Global Warming

Global Warming

A threat to the future of Scotch?

News | 09 Sep 2005 | Issue 50 | By Dominic Roskrow

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In my youth – a couple of centuries ago it seems – I remember snow lying around my home in Perth for weeks on end. I remember sledging every year and often daily in the 1950s and early 1960s. I don’t remember getting days off school because of the bad weather, but I suppose we must have done.The Scottish snows of 40/50 years ago now seem to be gone forever. My daughter, who is now five years old, has yet to experience the joys of sledging. Alright, I now live some 66 miles south of Perth, but any snow we experience is almost gone within 24 hours and even Perth receives mere flurries of snowfall compared with the past.The snows of yesteryear meant the upland areas which gather Scotland’s water supplies, retained water during the full course of a calendar year. Adistillery’s silent season was rarely the result of a lack of water; it was more an opportunity for the staff to carry out routine (and essential) maintenance tasks and to take well-earned holidays.The reduction in the snowfalls experienced by Scotland has not only meant the collapsing into bankruptcy of one of the country’s previously successful ski areas, but also an increase in the length of some silent seasons due to a lack of cooling water.The Scottish educational system advises that, as an island, the United Kingdom experiences a northern maritime climate, which means cold winters, cool springs and autumns and warm summers, with rain falling mostly over the winter, spring and autumn periods. As the prevailing wind is from the south-west, the west of Scotland was the wettest region, with some of the east of the country effectively lying in a rain shadow. Again, this also seems to have changed.In late September 1996, the north-east of Scotland had serious flood problems. The temperature was relatively warm and, with the high levels of rainfall, it was impossible to harvest the barley, which was almost at full ripeness when the rains started.These warm and moist conditions caused the seed at the head of the grain to begin germination, resulting in a mat of roots at the head of the plant as well as the mat of roots below the ground. From the farmers’ point of view, it was a disaster. None of the barley could be used for malting; it was condemned to cattle feed – and thus a lower income for the farmer.When, at this time Jim McEwan, who was then manager at Bowmore, was asked if he was pleased to be restarting distilling after an extended silent season, he retorted, “What?We still have no water. This morning I stood with one foot on one side of the River Laggan and my other foot on the other side.” The Laggan provides Bowmore’s cooling water.He was then asked about the floods.“What floods? We have not had a drop of rain for six weeks,” was his response.With distilleries like Balmenach needing 80,000 litres of cooling water every hour for their worm tubs, water is rapidly becoming a serious issue in a warmer Scotland.Some Americans, near the end of their visit to Scotland, were asked if they had enjoyed their visit. With one exception, they all said that they had had a wonderful time. The dissenter was from Las Vegas who was upset because he had come to Scotland to experience rain and had had 10 days of what we Scots would refer to as beautiful weather – dry and sunny.As we have already seen, the distilling industry (never mind the bottling part of the Scotch whisky industry) needs quite prodigious amounts of water to remain operational. We were advised global warming meant, for Scotland, a warmer and wetter future. The scientists seem to have got it wrong. 2004 was a year in which, following on from the heat of 2003, water, or the lack of it, became a serious issue. The fact that the hills were not covered with ice and snow during the winter months of 2003/2004 meant the stores of water, which were normally held underground, became sorely depleted to the extent that some distilleries had to cease distillation for a period in the late summer and autumn.The Scottish hills are currently (June 2005) saturated. This is due to an unusually high level of rainfall from November 2004 through to late May 2005. What would normally have been a fairly dry part of the calendar saw damp and dreich weather for much of May.Having said that, there have been dry spots even during this winter. Glengoyne, for example, had experienced almost four weeks of dry weather until a very dark and wet day on March 14. The situation was so bad that their water collection dam above the distillery, which is normally fed by the 50 feet high waterfall from the distillery burn, was at a very low level and the waterfall itself was down to a trickle.Following around 20 hours of rain on that Tuesday, the waterfall and dam were back at normal levels and the surrounding roads more closely resembled canals than tarmacadamed roads.At this rate, within 50 years, the Lowland distilleries of Bladnoch, Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan will be unviable and Blackwood in Shetland will have been joined by two others – Whitewood and Wormwood?Within 100 years, Scotch whisky will not exist, the 900 acres of the Macallan estate will, instead of barley, be planted with vines on the Côtes de Spey, and the Icelandic barley and distilling industry will be booming. The mandarins from the former Scotch Whisky Association in London’s Half Moon Street and Edinburgh’s Atholl Crescent will have decamped to establish the Icelandic Whisky Association in Reykjavik’s Frikirkjuvegur.So where is this ramble going?Avery good question – I now wish to end with a truly heartfelt plea.Please stop using CFC fridges, deodorants and fossil fuels, please sell your car and buy a bike, please recycle everything imaginable, please put nappies on cows (they excrete methane), or better still attach cows’ nappies to pipes which will take the gas into distilleries so they can use the methane as a form of fuel.Scotland’s distilleries are not operating at peak capacity and yet some of them are short of water on a more frequent basis than during previous summers. Scotland needs its old cold, wet, snowy winters back. We need all our distilleries to operate consistently, confidently and without undue heed or hindrance – and I mean natural hindrance as well as governmental.Therefore… Join the Green Party; save Scotland’s distilleries!
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