Last week, for the first time in my 29 years on this earth, I found myself praying for rain. I’m not religious, so praying isn’t something I really do, but this was completely necessary: a primal, desperate plea from the soul. It was just too hot.
“Well, it is summer,” I hear you sigh. But last week’s heatwave wasn’t like a normal British summer. It wasn’t pleasant, grab an ice lolly and fire up the barbeque weather. It was too hot to be outside, too hot to sleep, too hot to walk, work or think.
The ongoing freak weather is a stark reminder of what’s ahead. The climate crisis took centre stage last year when Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion rallied the troops in marches across the globe, galvanising people to cut down on meat, ditch plastics and commit to less air travel. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic has meant the climate emergency has managed to evade
the front pages.
But it hasn’t gone away. Last week, temperatures exceeded 34C for the sixth day in a row for the first time since 1961, followed by mad spells of biblical rain. Properties and cars were damaged by flooding in Lancashire, Alton Towers urged people not to travel to the theme park after an electrical storm cut off the water supply, and, in unprecedented scenes, “where is the rain” was trending on Twitter in the UK, a nation full of people renowned for moaning about wet weather.
For three summers in a row now, dangerously warm weather has reared its ugly head on our doorsteps. In 2018 Saddleworth Moor and Winter Hill burned for weeks.
Last year summer heatwaves resulted in almost 900 extra deaths, according to Public Health England. Further figures reveal that over the past four years more than 3,400 people have died early during periods of extreme temperature in England.
And across the world, the stats are just as grim. Last week a report compiled by 520 scientists from more than 60 countries and published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society confirmed every decade since 1980 has been warmer than the preceding decade, with the period between 2010 and 2019 the hottest since worldwide temperature records began in the 19th century. Across the Atlantic, it’s a pivotal moment for the climate crisis. If Trump wins the forthcoming general election, the US will withdraw from the Paris agreement exactly one day after the votes are counted.
We can wait with bated breath until the presidential election in November to see what the future holds for the global battle against climate change, but for now, we need to keep up the fight at home.
As the government grapples with a catastrophic recession, the climate emergency cannot take a back seat. Green jobs, a focus on renewable energy and a commitment to making the UK’s transport and housing greener have to be at the forefront of our economic recovery from the pandemic.
This year’s lockdown has provided the world with an opportunity to take a step back from the lives we lived before. We’ve travelled less, cut down on household and food waste, reduced carbon emissions, walked, cycled and largely ditched the commute.
We’ve been given the chance to hit the reset button. As we build back from a turbulent year, addressing the climate emergency has to be the place to start.