Talking about the weather is Britain’s favourite social prop, with research in 2010 showing that 94% of Brits discuss the weather every six hours.
This is no ordinary week however: Glastonbury Festival underway and looking dry (I hope!), much of the nation basking in glorious sunlight by day and searching for sleep solutions by night – or, in the case of the gentleman I saw crossing Blackfriars Bridge on Tuesday, taking the office fan home for the evening.
While we’re more than happy to talk about the weather, it seems that we are less inclined to talk about longer-term issues regarding pollution and the environment (below: the Ipsos Issues Index does not measure ‘climate change’ specifically, however this measure rises and falls in relation to extreme weather events and climate change and emissions announcements). In our March breakfast on the New Morality we identified the impact of the recession on the extent to which pollution/environment is considered the ‘most’ or one of ‘other important issues facing Britain today’. In January 2007 1 in 5 people in the UK felt it an important issue (having grown gradually since 2002), compared to 1 in 14 in October 2016.
While our economic prosperity can negate the extent to which we feel environmental issues are important, the processes of climate change are indifferent to GDP growth.
So what will cause us – in the UK at least – to sit up and take notice of the processes of climate change?
Data from the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters demonstrates the increase in the number of climate-related (hydro-meteorologic) disasters globally, particularly from the 1970s onwards. In the UK, however, we remain relatively insulated from these events; the impacts of flooding or extended periods of warm weather can be severe, but these remain minor compared to the prospective disappearance of the Maldives, for example.
It may be that rather than gaining an awareness by suffering the consequences of extreme weather or rising sea-levels, that we become aware by a thousand cuts, with every day amenities we take for granted affected by climate change far afield.
A paper published this week in Nature questions our global capacity to produce coffee as climate change continues with Dr Aaron Davis, a coffee researcher at Kew Gardens stating that if action isn’t taken to combat climate change, our coffee “will probably taste worse, and will cost more”.
By 2050, the proportion of areas currently suitable for Arabica bean production is forecast to shrink by 48% in Central America, 60% in Brazil and 70% in South East Asia. While these problems are occurring very far afield, they will hit us close to home – four fifths of high earners in the UK say they need coffee to feel on the ball and be productive, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘flat white economy’.
Remembering extreme weather events – particularly extended periods of rain or warmth as we are more likely to experience these in the UK – and placing them in the context of the century long process of anthropogenic climate change is difficult, but it could be that it is only when the things we take for granted begin to be affected by these processes that we begin to take notice.