What we know now

fraser jf stewart
4 min readJan 5, 2024

As someone who lives and grew up in rural Angus in Scotland, and whose family has been here for generations, I’m used to the odd “bit of weather”.

However, between Storms Babet, Ciaran and Gerrit and the months of rain rhythmically drumming these together, it is clear that the impacts of the climate crisis have made these “bits of weather” far more common and dangerous. Red weather warnings have become more frequent, as have the floods and damage to both people and places that accompany serious weather events.

Grandparents and experts agree — this is more than just a bad winter. The Met Office estimates we’ve seen 170% of the 1991–2020 average rainfall this winter, with a steady year-to-year increase over the last decade likely only to keep rising — which they attribute directly to human-induced climate change.

The storms this time around have been particularly problematic. In my area, between Forfar and Dundee, floods made many roads impassable for several days at a time. Many hundreds of people have been left stranded by this. Many without power or food and other supplies. Once the water (and mud) clears, the damage to the roads, trees, people and homes is often massive.

These are by no means the worst impacts of the climate crisis felt today, of course. Billions of people in the global South are already battling with devastating floods, heatwaves and the famine and destruction of ecosystems and communities that goes with that.

But because such weather events are becoming more frequent in Scotland and the UK, the damage is compounding: there is less time to fix roads etc, and repairs become more and more expensive as damage becomes more extreme. Not just for households either, but for local businesses, farmers and councils in areas hit hardest. Councils in particular who are already battling to stay afloat.

The costs of recovering from storms — even with the best laid resilience plans in place — are becoming higher as roads fracture, trees fall, land slides and local buildings are hammered. Undoubtedly and as always, such issues are multiplied for most vulnerable people and places.

Interestingly (for want of a better word), there’s a reason that places like Angus and plenty others are so susceptible to weather events like we’re seeing today. During the agricultural revolution, landowners and latterly tenant farmers carved out huge swathes of the landscape in a process of commercialisation. Rivers were redirected and natural mitigations like lochs and moorlands were drained and overhauled to allow those resources to be leveraged predominantly for economic gain. Through these changes to the natural environment, we lost a whole load of natural defences against some of the climate impacts we’re experiencing today.

This is a wicked example of humans tampering with nature leading to a wicked, compounding problem. We messed greatly with the natural environment to accommodate increased profits, which has led to us being doubly exposed to the impacts of a climate crisis we’re also driving by destroying the natural environment in various other ways to accommodate profit on an inordinate scale. During the agricultural revolution we didn’t have the same information as today, of course, but the outcomes remain the same.

We made mistakes in the 1700–1800’s in Angus and lots of places besides across the Global North when we didn’t know an awful lot about the looming climate crisis our ancestors would face. But we carved through much of the natural environment for largely the same reasons as we do today — economic gain. That is not to say tenant farmers or people trying to make a crust for themselves were equivalent to those industries and corporations who exploit the natural environment for bumper private profits, of course.

The difference now is that we have all the information required to understand these dangers and then some. We fully grasp the limitations of exploiting the natural environment (and the people and species that call it home) for economic gain and the accelerating damage that doing so can cause. Yet still we beat on, wilfully dismissive of harm caused both in the UK recently but also in those most affected places around the world because hey, there’s money to be made for a very small number of very wealthy people and that’s what really matters.

We don’t have the excuse of not knowing what might happen if we drill for more fossil fuels or tear apart the natural environment for profit anymore. The barriers to addressing these harms and their causes now are mostly political, with a strong legacy of injustice, prejudice and blind, bloodthirsty economic dogma. But political barriers can be overcome.

The climate impacts long felt around the world as a result of human actions, from burning fossil fuels to messing too much with natural environment for our own ends, are here today and we know the exponential damage they will cause in future if we don’t hurry up and change. Knowing what we know now, we have no excuse for making the same mistakes again.

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fraser jf stewart

Very cool & handsome applied researcher, making clean energy work against poverty and inequality. Believer in big ideas. Scheme bairn at heart.