Boris Johnson hardly mentioned climate change in his first speech as Prime Minister, but the current hot weather is demonstrating that the UK is not designed for temperatures of up to 38 Celsius, writes Stephen Jardine.
Just when you thought that summer was set to elude us this year, suddenly it arrived.
This week Edinburgh basked in its hottest day on record as temperatures topped 31C on Thursday afternoon. Ice cream shops reported record sales and Lidl sold out of £90 swimming pools. On the radio every station seemed to be playing Chris Rea’s “On The Beach” or The Beatle’s “Here Comes The Sun”. For a few brief moments, we were at peak summer... and then it all went bad.
With the first complaints of it being too hot came more serious concerns. Cambridge recorded the hottest July day ever with temperatures reaching 38C, just over 100F. That led the NHS to issue specific advice to the elderly and parents of young babies. For everyone else, it was about trying to make the best of it.
Commuters faced serious delays as rail services struggled to cope with the high temperatures and line failures dogged the network. In offices without air-conditioning, cheap fans were the only alternative to stay cool.
But all of this throws up a serious challenge. How are we going to cope in the years to come? This heatwave doesn’t prove global warming is going to make our planet burn but it does show we are not equipped to deal with a climate that is changing fast.
It has never been hotter across northern Europe and extreme weather events are becoming more common so we need to find long and short-term solutions. Environmental protestors disrupted new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s journey to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen but it was noticeable that the climate crisis barely featured in his first speech. It should have dominated it. If Brexit is a worry, climate change is a nightmare. It’s tempting to dismiss all this as scaremongering. We remember hot summer days as kids so stick a beer in the fridge, light the BBQ and sit back and relax. However that is to abdicate our responsibility to future generations. Across the world, the last four years have been the hottest ever recorded. Here in the UK, our way of life is just not designed for 30C-plus.
This week police were called to a lido in London when a crowd of 500 people tried to force their way in to cool down. In Worcestershire, three people were taken to hospital after a blaze at a marina when the heat ignited fuel in tanks. And in London, an eerie clip on social media showed cardboard catching fire in the sunlight and swirling around on the pavement. It was a dystopian image of the shape of things to come.
Everyone has a part to play in this. Governments need to deliver carbon reduction targets and that means we need to look at how we live our lives and reduce our individual impact. Planners need to think about buildings and city spaces that will keep us cool and cut emissions. Transport networks need to be adjusted to cope with the rising mercury. Most importantly, we all need to recognise the challenge. The heatwave is not a jolly story with kids playing in fountains and taps aff on Portobello Beach. Instead, like droughts, wildfires and floods, it is a sign of the climate catastrophe facing us all.