Sunday, 10 January 2010

Climate and economy

At least we ceased to complain. Poland is gripped by the winter. In our climate, it shouldn’t surprise us, after the first “attack” in December, we learnt to live with it. Worse are the things in the Western Europe, in countries, where no one is used to, nor prepared for the snow and freeze. Temperatures in Scandinavian countries drop below minus forty degrees, United Kingdom and Ireland are paralysed by the snow, temperatures hit the next lows. Germany, Benelux countries, even Spain and Portugal are plagued by blizzards and frost. British commentators began to draw parallels between the current weather spells and the notorious winter of 1963.

This weekend Warsaw was haunted by the heavy snowfalls and blizzards laced with freezing rain, which brought around 30 centimetres of white powder and a layer of ice. Poles seem to be tackling hard weather conditions patiently, without griping and haste. There were several prangs, some buses landed in the ditches, trains and other means of collective transport are delayed. It looks a bit worse when it comes to pavements – few are clear of snow, so a pedestrian’s life’s not easy these days. Policemen and weather services appeal to people not to leave home, go by car, or travel longer distances, if it’s not necessary. Refraining from moving might be advisable, but on the other hand we can’t let the severe weather disorganise our lives. We have to commute to work or school, do the shopping and actually should fulfil our social and cultural plans. We mustn’t give up, even despite the forecasts, which are not favourable. Next week blizzards will give way to arctic high and lower temperatures, long term forecasts say the temperatures around 21 January might fall below minus twenty five in some regions of Poland. But we won’t give in!

I’ve read or heard the British economy loses one between seventy million and one billion pounds each day, due to harsh winter. Weather, which disrupts our daily routines is also costly in economic terms and, what few realise, can incur measurable losses.

Let’s look at what snow means:
1) Snow-clearing actions – thousand or millions spent each day for gritting, salting and disposal of snow, this money makes holes in municipal budgets
2) Snow-clearing means also time lost for this fascinating activity, time which could’ve been spent in much more productive way – this weekend I spent around five hours clearing the drive and street in front of my house. The same time I could have spent relaxing or learning more as it’s the exam period – if I spend less time cramming up, I get a lower grade and my scholarship will be lower…
3) Snowed roads get clogged – people waste time in traffic jams instead of working, when they get to work they’re tired and less productive.
4) If the roads are blocked, cars consume more fuel, give off more fumes, cause air pollution and hit wallets of carowners.
5) Those who travel by other means of transport also have to be prepared for delays, wasted time and productivity.

Frost, though not that inconvenient also from the point of view of economy means costs. It’s all about heating expenses. Whenever the temperatures fall, demand on natural gas, heating oil, coal or other materials is one the rise. This means households, institutions and businesses have to spend more money on heating and have less money to spend on other items. The same money could’ve been saved, if only the temperatures had been higher, so frost means in a way a waste of money.

In the light of the facts presented above, it’s hard to deny the countries located in the mild climate zones were given the head start, as they could focus on development rather on struggling the severe weather. Another explanation why Great Britain was and is higher developed than Russia?

The cold snap has added fuel to the sceptics who undermine the global warming theory. In my opinion, winter such as this year’s occurs once in ten to thirty years. It used to happen in the past and will happen, regardless of the global warming. This process does take place, but I don’t believe it is caused by mankind. Our activity can account for no more than ten per cent of the temperature rise, the rest is beyond our control, we can’t prevent it, just like we couldn’t avert global cooling. A noteworthy article on this issue can be found here.

There’s one thing that niggles me while I’m writing this post. It is commonly known that Earth’s atmosphere as a whole is in a balance. The composite average temperature on our planet is steady (though it creeps up and it’s called global warming), so when in one place it’s colder, in another one it must be warmer. So I’m asking – where? I read weather reports from all over the world every day and I haven’t noticed any news of abnormal heat in South hemisphere, meanwhile China struggles harsh winter, temperatures in Russia are totally normal, Europe is gripped by one of the allegedly worst winter since decades, Mid-west regions of United States are plagued by frost and snowfalls, Florida estimates losses on plantations incurred by sub-zero temperatures, only Greece and surrounding areas are reported to enjoy higher than usual temperatures. So where has the warmth gone???

A propos weather reports. Polish media informed today that the temperature in Bismarck, North Dakota, fell to minus fifty five degrees. I wasted almost an hour only to find out the news item was an absolute lie, spread by many websites, newspapers and radio stations. The media copied the article from one another and brought about sensation. Fifty five (Celsius) degrees would have been really remarkable, if the temperature dropped that low. In truth it hit its low at minus thirty six degrees (check the weather data for substantiation here), in a comprehensive account by CNN nobody mentioned such temperature. The Polish news of American tragic freeze cited an article from Washington Post. I found one, but it also doesn’t give any information of Siberian frost in Bismarck (you don’t have to register to read this article, you can use your facebook profile).

An explanation? A journalist who wrote this has either made the story up to make a sensational headline or misunderstood the source text which said the US weather services had warned against wind chill hitting less than minus fifty (Celsius, still) degrees. Wind chill is temperatura odczuwalna, so no wonder local residents were warned, as spending long time outside carried a serious danger of frostbite.

Is anyone else concerned about the declining quality of Polish journalism? I’m appalled firstly by the language – their spoken (glaring errors) and written (bombastic, but meaningless phrases) Polish leave a lot to be desired (if correct use of their native language isn’t within their capacity, how can they be credited with good command of foreign languages), and secondly by the content of news I receive. The story of minus fifty degrees a few thousand miles away is not that important, but it casts serious doubts on the reliability of Polish media and integrity of journalists. At least the readers’ comments didn’t let me down – they immediately pulled the mediocre journalist up for departing from the truth, although they could’ve done without foul language.

Will misrepresentations like this become order of the day? Minus fifty five will look great on a tabloid’s cover, so does it really matter if it was true?

Gorące serca zwalczą mróz – I feel under my skin this winter will give us a rough ride and will go down in history. We have no choice but to bear it up…

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