Notes from the UK: Climate Change Is Here

November 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Climate Change, Flood, Front Page, Notes from the UK, Slideshow, UK

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Heavy flooding has taken its toll in the UK this year. Photo:  qbik, Creative Commons

Heavy flooding has taken its toll in the UK this year. Photo: qbik, Creative Commons

It’s fair to say that everyone has noticed the weather changes here in the UK — the heavy rainfalls, gale force winds, flooding, and even the reduction in snow. Every year, we notice more visible changes to the climate — which many believe is the result of climate change — and they appear to be getting progressively worse with each new year.


Heavy rainfall for extended periods is expected to increase the flood risk in the coming years. We have witnessed freak levels of flooding already this year, especially during September. With major flooding throughout the country, holidaymakers in Wales had to be airlifted to safety, and homes in the south of Devon were flooded. Northern areas of the country, such as York and Newcastle, didn’t get off lightly either, with many residents claiming to have experienced the most severe flooding in recent memory.

In fact, Meteogroup released figures showing a 14.25 inch (362mm) rainfall in June, July ,and August, making 2012 the wettest summer seen in the UK since 1912. One explanation is that the flooding is due to unusual circulation patterns in the atmosphere, which can sometimes become fixed on a certain cycle. Depending on whether the circulation is pointing away or towards the country, this can either lead to the UK experiencing excessively dry or wet conditions. This theory could certainly go some way to explaining the drastic alterations in weather that have been experienced in recent times.

Higher Seas and Climbing Temperatures

Sea level has increased by ten centimetres since 1900. This is making seaside properties prone to flooding, and houses situated on the edge of the coast are at heavy risk of coastal erosion. The average sea level is expected to increase by fifty-nine centimetres by the end of this century.

In addition, both land and sea temperatures are on the increase, with coastal water temperatures rising around 0.7 degrees Celsius higher over the past three decades.

The combination of high winds, warmer waters, and increased sea levels have effectively made areas like the Southwest coast of England more attractive to Bluefin tuna, stingrays, thresher sharks, and other marine life, all of which normally enjoy the warmer waters of Southern Europe. Simultaneously, however, sea birds, such as kittiwake, are experiencing poorer breeding patterns, and the success of their survival is under scrutiny as their populations decline.


There was very little snow in many parts of the country this past winter. Years ago you couldn’t open your door because the snow had built up so high overnight, but now a small dusting gets washed away quickly by rain in most areas. Overall temperatures have increased in the past four to five years and it’s anticipated that we can expect these temperatures to rise by more than three degrees Celsius.

The entire globe is feeling the effects of climate change, and these are the key areas where I feel the UK is noticing the change. For the first time in many a year, residents in the UK were actually worried about drought, and certain areas were put on water restrictions. The dry spell was quickly followed by too much rain, which caused widespread devastation to homes, crops and businesses, which in turn cost the country billions.

Moving forward, it’s very likely that these conditions will worsen. Living within the UK, it’s too easy to assume that “everything will be OK”, as we don’t live in a country that experiences freak weather. It’s already heading that way, however, and we need to prepare ourselves. This can only be achieved when the government starts taking climate change seriously and figures out how to tackle the onslaught of excessive rainfall and flooding in the future.

John Langford

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

John Langford is a writer and blogger for UK insurance service Policy Expert. He enjoys writing about the environment and home improvement, and is currently working a thesis about coastal erosion in the UK.



Namibian Research Project Leads to Unforgettable Adventure

Washed out roads and flash floods challenged Kieckenbush and colleagues.

Washed out roads and flash floods challenge Kiekebush and colleagues. Photo: Elsita Kiekebusch

When Elsita Kiekebusch agreed to conduct an environmental awareness campaign for Integrated Environmental Consultants Namibia (IECN), she expected to face challenges. After all, the Namibian landscape can be harsh and inhospitable at times, and she would be driving across some of the most remote and desolate areas of the nation. While the results of her survey proved unspectacular, the journey itself contained surprises that made it an unforgettable adventure.

Miriam Kashia, international editor for Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL), interviewed Kiekenbusch by email to find out about both her experiences and the work that sent the young woman on her remarkable journey.

BPGL: What type of work have you been doing for IECN?

KIEKENBUSCH: I’ve been focused on a coastal awareness campaign along the Atlantic coast of Namibia. My co-workers and I have interviewed approximately 250 local citizens and members of affiliated institutions — such as the provincial Councils and environmental Conservancies — to assess the impact of the campaign since its commencement a year and a half ago.

As the entire western border of Namibia is the ocean, you can imagine the incredible distances that we had to cover in order to carry out the survey. In one week, we went south to the small German-style port of Lüderitz, stopping at various sites along the way for the interviews. Then last week, we headed out into the unbelievably remote Kunene Region with the IECN land cruiser packed full with jerry cans, food, camping equipment, 2 spare tires, a toolbox and more.

BPGL: I understand you had quite an adventure. What are some of the more memorable experiences you had along the way?

With the Jeep's battery dead, Kiekebusch is stranded — but cheerful.

With the Land Cruiser's battery dead, Kiekebusch is stranded — but cheerful.

KIEKEBUSCH: We experienced bad roads like never before. At times sandy; at times stony; at times wet, steep, and muddy. It seemed like our car had seen it all, when we drove straight down a dry riverbed composed solely of boulders. We had to race to catch up with our translator-guide, who enjoyed driving his Government-owned truck as fast as he possibly could. (I’m talking 75 mph on gravel roads!) And this was just the first day.

That night found us camped next to the beautiful Hoanib riverbed. We were up late, because we had decided to blend in with local culture and slaughter a goat for dinner. By dinner, I mean that we ate the meat for the next three days straight. We were unable to buy purified water anywhere, but beer was available everywhere, so we drank that for three days straight, too.

The food and drink put us in high spirits even after we discovered that our car battery had died when we left the lights on in the dark, and we had no jumper cables. The next morning, we found ourselves stranded in practically every way you can think of.

Our translator-guide had awakened early in the morning. He drove across the riverbed, and went to the nearest small settlement, Purros, to find jumper cables. When he didn’t return, we suspected the worst — if he wasn’t dead or maimed, then we figured he was drunk and gone forever.

Water rages across

Water rages across a road in the Kunene Region, near Bergsig in Torra Conservancy. Photo: Elsita Kiekebusch

But soon we realized that the dry river to Purros had flooded overnight, so our translator-guide couldn’t have returned even if he wanted to. It was the flash-flood season in Namibia — a country with no permanent rivers within its borders — so in the rainy season, dry riverbeds in the desert can suddenly fill with water from rainfall miles away.

Certainly, the Hoanib was no calm stream that morning! It had become a raging torrent about 100 feet across, with rapids, rocks, unreliable sandbars — altogether impassable by any sort of vehicle.

So that was how we found ourselves trapped on the wrong side of the river from where we had to go next. Our car battery was dead, the petrol (gas) was low. There was no cell phone service. And we had no food, as our goat-meat and pots were in the back of the truck that our guide drove — and he had gone AWOL.

Somehow, we made it out of there. With the help of some tourists, who were also stranded at the campsite, we jump-started our car. A nice British lady fed us breakfast and directed us to a nearby lodge where we could buy petrol. And then there was nothing to do but wait for the water level to drop.

Around 3 p.m., we heard honking across the river and looked up to see our guide on the other side. He gestured wildly, and somehow managed to communicate to us that we should go to another spot further downriver. We felt we had no choice but to attempt the crossing before any new afternoon rains could catch up with us.

We put the Land Cruiser into 4-wheel drive and ventured forward. The roar of the engine clashed with the sound of rushing water, as she swayed perilously from side to side. Somehow she finally made it across, and we were able to continue on our way towards the coast.

Dunes in Namibia make travel difficult and treacherous. Photo: Miriam Kashia

Beautiful wind-sculpted dunes in the Namib Desert of Western Namibia. Photo: Miriam Kashia

I’m pleased to report that we ultimately survived the trip. We had a nice few days at Swakopmund on the coast, and we’re now back in Windhoek, where I’m writing up a final report.

BPGL: You mentioned that you work for IECN. Tell me about what they do.

KIEKEBUSCH: Integrated Environmental Consultants Namibia (IECN) is a private consulting company in the environmental field. It focuses on capacity building and sustainable development, basically applying the science to environmental issues. They do multiple consultancies (short-term projects) for many organizations, including the UN, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Namibia Polytechnic, and University of Namibia.

This consultancy — the one for which we did the project — was for the Namibian Coastal Management Project (NACOMA), which was developed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. NACOMA’s main goal with this research consultancy is to develop a legal framework by writing a white paper for the sustainable management of all of Namibia’s coast. The project has been ongoing for five years.

NACOMA wanted to have civilian input during the process, so they also began a coastal awareness campaign in 2007. They worked in four coastal regions of Namibia (Kunene, Hardap, Erongo, Karas).

The group distributed informational pamphlets, produced educational materials, worked with schools and youth groups, produced various media communications — newspaper articles, went on radio talk shows, television interviews, etc., about the white paper development process. They also addressed general issues of concern, such as quad-biking, which is a serious threat along the fragile coastal environment.

BPGL: What is particularly special about this coastal region?

A view of the Namibian desert. Photo: Miriam Kashia

The Namib Desert has biodiversity not found anywhere else on Earth. Photo: Miriam Kashia

KIEKEBUSCH: The harsh Namib desert all along the coast is where the cold, wet air from the South Atlantic polar currents meet the hot and extremely dry air of the desert.  That confluence has resulted in a unique ecology and biodiversity not found anywhere else on Earth.

The Namibian coast contains many different types of natural resources. They need to be used wisely and in a way that one type of resource does not damage another. We need to plan how to use resources and protect them at the same time.

BPGL: Aren’t there laws that protect the area?

KIEKEBUSCH: While Namibia has a comprehensive draft set of environmental laws applicable to the entire country, there is no specific coastal legislation or national coastal area policy. Laws dealing with coastal management issues are currently outdated and totally inadequate. They’re also reactive, rather than proactive, in achieving integrated coastal area management objectives that meet our current ecological, economic and social needs.

BPGL: What are some of the threats to the ecological integrity of the Namibian coast?

KIEKEBUSCH: The Namibian coast is sparsely populated, so overpopulation isn’t the primary environmental threat. The significant threats to this fragile area come from several sources:

  • Uncontrolled activities in protected areas, such as mining, tourism, off-road driving, and recreational fishing
  • Land reclamation for urban and commercial development
  • Marine pollution from the fishing industry, mining, oil and gas extraction, and harbor activities
  • Overfishing and over-harvesting
  • Introduction of invasive alien species through mariculture development
  • Excessive water exploitation for mining and consumption
  • Environmental variability and global climate change
Namibia's coastal region is a sensitive ecosystem. Photo: Elsita Kieckebusch

Namibia's coastal region is a sensitive ecosystem. Photo: Elsita Kieckebusch

These activities have a cumulative impact on the coastal environment, causing steady degradation and threatening not only the environment, but the economy and health of all Namibians as well.

BPGL: What did you discover with your research survey about the environmental impact of the coastal awareness campaign in Namibia?

KIEKEBUSCH: We traveled to the four coastal regions of Namibia and interviewed members of the public and members of related institutions (Ministry of Fisheries, Regional and Town Councils, etc.). Our survey tested knowledge of coastal issues and knowledge of NACOMA and its goals.

We traveled as far as Lüderitz, Opuwo, Terrace Bay (Skeleton Coast Park) and, of course, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. The results weren’t amazing. Our main conclusion was that NACOMA had spread itself too thin during the awareness-raising process, so we recommended that they target certain interest groups more than in the past. We also recommended that they stay away from the more inland areas. People in these areas were less informed and had less of an interest, because they don’t live near the coast anyway.

BPGL: To what degree has the campaign succeeded in its goals so far?

KIEKEBUSCH: We saw increases in environmental awareness in some areas. We also saw a large increase in the usage of the website, which was another thing we were evaluating. That was a good sign. NACOMA certainly completed many different communication activities that they intended to, and I think they got a lot of public interest in the white paper process. People came to the discussions to give input. Involving various shareholders in this process is a key to its success.

BPGL: I understand that Namibia is the only country in the world that has environmental protection written into its constitution.

KIEKEBUSCH: Yes, Namibia is one of the only countries that has a phrase in the constitution something along the lines of “every citizen has the right to a healthy and clean environment.”

This coastal management process is certainly something that should be commended — in fact, the whole of the Namibian coast at the moment is being considered to become a national park. It’s hard to provide environmental protection for a large and diverse area of land such as Namibia, particularly with limited resources and staff.

Tourists climb a giant dune in the Namibian desert. Photo: Miriam Kashia

Tourists climb a giant dune in the Namib Desert, the largest dunes in the world in the oldest desert in the world Photo: Miriam Kashia

One of the biggest problems faced along the coast — our area of concentration for this study — is the destruction left by holiday-makers during the Christmas/New Years holidays. People have been leaving trash and driving around the desert in off-road vehicles, which is very damaging to the environment. 2007 was a particularly bad year, but serious measures were taken to control that destruction in 2008, and it seems that they were successful in limiting the damage.

BPGL: Earlier, you mentioned “quad-biking,” and now you’ve just mentioned the use of off-road vehicles. How are quad-biking and off-road vehicles threatening the coastal environment?

KIEKEBUSCH: Quad-bikes are also called ATVs (all-terrain vehicles). Imagine a motorcycle with four wheels. A big problem is holidaymakers (mostly from South Africa) coming up to Namibia in December to do a lot of off-road driving in the dunes and gravel plains of the desert. These are very vulnerable areas. Track marks disrupt the soil micro-environment and leave scars on the land that take many years to go away. They also run over small animals and bird eggs along the way.

BPGL: Now that the research project is finished, what’s the next likely step in your career?

KIEKEBUSCH: Actually, I have a new job. I recently joined the staff of the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre in the Namib Desert. The centre is basically a research station/environmental education institution. My project, in association with NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency), is a study of bacteria capable of living underneath rocks in extremely arid conditions. We are hoping to inform the search for life on Mars.

Miriam Kashia

International Editor

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Take This House (and Float It Away) Flooding Play on Midwest Tour

When I bought a condo near the Iowa River six years ago, I was delighted to learn that the flood insurance I thought I needed wasn’t required after all. My condo was outside the 100-year floodplain, so by turning it down, I saved a fair amount of money on monthly homeowner’s premiums.

If I’d still owned my condo last summer, I would have regretted that decision. The Iowa River surged out of its banks beyond even the 500-year floodplain. The first floor of my once-beautiful home filled to the ceiling with muck, slime, and water. Quite literally, the river ran through it.

Like so many others, several of my former neighbors were deep in denial as the water rose ever higher. By the time they recognized that they really, truly did have a PROBLEM, the water was lapping at the roads, and the raging river was too close for them to save their belongings.

They weren’t alone in their plight. The University of Iowa suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages, including the loss of many items (and buildings) that could have been saved, had the powers that be acted more quickly. The devastation in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids totaled billions of dollars. And reconstruction is expected to take at least 10 years.

Of course, this is not a new story. Not so long ago, Hurricane Katrina left much of Louisiana and Mississippi scarred beyond recognition, as homes and businesses washed away, and those that remained were flooded. People died in that disaster, as far too many residents were unable or unwilling to prepare for the worst.

And, we’re told, by climatologists (who should know), this is only a foretaste of what’s to come. As the planet warms, storms will become more fierce. Waters will rise higher. Winds will blow stronger. Yet some of us still wait for proof, our backs turned to the rising water, our ears shut to the sound of the wind.

All of this is by way of introducing an original play about flooding that is now touring the Midwest. Blue Planet Green Living is pleased co-sponsor the troupe’s visit here, along with the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City. The description of the play sounds familiar to those of us in flood-damaged Iowa. It may resonate with you as well:

“In the heart of levee-protected suburbs along California’s American River, a middle-aged couple think they’re immune to anything nature blows their way — catastrophic flood included — only to find themselves terribly deluded. This original theatre piece, Take This House (and Float It Away), spirals into the tragicomic world of Stu and Marlene’s floodplain living room, where the couple is unable to comprehend nature’s effect on their safe, suburban sphere. As Stu hides behind “groundbreaking” research into bird gestures, Marlene extrapolates caffeinated solutions to newspaper headlines, conflating staying informed with staying afloat.

Although we have not yet seen the play, the reviews we’ve read have been highly positive, both for the troupe, Change of State, and for the play.

Choreographer Carol Swann calls Change of State performances “clear, dynamic, and spacious.” Of Take This House she says, “All of a sudden [I was struck] with the absurdity of our society’s madness.”

University of Iowa MFA playwriting candidate Andrew Saito describes the play’s quality as “enriched by moments of sudden speed and exaggerated slowness, as well as sequences dreamlike and otherworldly, which augment with the otherwise naturalistic and comedic tone.”

At several of the venues, the play will be preceded by a truly unique experience. Jacob Barton will play a composition for udderbot — an original slide woodwind instrument.

If you have the opportunity to experience this play and meet this talented ensemble, I encourage you to do so. The subject matter is sure to make you think, and the play may well cause a little flooding of your own, as you alternately laugh and cry. Afterward, the performers will lead a discussion about local water issues in each community.

Performance Schedule

Luther College
Studio 2
Decorah, IA
Tuesday, 4.14.09
8 p.m.

River Music Experience
131 W. 2nd St.
Davenport, IA
Thursday, 4.16.09
6 p.m.
$15 (no one turned away for lack of funds)

Unitarian Universalist Society
10 S. Gilbert St.
Iowa City, IA

Friday, 4.17.09
7:30 p.m.
Donations Accepted
(A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Iowa Artists Relief Fund.)

3502 N. Elston
Chicago, IL
Saturday, 4.18.09
2 p.m
$15 ($5 discount for students, unemployed, etc)

Bucketworks Theatre
1340 North 6th Street
Milwaukee, WI
Sunday, 4.19.09
7-9:30 p.m.
$15 ($5 discount for students, unemployed, and members of Bucketworks)

Allen Hall, S. Rec Room
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Urbana, IL
Tuesday, 4.21.09
8 p.m.

Student Union Theatre
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI
Wednesday, 4.22.09
1 p.m.

202 S. Broadway
Urbana, IL
Thursday, 4.23.09
8 p.m.
TIckets: TBD

The Tin Ceiling Theater
3159 Cherokee St.
St. Louis, MO
Saturday 4.25.09
8 p.m.
$15 ($5 discount for students, unemployed, etc.)

About the Company

With background in contemporary dance techniques, theatre, and improvisation, the four-year old Change of State Performance Project makes poignant and unsettling performances that unravel expectations of symmetry and the methodology of logic. The company is co-directed by Andrea del Moral and K. Qilo Matzen, and currently includes multi-faceted, Midwest performers Jacob Barton and Elizabeth Simpson. Matzen and del Moral, based in Oakland, California, frequently perform in collaboration with community organizations to engage audiences with understanding and improving water systems, policy, and sustainable technologies. For three years they commissioned dances from Illinois choreographer Lisa Fay, a two-time Illinois Arts Council Fellowship recipient.

Performer Bios

Andrea del Moral, co-director (b. 1978), provides theatrical direction for Change of State Performance Project. She studied theatre at Boston University and dance at the School for New Dance Development (Amsterdam). Her work is influenced by training in Skinner Releasing Technique and other somatic practices, theatre directing, improvisational dance and theatre, contemporary dance, clowning, aerial dance, and writing. Andrea has expansive teaching background at all age levels. For two years she directed a summer theatre workshop for young women. She has also taught about water systems, agriculture, plant breeding, economics, white supremacy, and global economics. She wrote several chapters in Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground, has also published poetry, and recently completed her first full-length, nonfiction book.

K. Qilo Matzen, co-director (b. 1980), brings a technical movement background to Change of State, with a BFA in Dance from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and training in Martha Eddy’s Integrative SMTT (Somatic Movement Therapy Training). Ze works with clients and teaches through a Somatic Movement Therapy perspective. Qilo has performed in North America and Europe, touring the Balkans with activist arts collective Building Bloc, working with European director/choreographers, and locally as artist-in-residence at the Jon Sims Center, San Francisco. In addition to hir Somatic Movement Therapy practice, Qilo works as a plumber’s apprentice. Qilo is a contributing author to Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground (Soft Skull, 2007), where ze wrote about the Dishwater Deviants, the guerrilla plumbing wing of Change of State Performance Project. (ze and hir are gender neutral pronouns)

Jacob Barton (b. 1985) pursues an amateur virtuosity in composing and in performing, in music and in language.  In addition to collecting and learning new instruments (most recently a trombone), he also builds new ones (most notably the udderbot, a new slide woodwind instrument). He plays these instruments in house concerts and with An Exciting Event, a round-singing puppet troupe.  A graduate of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, Jacob was a recipient of a 2006 BMI Student Composer Award for composing “Xenharmonic Variations on a Theme by Mozart” for microtonal player piano. Jacob’s interest in microtonality has led him to organize a Xenharmonic Wiki, the Seventeen Tone Piano Project concert series (Houston), and the Chicago-based UnTwelve. It has also given rise to his participation in the Garden Performance Project (NYC) and the School for Designing a Society (Urbana, IL).

Elizabeth Simpson (b. 1976) describes her experience of living as “Finding out what it’s like to be alive.” Through this look she engages in various forms of creative and social justice work, always striving to act in awareness of the rich intersections of personal, social, present, and historic domains of human living. She has been doing performance art incorporating vocal composition, puppetry, fire-spinning, street theater, and storytelling since 1994. Elizabeth studied Theater of the Oppressed with Augusto Boal and Story Circles with John O’Neal. She is a co-founder of the anti-racist community learning project, Liberation Education, and continues to teach anti-oppression and creativity workshops throughout the country in academic and community settings. At home in Illinois, Elizabeth is the Peer Mediation Coordinator at Urbana Middle School and teaches the class “Being White in a Multiracial Society” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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