Thursday, 9 July 2009

Floods and power cuts – just another day on the London Underground

I have been in London twice this week and I have been delayed on the underground twice. First it was flooding that closed a bunch of stations (including one I needed to use), and today it was power cuts that closed the Circle line for I don’t know how long. Readers outside the UK won’t recognise the details, but will certainly recognise the frustration this adds to the already arduous task of moving around a capital city.

Thankfully, in the London of 2009, this is a relatively rare occurrence. However, London of 2019 or 2059 might tell a different story. Scientists tell us that we need to prepare for climate change and that climate change is going to mean more extreme weather conditions occurring more frequently. Temperatures will get uncomfortably hot more often - perhaps 70 days in the year instead of the handful we experience at the moment. We will have less rainfall in the summer, and more in the winter.

This is the pioneering work being presented by UKCIP, leading the world in trying to predict what the effect of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere will have on our climate. UK Climate Projections 2009 is a brand, spanking new report that uses the best scientific and statistical techniques available to predict what the UK climate will feel like in 10, 20 or 100 years’ time. What I find particularly impressive, however, is that all of the data is being made available, including the assumptions of, for example, how much CO2 we continue to pump skywards.

They have included, for the first time, the full range of confidence levels that can be extracted from the data. This is good news for all those journalists who write for The Sun – plenty of headline grabbing scare mongering to be had for those who go in for such things. But also a wealth of valuable data for professionals who want to make the best of available data to look 50 – 100 years into the future. Which is, coincidentally the life of a building or a railway track for example.

Unless our tube and railway infrastructures are upgraded The Sun’s headline writers will have had it about right – we will be in for summers of misery and winters of cancelled train services.

All this was hosted at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers – perhaps the very people we should be blaming for getting us into this CO2 pickle in the first place. It was engineers who taught us how to use carbon-based fuels with such efficiency. But let’s not quibble – they are making up for it now with some intelligent and thought provoking debates about how to move forward. And we have to face facts – there are not too many of us prepared to give up our washing machines or cars for the sake of the planet.

With a bit of luck, however, and some critical analysis of the data, policy makers will have a better view of what’s in store going forward. Which means I will be much less forgiving when they close underground stations for either “unexpected” floods or power cuts due to a certain type of leaf on the line.

In the meantime I’m resting my tired feet after having trekked half way across London to get home. All that, and it was a hotter day than the weather forecasters had predicted. Ironic, non?

UKCP09 is published by UKCIP and is available to download from


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