Mike Sagar-Fenton: Causes always have effects and they can be unpleasant
What's that I can see from the window? Can it be? Yes it is – the other side of the garden! For the last two weeks our granite plateau has been like a Turkish bath, not so hot but just as dense. Forgotten trees loom out of the mist. Walking across a familiar field I arrive not at the gate but at a piece of anonymous hedge. Do I go left or right? Driving to work in second gear, drawing the morning curtains only to find more curtains of grey. What a year it's been for weather.
It's something which must test newcomers to our peninsula to the limit. In towns and cities the weather means: will it be wet or dry? Where the land strikes out into the Atlantic it's far more visceral. There's a pretty local cove where the views are ravishing and the house prices are ridiculous, but you won't know (until about now) that the sun sets in October and doesn't rise again until March. There's a strip of spectacular coastline where the fog comes to stay for most of the winter, but can infuriatingly steal up the cliffs on the hottest summer day too, leaving some shivering and cursing in a drenching cloud while others are basking. We live in a land of micro-climates, used to the sight of disconsolate holidaymakers huddling around the drizzly harbour in waterproofs while the sun is bright and clear on the hills above.
Newcomers learn the hard way that 'wind' doesn't mean something that rattles the bus-shelter or blows bits of newspaper down the street. We're talking about a wild animal that barges into our lives like a raving drunk, roaring, shoving, committing random acts of vandalism, battering plants, trees and houses until it's tired. To get to the car is a fight, to go outside at all is to wrestle with air. When we talk about rain it's not something that droppeth onto the place beneath, but driveth parallel to the ground until it hits the side of a wall, and findeth out every design fault in the coat your shop-assistant swore was shower-proof.
2013 began in a sump, the wettest ground I've ever seen, where the tractor tracks threw up a rough sea of mud, and the fields resembled Tolkein's Dead Marshes through which only Gollum could have found a way. Then there were weeks of dry and bitter easterly winds. Westerners are natural softies where cold is concerned. We'll put up with storm and tempest but cold easterlies are below the belt, something reserved for the poor people of Essex who are used to them. And then the most glorious summer for years. And then this dripping blanket of obscurity.
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It's so disorderly. British people feel entitled to appropriate seasonal weather, just enough variation to stimulate casual conversation but not enough to cause discomfort or disorientation. Extremes make us uneasy. We look for reasons, and start talking about global warming.
There are two conflicting truths about climate change. One is that orderly weather is just a human delusion, based on averages. Seasonal changes are not a smooth locus on a graph but jagged lines of diverging extremes which we interpret as trends only in hindsight. True science is grounded in prediction, and while the weather chaps and ladies on TV do a fair job in what to expect for the next few days, no-one will predict what even next year will bring, and what's a year in these immense time-scales? In other words we haven't got a clue.
The other truth is that up to two hundred years ago our own impact on the earth's atmosphere was minimal. Since then we have pummelled it full of the residues of combustion. No-one who understands the word "ecosystem" can possibly imagine that this won't have an effect on our climate, though again we haven't a clue what it will be. Weirdly this unquestionable fact has become a political football. Liberals accept it while right wingers won't hear of it. Denial for UKIP is an article of faith. Although hundreds of scientists have agreed about the obvious facts, the media can always find the odd one who'll take the opposite view.
In the world of ecosystems it's not a matter of opinion. Causes have effects, and if we continue to change the nature of our atmosphere the effects may be very unpleasant indeed. It's as plain as the hand in front of your face – if only I could see mine...