We all know that the climate of the British Isles – and the world – is changing and warming up. This February we have seen record daytime temperatures across England, Wales and Scotland and it is now generally recognised that a great deal of the change is due to humans putting more and more of the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere.
There is still debate on the subject, of course. But where the sceptics go wrong is that they confuse weather and climate. Of course you can have a very cold spell in the winter in the United Kingdom, as we did last year, by being visited by the so-called “Beast of the East”. But that’s weather, not climate. Climate is long term – decades and centuries – and what causes climate change is something we meteorologists and climatologists have been discussing for many years. It was certainly widely debated when I first joined the Met Office back in the 1950s.
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So what we now need is for forecasters and television companies to face this reality more squarely and openly – and to come up with a new and radical approach to keep viewers properly informed.
The hourly forecasts that we now see do an excellent job in giving us the likely weather events over the coming few days, and this must continue. But to properly explain the underlying changes to climate they will need to look much further afield at the weather across the world, reporting and analysing extremes on a daily basis.
So I am calling on the BBC and the other major broadcasters to incorporate an additional five- to ten-minute slot into the forecast that focuses properly and honestly on the Earth’s changing climate.
This climate change slot should air at least once a week and would use our technical ability to show weather everywhere in the world to explain in clear, “non-jargony” or technical terms the reasons why our climate is changing – largely due to human influences – and the effects of this on us and all other animals.
As was clear to me back in the 1980s when I first started talking and writing about the effects of climate change, the facts are stark. If our mathematics are correct, then a 2°C change will mean that the London summer climate in 2050 would be similar to that of the southern France of today – and by 2100 similar to that of Athens.
The climate change forecast also needs to discuss how this impacts on life further south – possible migrations north from the Sahara and Mediterranean regions, and the impact of this. Also, the increase in intensity of Atlantic hurricanes must be something that is not off limits.
Another subject is how climate change affects our health and what sort of flowers, and more particularly what vegetables, we would be growing in 50 years’ time in a much warmer climate. In clear and responsible terms, the public need to be better informed on how they are going to be affected by climate change – and also what we can do to minimise it.
Ironically, the BBC has already been here before – a successful ten-minute daytime item called The Weather Show, which was directed and produced by John Teather back in the 1990s. Perhaps John could be brought out of retirement to advise on it. I’d be happy to offer any advice or help as well. Because understanding and explaining climate change is one of the most important things facing humanity today. And the BBC and other broadcasters urgently need to reflect this.
Bill Giles OBE is a former head of BBC weather presenters