The world’s oceans reached a record high temperature in July of 16.37 degrees, 0.59 degrees above the 20th century average. That might not sound a lot, and it wouldn’t be if we were talking about the variation in day to day temperature where you live, but we’re talking the whole world’s oceans. It takes an enormous amount of energy to increase their average temperature by such an amount. All that extra energy has a dramatic effect on the climate.
The El Nino climate system occurs when the Pacific Ocean is well above normal temperature, like now. It’s basically a breakdown in the normal flow of ocean currents and the trade winds (and all the energy they carry). For some countries this means warmer temperatures, for others colder, for some there’s more rain, for some less. For New Zealand, El Nino means drought.
NIWA predicts that El Nino conditions, presently expected to be moderate and not as severe as in 1998, will persist throughout our summer, with the odds being on below average rainfall and soil moisture for most of the country. If there is a drought, it will be very tough on the farmers and could derail any stuttering economic recovery.
This is climate change in action. The gases that we have released into the atmosphere by the billions of tonnes are trapping more heat. That heat is resulting, as the models predict, in warmer oceans leading to more frequent and more severe El Ninos. And that means more frequent and more severe droughts for New Zealand. We’re not yet at the stage of dramatic events like the ice caps melting and the rainforests burning that will happen if we allow the world’s temperature to rise by two degrees sparking runaway climate change, but we are beginning to experience the persistent and significant cost of a changing climate caused by our refusal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Our economy is inextricably linked to our climate. There is no ‘balancing of our economic opportunities and our environmental responsibilities’ as the Crosby-Textor line the National ministers mindless parrot would have us believe. Environmental problems are economic problems. We are dependent on a stable climate. And we are destabilising it.
[search google news ‘El Nino’ to see how it affects different parts of the world. Everything from a too warm winter threatening the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, to floods in Nairobi, to poor fishing in Peru, to a bumper soy crop in Argentina]