02/14/2014

Global warming and the current weather

The current bad weather in Switzerland is as nothing compared to elsewhere in Europe and beyond. Is increasing air and road traffic related?


The "Tini II" storm which hit Switzerland yesterday, 13 February, was the second in just a few days. However, the effects are very much less than those of the unprecedented series of storms that have been sweeping over Britain and northern France. Many places in Britain have been flooded for weeks, the Thames river may reach its highest ever level and more wind and rain is forecast as the next low pressure zone arrives. This next storm is called "Ulla": the names seem to follow the alphabet, so I wonder what the next five names might be!

In southern USA there is currently what is described as a devastating ice storm over Alabama, Georgia and North and South Carolina. USA Today reports thousands of canceled flights at major airports. This storm will most likely follow the jet stream up over the eastern seabord of the USA, then move down over the Atlantic Ocean before sweeping North-East over Britain and Northern France in a few days time. Even if, here in Geneva, the plants are thinking about spring after a mild winter, not all regions are so fortunate. One has to think that in another year it might be our turn to suffer: remember our ice storms a couple of years ago?

So why is this happening? Well, a contributor to CBS News said the following

20140214_jetstream.JPG“What we’re seeing is that the jet stream and the polar vortex are becoming unstable – instability of historic proportions,”

The explanation is said to be directly related to the fact that the North Pole is melting. This is said to be the root cause why Niagara Falls is freezing as well as why California has a terrible drought and why it is warm in Sochi (spring skiing conditions are not good for skiers)!

The same CBS expert suggests that

“We may have to get used to a new normal. That is, a North Polar region that is melting, causing more instability in this bucket, causing more things to spill out, which means more extremes. Some winters could be very mild; other winters could be horrendous.”

In Britain, even the normally cautious Prime Minister, David Cameron, is suggesting that global warming, probably caused by human activities, is probably a major factor. Prince Charles, as well as many other concerned personalities, has long been convinced of this! However, there is still a virulent objection from (generally right wing) industrialists who deny global warming because it would affect their business interests. In an article a couple of years ago in The Star, a US freebie newspaper, one headline was Fight against climate change blocked by Luddites at Big Oil. The article included the somewhat optimistic statement, which probably does not apply to Geneva :-

In the interest of fighting climate change, most of us avoid buying SUVs — fortress-like vehicles that aren’t necessary unless one intends to take the whole family for a spin through downtown Baghdad.

Yesterday, during the meeting of the Geneva Grand Council, there was a long debate on whether to have a road crossing Lake Geneva higher up than the centre of Geneva. A number of council members spoke against it, suggesting that, rather than simply lessen traffic jams, it would actually increase traffic and make the air pollution in Geneva even worse.

At the moment there is also a major project to increase the capacity of Geneva airport by modernising the East Wing terminal and adding to aircraft handling capacity. There, the promoters are adamant that this will not cause any increase in air traffic!

As a general rule, it is my strong conviction that traffic expands to fill the capacity available to it. As such, we risk heading towards a situation where the local, and global, environment is steadily worsening. If, in addition, one includes types of traffic other than mechanical, is it possible that this was a factor in the unexpected result of the Swiss voting last Sunday to try to limit immigration?

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