Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Climate change will have an impact on all ways of life

When I heard about the Oklahoma tornado, I thought of that line in the New Testament which warns of sudden ends: "You know not the day nor the hour."

But I thought: thank heaven we live in the mild climate of north-west Europe, where the most violent weather we are likely to experience is a bad rain shower.

Much of America is a climate of extremes. And climate (and geography) surely have an impact on personality and culture.

Where the earthquakes are – California – there are dippy religious movements and hippy forms of Zen. Everything is bigger for Texans, because everything grows big – from cacti to Stetsons.

Canadians are known to be more reserved. Their famous shyness is also linked to their climate, as Canadians are walled up in their homes for eight months of the year. This way of life makes them introverted and serious.

Same thing with the Swedes, who are known for their reserve. There's a Swedish joke about a man who is drowning in a river. "Quick, quick, jump in and save him," cries a woman to a passer-by. "I can't," replies the Swede. "We haven't been introduced."

If cold climates produce introverted personalities, they also produce reading. Northern Europeans read more than any other ethnic group. The long winter nights encourage the reading habit: they also produced the Norse sagas.

By contrast, southern Europeans read much less. They're too busy enjoying the outdoor life in their balmy climates. Their climate makes them more gregarious – and noisier.

That's always the first thing I notice about Italy, where the lads even put gadgets on their motorbikes to louden the engine noise and everyone talks at the top of their voices. It's true of people from the Middle East, too. Silence, please! But when you can live out of doors, you get used to carrying on conversations that compete with street traffic at decibel level.

In their favour, those people from the Med and the Near East seldom booze the way we do. If you look at those countries above the 53rd parallel, this is mainly where you find the problems of excessive drink: Russians, Finns, Scots, Irish, Icelanders, the Inuit.

There is a charming idea put about by certain politicians that if only the British and Irish drank like continental Europeans, there would be none of this binge drinking that disfigures our societies. Charming, but naive.

We'll drink like Mediterraneans when we have a climate like the Mediterranean. Until then, drinking to get legless will continue, because the habit wrought by climate has gone into the gene pool. Maybe we will get a climate like the Mediterranean. Some environmentalists have suggested that global warming will mean that, by about 2070, the coastal climate could be almost tropical.

Ah, but it might go the other way, too: as the ice caps melt, the Gulf Stream, which flows through our coastal seas, may be borne away by the waters in the Atlantic flooding down from the Arctic. And, without that Gulf Stream, Ireland could have the same climate as Newfoundland.

The climate has surely forged our character. For centuries, it's been temperate. Yet our climate has seldom been completely predictable.

"Four seasons in one hour," as taxi-drivers like to say, suggesting that no weather condition will last too long. This climatic changeability has added a streak of volatility and colour to us.

If climate change turns Ireland into Newfoundland, will we become as introverted as the Canadians? Or as shy as the Swedes?

Climate change sure will have a major impact on all ways of life.

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