Monday, 20 December 2010
Here Comes the Cavalry
In the midst of our winter snows, blizzards, freezes, airport closures, broken down trains, a lack of road salt, yes the general travel paralysis, there’s one good story. No, it’s not news of a thaw. Forecasters say that there’s no end in sight to our current ice age. The good news is that two tankers have docked at Inverness and Aberdeen, carrying 2 million litres of home heating oil. Most rural Scottish homes have no other source of energy; they cook with oil, heat their homes and their bath water with it. Lately, supplies in many homes have been low, and oil deliveries unavailable.
Each house has a tank containing 1,200 litres or more. When the level drops to less than half, you call a supplier and they fill your tank, usually within a week Not these days. Two weeks ago Brogan Fuels gave me an estimated delivery day of mid to late January. Their stocks are down; demand is up since mid November when the first snows fell. We’re lucky. In addition to oil we have a wood burning stove to warm our house. Our neighbours offered to loan us some oil if we run empty. But many others don’t have those options and must cope in cold houses. Here are some stories.
Everyone blames the winter chaos on government policies. Complacency. After all if Canada and Russia can handle their winters why can’t we?
We can’t because we’re in the midst of a paradigm change. Climate shock. This is our second severe winter that’s worse than anyone remembers. For over fifty years we’ve had mild winters. Our culture evolved around them, allowing us commutes of 50 miles to work, and unrestricted travel in good or bad weather. Suddenly we find that no longer realistic. Last years severe winter did little to prepare us for this one, because no one really believed it was coming. We bought some extra road salt, but not enough. Employed more gritting crews, but not enough. Heating oil budgets were way off. Airports left with too few de-icers and snow blowers. Even if they had them, incoming planes couldn't have landed safely.
When climate change happened before, it didn’t happen gradually. It didn’t give societies time to adapt. The medieval warm period lasted 300 years and ended in 1309. That winter caught everyone unprepared; was so cold that the Thames froze over. The following winter was no better. Then came the disastrous summer of 1315, cold with constant rain. Trading with the continent was disrupted. Corn varieties adapted to a warmer climate no longer grew. There were widespread crop failures and famine, especially serious because England and Europe’s population more than tripled during the medieval warm period. No amount of preparation could have mitigated the disastrous effects.
Following Scotland’s recent paralysis, the transport minister Stewart Stevenson resigned. What will his successor do differently? He can decide that we’re in a mini ice age, buy up new fleets of gritting trucks. Go to Russia for lessons. Or he can shake his fist at the weather. Despite our technology, weather often has the last word.