London’s wealthy West End, the fires in Canada and the floods in Germany are all connected. As we lose touch with nature and our past, we fail to see the future. Let me explain.
All our modern mega-cities grew from early human settlements on rivers and their estuaries. These settlements were built as far downstream as prevailing technology would allow builders to bridge the river. This allowed maritime traffic upstream to a city that straddled both banks and fresh water from upstream. The only exceptions to this are Johannesburg and Bangalore which were settled and built in the 19th century.
In the Northern Hemisphere the west-end of cities have always been expensive and the east-end cheaper and more industrialised. This is because the prevailing westerly winds pushes the smells of industry away from the smarter parts of town. The opposite tends to be true in the southern hemisphere where the prevailing winds are easterly.
The recent stalling of these winds has led to high- or low-pressure fronts remaining in one place for unusually long periods. The high-pressure system over Vancouver remained in place for months this summer, causing the city to bake in 40-degree heat. Likewise, the low-pressure weather system remained over northern Germany causing months of rain with the consequent flooding and deaths.
As our north pole temperatures have risen rain, not snow, has fallen on Greenland causing rivers that further erode the glaciers. The cold dense arctic air would normally move towards the tropics and create the prevailing westerly winds.
Extreme weather resulting from this lack of wind is one of the very early and tangible effects of global warming. It is an indicator that there will be no new normal but rather dramatic and unforeseen weather events on an unprecedented scale.
Already after four years of fires in California, almost 1 trillion dollars of real estate is becoming un-insurable against fire. Flooding in New York and our other major cities will increase as sea levels rise and some property will again become un-insurable.
Our coronavirus response became divisive and geo-political, delivering an less effective global solution. This approach will simply not work if we are to tackle climate change as indeed most rational people agree we must. It will require an unprecedented cooperation led by our three global superpowers – the US EU and China. We must all push our leaders to see and act on this – anything less will be to fail all humanity.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.