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Hothouse Britain

July 2022 by Emma Richards

Currently, it is hot! There is no denying that. And whilst some are revelling in the hot weather, most are doing what they can to stay cool and hide away from the heat. But for those of us working in the climate sphere, it’s yet another terrifying reminder that climate change is happening here, it’s happening now, and it’s happening to us.

Even those among us who haven’t been paying attention, start to get the sense that something is severely wrong when…

  • The whole world is hotter than that infamous summer of ’76.
  • A mock forecast, envisioning how the weather may look in 2050 if we don’t act on climate change, is a pretty accurate depiction of our current weather.
  • The UK experiences its first ever Red Extreme weather warning for heat.
  • The Met Office changed the criteria of a heatwave only earlier this year, making it more difficult for a hot weather event to be categorised as a heatwave (a change supposed to result in the declaration of fewer heatwaves), yet we find ourselves in the hottest temperatures we’ve ever experienced.
  • We endure ‘Tropical nights’ (a night where the temperature doesn’t drop below 20°C) across much of the UK.
  • Temperatures are in excess of 40°C for the very first time.
  • The UK being hotter than 99% of the Earth.

Simply put – the UK is just not designed to withstand these temperatures:

  • Railway sleepers set on fire from sparks from the wheels of trains, and the fear of tracks buckling in the heat, has led to reduced train speeds, cancelled trains and caused disruption to people’s journeys.
  • Roads melting and distorting, leading to councils having to send out gritters in the height of summer.
  • Airport runways are, likewise, melting, preventing flights from taking off (potentially the only silver lining of the heatwave).

It’s not just our infrastructure though, our people and services are also affected by the rise in temperature:

  • The NHS and ambulance services are under severe strain in the heat, examples including the cancelling of surgeries as operating theatres become too hot and responding to the increasing cases of heat stroke.
  • Fire brigades are working flat-out, with London Fire Brigade declaring a major incident.
  • We’ve seen a tragic spate of water-related deaths, from those trying to cool off by jumping into or swimming in open water.
  • Not to mention the disproportionate effects extreme weather events have on the most vulnerable in society, particularly poorer neighbourhoods. ‘Analysis by the BBC of satellite data from 4 Earth Intelligence and figures on relative poverty in England, Scotland and Wales, suggests people in deprived areas are more than twice as likely to live in places which are significantly hotter than neighbouring places.’

Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at UCL, and climate activist, said: “There’s no getting around it, the UK’s once equable climate is falling apart. We are now firmly on course for hothouse Britain and the signs are all around us… This extreme heat is just the beginning. We should be scared – and channel this emotion into action.

And this is a message we can get behind. Yes, we should be scared – the climate is changing far faster than scientists predicted and this is cause for concern. But should this mean we do nothing and resign ourselves to a future of increasingly more frequent, more severe, and longer-lasting extreme weather such as this heatwave? Absolutely not!

There is still time to take rapid action to reduce our carbon emissions. What every member of the community, including business and education, requires is the skills, knowledge and motivation to act on the climate crisis. If you’re interested in how you can turn your fear into action, sign-up to a Carbon Literacy course and find out how you can make a difference.

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