Unseasonable Cold Weather in December 2010 does not mean that climate change is not happening. Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

In the midst of the cold spell in Ireland and Britain in December 2010, Nick Crawford, from , Newcastle, County Wicklow wrote a short letter to the editor of The Irish Times. Madam –Global Warming – more like global freeze… on your bike, Greens! Yours[1]…  During the following week a number of  people responded to Crawford’s letter. Some claimed that the cold weather in January and December 2009, proved conclusively that climate change was not happening.

This of course is not true.  Recently the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany pointed out that the overall warming of the planet  could counter intuitively lead to colder winters in the Northern Hemisphere.  They argue that the disappearance of sea ice in the eastern Arctic in summer,  is having a major effect on the weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere.  When sea ice remains  in the Arctic ocean in the summer the white surface reflects the sun’s light and energy back into space. This is known as the albedo effect. When the ice melts the blue water absorbs the sun’s energy and the albedo effect plummets.  In an article in The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert put the change very succinctly when she wrote that it is like “replacing the best reflector (of sunlight) with the worst reflector.” [2] This then leads to what is called a “negative feedback loop.” As more sea ice is lost to the oceans more energy is absorbed by them which, in turn, heats up the planet.  As the Arctic ocean warms it heats up the  lower levels of the atmosphere, which in turn leads to serious anomalies in the  atmospheric airstreams, which trigger an over all cooling of the northern hemisphere.

The study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate  Impact Research was published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research.  According to Valdimir Petoukhove, the main author of the study, “these anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and Northern Asia. The recent severe winters like the one in 2009 or 2005 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it.”[3] Dr. Kieran Hickey of the National University of Ireland Galway supports the Potsdam analysis, “climatically, we’re moving into unknown territory; when the climate is changing rapidly, you get lots of extremes – look at the flooding and freezing events of the past two years. The climate is clearly out of equilibrium.”[4]

Across the globe in the state of Assam in India, climate change is wreaking havoc on the tea growing industry.  Climate change is evident in the steady rise in temperature and the erratic rainfall patterns. Growers claim that climate change has caused two major changes in tea production.  The first is a drop in production. The second is a change in the taste of the tea. This may have a greater impact on the industry’s survival than the drop in production.  L P Chaliha, who is a professional tea taster, complained that, “ earlier, we used to get a bright strong cup (of tea).  Now, it is not so.”[5] Debakanta Handique, a climate scientist in Assam is convinced that the above changes are due to climate change.[6]

Rajib Barooah, a tea planter in  Jorhat, the main tea growing area of Assam, is very worried about the long-term impact of these changes on tea growing.  “Assam tea’s strong flavour is its hallmark.”  If this unique flavour is lost, then the industry could collapse with enormous consequences for many people.  Fifty five percent of India’s tea is produced in Assam. This accounts for around thirty one percent of the global production.  But production has been slipping in recent years. In 2007, Assam produced 564,000 tons of tea. This had slipped to  487,000 in 2009 and the projections for 2010 is that it will have slipped further down to  460,000 tons.  The tea industry in India employs about three million people, so any further deterioration in the situation will have major negative consequences for many people.


[1] Letters, “Global Warming?”, The Irish Times, December 28th 2010.

[2] Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, April 25th 2005, page 61

[3] John Gibbons, “It’s global warming, but our winters are set to get even colder,” The Sunday Tribune, January 2nd 2011, page 3

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Climate change leaves a bitter taste with India’s tea growers,” Sunday Tribune, January 2nd 2011, page 26.

[6] Amarjvoti Borah, “Climate change leaves Assam growers in hot water,” The Guardian, December 27th 2011. Page 24

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One response to “Unseasonable Cold Weather in December 2010 does not mean that climate change is not happening. Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

  1. Just thank you for the post, it is apreciate reading it

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