By Paul Williams, University of Reading Department of Meteorology
‘As important as political leadership is, individual people and companies will have to make key decisions to deal with the impacts of climate change’
Climate change is never far from the news headlines – but often it’s not because of the science.
As much as I think that complicated mathematical calculations about the circulation of air and water around the globe should make people stop in wonder, I fear my beliefs are not widely shared by most other people.
And they would have a point. Most people don’t talk maths over the water cooler or when down the pub, beyond adding up the cost of their drinks.
So if it’s not the science, what makes climate change so appealing to journalists? Often, it’s the politics.
News media love to observe a good old-fashioned fight, and politics is the arena where disagreements get aired every day. Not only that, but politics tends to have a bearing on how we live our lives, too.
So while the basic facts of human-caused climate change are agreed by just about all scientists working in the field, a handful of doubting politicians often hog the headlines.
The election of President Donald Trump, whose cabinet includes people who have questioned the link between human activity and climate change, has caused some concern among climate scientists on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, more than 100 British scientists have written to the UK Prime Minister, asking her to influence the Trump administration’s approach towards climate change.
My day-to-day work looks at a turbulent cross-Atlantic relationship of a different sort: the link between climate change and the flow of air in the upper atmosphere.
And earlier this month, I was given an insight into who is increasingly paying attention to the impacts of climate change.
At an aviation lecture at Lloyds of London, organised by the Insurance Institute of London, I spoke to an engaged and well-informed group of business leaders from across the insurance sector. I talked about the research that I and others have been doing into the links between climate change and aviation.
In summary, I made the point that not only is aviation having an impact on our climate through its emissions, but also that climate change will increasingly have an impact on aviation, with:
- Rising sea levels and storm surges threatening coastal airports
- Warmer air leading to more take-off weight restrictions
- Shifting wind patterns modifying optimal flight routes and fuel consumption
- Stronger jet-stream wind shear increasing clear-air turbulence
- More extreme weather causing disruptions and delays
The growing interest of businesses in our research is an indication that, as important as political leadership is, individual people and companies will have to make key decisions to deal with the impacts of climate change, not just for future generations but for their own benefit. And irrespective of political beliefs, self-interest is known to be a strong motivational factor in decision-making.
Our political leaders can choose to respond to the reality of climate change, or they can choose to ignore it. I sincerely hope they choose the former option. But either way, businesses large and small are coming to the realisation that their interests, and those of their customers, are best served by having their eyes wide open to the challenges that climate change is bringing.