Chris Dady on why Norfolk is the most at-risk county in the UK from the effects of global warming.
Our daily round of news is so full of major issues and tragedy, it is no surprise the subject of climate change gets lost. Yet many tell us it is by far the biggest threat we face.
When we do read about the impact that pollution is having on our planet, it sometimes seems it is not a bad thing. Norfolk potentially becoming a world leading wine producing region is an attractive thought, and a temperature increase of 3 to 5 degrees C at the end of the century brings thoughts of balmy holidays on our doorstep.
However, the impact from low levels of global warming is catastrophic, and we are warned that Norfolk is the most ‘at risk’ county in mainland UK. Factors include coastal erosion, flooding and lack of rainfall.
Climate change brings extreme weather events, from unusually high temperatures sparking impacts such as an increase in the death rate (70,000 people in Europe died from the effects of temperatures reaching 40ºC in 2003), countryside fires such as the ones we experienced last year, regular droughts and water shortages. All of these things put an additional and massive strain on our overstretched services including health.
Extreme weather events can just as easily bring major flooding. Being low lying we are also at risk of sea level rises driven by melting polar ice.
Even if we increase protection measures along our whole coastline, the potential for major floods from heightened and more frequent storm surges puts huge areas of Norfolk at grave risk.
One prediction is that the Norfolk Broads could be entirely wiped out this century, and Norwich next-the-sea is not such a far-fetched concept.
Our fishing industry is under more threat from climate change than from any agreements with Europe. Increases in global pollution is changing the acidity in our seas, with a direct affect on marine life even if we manage to control plastic pollution.
We are not immune to threats from elsewhere. Can you imagine the impact of mass migration from Africa into Europe as increasing areas of that country become incapable of supporting human life?
The potential for a mass migration could be triggered before a 3ºC increase in the average global temperature, and an increase of that magnitude is now predicted within the lifetime of today’s children.
The ‘doomsday’ predictions for the impact of climate change are even more severe, with the ability of the planet to support anything other than a much diminished population being a reality at a 5ºC temperature increase, which is at the top end of the conservative temperature change prediction by the year 2100.
It seems we cannot avoid the impacts of climate change, but there is still a chance of having a sustainable, beautiful and viable Norfolk for our children and grandchildren. We have to take action and make sacrifices now if that is to be a reality.
We can protect the planet for the future by only voting for politicians and purchasing goods from companies who put the environment first. We will have to accept changes to our lifestyles now, including diet, being very mindful about electricity and water consumption, not expecting seasonal foodstuffs to be available all year, using our cars only for journeys where we cannot walk, cycle or use public transport and our holidays will need to taken closer to home.
Norfolk offers us all so much, it is in itself all the compensation we should ever need and we should strive to protect it.
This article appeared in the February 2019 of the Norfolk Magazine.