We Brits love to talk about the weather. It is our favourite conversation topic. To the point where each of us will spend over four months of our lives talking about it.
Weather is the default ‘small talk’. A generic topic we automatically reach for when speaking to someone we don’t know that well. It fits that purpose. ‘A bit chilly’, ‘chucking it down’, ‘boiling out there’ — this is the language of a thoroughly British icebreaker conversation.
But how did something that is by its very nature global, become so synonymous with the local and trivial?
The Great Storm of 1987, now famous for Michael Fish’s famously misfiring forecast, inspired me to take weather and weather systems more seriously. And today we have just experienced the power of Atlantic storms with storms Ellen and Francis crashing into the UK.
Storm Ellen in particular helped set a wind power record in the UK. Great, but like sunshine that helped the solar power records we saw earlier in the year, should also give pause for thought on why we are seeing such unseasonable weather.
The UK does not get hit by hurricanes. But these recent storms are the product of hurricanes elsewhere in the world, namely the Gulf of Mexico. The Met Office produced this great video explaining why.
Communicating climate change alongside weather is always difficult. Extraordinary weather is the most immediate, obvious and alarming evidence we have of climate change’s effect on our planet. Yet of course weather is hugely complex, as seen with our Atlantic storms.
This is why you will always see disclaimers from the scientists stating not ‘this weather event was caused by climate change’ but ‘this was made more likely by climate change’. These statements are absolutely scientifically sound, but, and it’s a big but, provides the deniers with the wiggle room that allows them to fabricate their arguments.
The Guardian has taken an interesting approach in including CO₂ in its weather updates. This provides a view of what might be causing climate change — how do we better show people what those causes are?
I think we can make weather much more than small talk. We should spend more time putting the UK’s weather in a global context. Not just looking on at Hurricane Laura and pitying the people of Louisiana, but truly seeing how what happens there has direct and real impact on us. Demonstrating so strongly that our planet might not be fragile, but that our place on it might.