Take on Nature: The seasons are all over the place
DESPITE the mild winter it seems as if spring is only fully kicking in now. The leaves on the ash trees have still not fully broken through and a few beech are still hanging on to last year's copper coat.
A passing conversation with a farmer herding a flock of young heifers into a field last week backed up my suspicion.
“Everything is a month late. The seasons are all over the place,” he said.
The countryside of south Down where I spend most of my walking time was shaped by the last ice age, as was the rest of Ireland,
The Mourne Mountains are the most dramatic part of the landscape, but the rolling drumlins that define the rest of the county, Strangford and Carlingford loughs and the serrated coastline are also defining features.
Up until around 12,000 years ago this part of Europe lay under a massive ice sheet that at its peak rose to nearly a kilometre in height.
As it melted and uncovered the landscape that had lain buried under its huge weight for many thousands of years, parts of the land started to shift upwards. Some of the most dramatic evidence of this can be seen south of Newcastle where shoreline at the end of the ice age has now risen more than 20 metres above the sea.
Retreating glaciers carved out the huge valleys that lie between the mountains in the Mournes and rounded out Donard and Commedagh and shaped the numerous hillocks and valleys in the lowlands.
Errigle in Donegal, Carrauntoohil in Kerry, the loughs and mountains of Connemara, the Sperrins and Wicklow mountains were all shaped by the last ice age. Our fertile green landscape, and that of many other parts of the world, is also a product of previous ice ages.
However, according to a report published in the scientific journal Nature earlier this year the burning of fossil fuels has postponed the next global ice age for at least 100,000 years.
“The bottom line is we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented,” Andrey Ganopolski, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and who led the research, said.
“It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it.”
Of course the onset of a new ice age would have massive implications for humanity – getting to the shops when the road is covered by a kilometre-thick ice sheet would be difficult.
But humanity has been nourished by the landscape and the environmental conditions that allowed us to thrive and as a species we are meddling with the very conditions that allowed us to evolve the first place.
Another report, published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggested that if we burned all the remaining known fossil fuels on the planet global temperatures would rise by 10C, making parts of the Earth uninhabital for humans. Last week temperatures in parts of India reached 51C, the hottest ever recorded there.
My casual observations and those of a farmer in a country lane that the shifting pattern of our seasons is evidence of climate change will hardly be given much credence by climate change deniers. So what, if the full onset of spring is four weeks late this year?
But harder scientific evidence suggests that the environmental conditions that allowed humanity to evolve are being altered in such a way that what once nourished us is becoming increasingly hostile.