubtedly offer benefits, and especially for tourism. If Balearics winters were more on a par, temperature-wise, with the Canaries, then the winter woes would disappear. Having said this, the temperatures in the Canaries, assuming those islands haven't been obliterated by tsunamis, will also rise, thus elevating the winter-tourist expectation of what temperatures should be.

But it is the disadvantages that need to be addressed, and I am unaware of their being addressed in any meaningful, strategic manner. Let's spell out some of these disadvantages: periods of drought and possibly prolonged periods; loss of up to 20 metres of beach and coasts by 2050; increased energy demand to serve air-conditioning systems; the possibility of malarial mosquitoes returning. These are disadvantages that previous reports have indicated. Of these, the energy demand may well be compensated for by a reduction in demand for heating, so this may even itself out, but it shouldn't inhibit an altogether more proactive approach to the harvesting of the natural resource of solar energy and renewables, one that currently contributes so little to the overall supply of the islands' electricity.

More pressing are the periods of drought and especially the loss of coastline because of the rising sea level. Though 20-metre loss of beach sounds like bad news, it is hard to conceive what it might mean in practice. From all the modelling that scientists have produced in studying the impact of climate change, it would be instructive to see what this rise in sea level would mean to existing coastal development. Whether it would be Doomsday or just a bit of an inconvenience, a model needs to be constructed of the effects on every coastal resort and settlement in the Balearics.

The national government's altogether more pragmatic attitude towards coastal development, as contained in its reformed coasts law, is probably to be welcomed, but does it take sufficient or any account of rising sea levels and the possibility of extreme events? It is the rise in sea level, more than any other impact of climate change, that needs to be paid serious attention in the Balearics. Not in a few years time. But now.

QUIZ: The answer to yesterday's little question - "From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station", The Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls". Incredible to think this is nearly 30 years old.

Any comments to please.

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