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Over the last 48 hours we have seen temperature record after temperature record being busted. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK has been set and then reset. The hottest night ever in the UK. And, over in mainland Europe, we’ve seen the Netherlands and parts of Spain, France and Portugal set new record temperatures. Runways have bucked. Wildfires have burned. Hundreds have died. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes.
And, according to climate experts, this is just the start.
A recent opinion piece in The Guardian explains how temperatures of 40C and above will become nothing out of the ordinary in just one generation.
Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at UCL writes: “The brutal truth is that dodging dangerous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown is now practically impossible. Even if all the promises and pledges made at Cop26 were kept, we would still be lucky to stay below a 2C rise, and if tipping points are crossed and feedbacks kick in, the figure could be much higher. So, hothouse Britain is a reality, and the sooner we face this fact, the better. And be very clear, this isn’t alarmist. It isn’t what deniers are fond of calling “climate porn”. This is simply how things are.”
McGuire says that summers will get hotter and last longer, reducing winter to ‘a couple of dreary months punctuated by damaging storms and destructive floods’.
The UK is not built to withstand this heat. The effects that McGuire predicts are bleak and represent a huge shift in the way we live our lives. Homes will not be cool enough at night to sleep in meaning more people will camp in gardens and parks at night. People will move out of heat-island cities and look for houses further north and at higher altitude.
Roads, rails and runways have all been affected in the UK this week and this will become commonplace as transport and energy infrastructure are repeatedly affected by extreme weather.
The NHS, already stretched beyond breaking point, will be flooded with vulnerable people struggling in the heat plus risks from food and water contamination and new diseases more suited to the warmer conditions. Alongside this will be a mental health crisis caused by living conditions and strain on individuals and families.
And that’s not the end of it. McGuire predicts droughts, torrential rains, hail and pests that thrive in heat will affect harvests here at the same time as it becomes harder to rely on supply from overseas. The price increases we’ve seen on supermarket shelves resulting from the Ukraine conflict will get far worse. A study from independent policy institute Chatham House predicts that by 2050 the world will need half as much food again as it does now - but crop yields could be down by up to 30%. It’s likely that this will lead to hunger, civil strife and social unrest.
On top of that is drought, flash flooding, storms and rising sea levels bringing more destruction and threatening communities.
We’ve seen how poorly set up our infrastructure is to cope with the world that lies ahead of us. McGuire makes the case that we need to invest in resilient infrastructure, housing and health services now to get ready for what’s coming.
He concludes: “So be scared, but don’t let this feed inertia. Instead channel the emotion and use it to launch your contribution to tackling the climate emergency. Things are going to be dreadful, but – working together – we still have the time to stop a dangerous future becoming a cataclysmic one.”