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On Certainty (Arctic blog)

The expedition to the Arctic has plunged me back into the world of science. Friends have enquired about what the expedition will be doing. The research focuses are on ocean acidification and thermohaline circulation. I understand these concepts little and look forward to learning more from the science research team.

Research on thermohaline circulation concerns the health of the world’s ocean currents. If these currents break down, it could have quite different impacts on the climate to those that we might be expecting.

I found it easier to understand in terms of property development. Where should I buy a house which would be future proof from the point of view of the changing climate? The answer isn’t as simple as I had hoped. Depending on which climate model or theory you listen to, it could be anywhere between the Canary Islands and Ullapool.

The planet is getting warmer. The average climate is 0.7°C hotter than it was 100 years ago. Maybe colder in some places, warmer in others, but on average getting warmer and getting warmer at a faster rate.

So, here are a couple of housing options for you to consider.

Small holding on the West Coast of Ireland
The climate continues to get warmer, perhaps even 4°C warmer by 2050. The South of England goes through a stage of being a more important wine producing region than France (been there already during the medieval warm period, when France imported wine from England). Then it becomes a little too warm and dry. Sea levels rise and waterfront apartments in London are a little more waterfront than they should be. A delightful small holding on the west coast of Ireland would cater perfectly for this scenario. Good winds off the Atlantic would power your house through two 1kW personal wind turbines, protecting you from spiking and ridiculous oil prices. Plentiful rain from the sea and good warmth and increased sunshine would give you wonderful fruit and veg as grain and food costs spiral. All this in the bosom of a wonderful community and miles from the climate refugees clamouring from northern Africa and seeking solace from Gibraltar northwards.

Farmhouse on the Canary Islands
The warming climate melts the Arctic ice and the Greenland ice sheet, flooding the north Atlantic with fresh water. This switches off the ocean currents that keep Britain and the rest of north western Europe unseasonably warm. Temperatures drop as much as 8°C in some areas. Britain experiences Siberian winters. The Costa del Sol becomes a refuge of a different kind. The Canary Islands become a haven. The volcanic soil contains good nutrients and the long days of sun and moisture from the ocean allow for a small eco-community to flourish, but only for the privileged. Taxes do rise as the need for better a better coast guard to turn away refugees becomes more pressing.

These wildly differing scenarios make planning difficult if you are in the real estate business. It also can cast doubt on how truthful scientists are. But we need to realize that the planet is incredibly complex and there are feedback loops and nuances that have not yet been researched. Someone once told me that the human brain will never be powerful enough to understand itself. I rather like that. It reminds me how little we know.

As a civilization, trained in enlightenment and scientific reasoning, we collect data, we analyse data, we create theories, we test theories, we revise our ideas, we collect more data, we synthesise. But we want certainty. We want to know where to buy the house.

The one certainty seems to be that neither of the above scenarios looks great for us. We can plan. Maybe not where to buy a house, but how we can be more adaptable. The only certainty is change.

To learn more about the Catlin Arctic Survey visit: www.catlinarcticsurvey.com.

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