Donald Trump’s denial of climate change reached new heights last week, with the White House banning the long-term climate projections that tell us what the future might hold, at the same time as Alaska is experiencing record heat.
Trump has been rolling back environmental laws, he began the process of pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement and he refused to sign a communiqué on the Arctic unless all mentions of climate change were removed. Now any government work looking at the future climate can only go out to 2040, rather than the current practice of looking out to the end of the century or even further.
Meanwhile, in the real world, there are impacts from climate change all around the planet, from typhoons to floods to droughts to record heatwaves. In Trump’s US there are record high spring temperatures in Alaska, with temperatures in March averaging 11°C above normal. People have died as snowmobiles and trucks have fallen through ice on rivers that would have supported them in previous years. There are already at least three villages that need to be relocated soon, before they succumb to erosion. And rising sea temperatures mean that the fish many communities traditionally rely upon are present only in ever decreasing numbers.
International predictions show that the world at 2°C warming, that is 1°C warmer than today, will have lost all of its coral reefs, nearly half a billion people will suffer regular extreme heatwaves and the global economy will take a massive hit.
The UK has its own set of climate predictions and the latest set came out at the end of last year. Overall we are heading for milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers with more extreme weather, like summer heatwaves. In the high-emission scenarios Scotland is between 5 and 6°C warmer by the end of the century, with 30% less rain in the summer. By only 2050 the record temperatures we saw last summer could be what half our summers are like.
Last year’s heatwave and a dry winter mean that river and groundwater levels are low and we may well run short of water in parts of Scotland this summer. Rain last week restored flow in some rivers but a prolonged period of heavy rain is needed to get groundwater levels back to where they would normally be. Right now, most of Scotland is officially at an alert level for water scarcity, with the Northern Isles and South Scotland at the lower category of ‘early warning.’ Thanks to that rain, this is an improvement on the week before when the west coast was already rated as being in moderate water scarcity.
A big farm irrigation operation can use as much water as a small town. Official advice to farmers is already to only irrigate crop if absolutely necessary and to do it at night to avoid losing much of the water to evaporation. If you see the giant sprayers working on a sunny day, some-one really hasn’t got the message.
Knowing that our future will be much hotter and considerably drier, with an increased risk of heatwaves lets us start to adapt today, including putting in the pipework that will let us transfer water from parts of Scotland less at risk of scarcity to those at high risk.
Donald Trump is trying to take away the tools that will let the US plan for the future climate. Sadly, they will find, soon enough, that ignoring climate science does not actually protect you from climate change.
Dr Richard Dixon is the Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. A version of this article appeared in The Scotsman on Tuesday 28th May