While we sunbathe, our climate cries for help

Summer temperatures in the UK may be good for the beach, but it shows our planet is in dire straits

Photo: Eugene Oliver

In the past, the British summer has been notoriously mediocre in terms of temperature, and generally characterised by more rain than shine. That, however, may be about to change. The summer of 2018 was the hottest on record for England and the joint hottest for the rest of the UK, matching the heatwave of 1976.

With such high temperatures, it’s no wonder we’ve indulged our-selves in hours and hours of sun-bathing sessions and soaking in that all-important vitamin D. Sure, it’s been great, but there are also a lot of negative impacts accompanying this heat. For example, the soaring temperatures have been linked to the record number of A&E calls this summer. Hospitals had to adapt to these hazardous conditions by adopting winter-style emergency measures, such as turning patients away during busy periods.

On top of this, the scorching heat has lead to water bans in an attempt to prevent drought. The extreme lack of moisture in the soil actually revealed some of Eng-land’s lost prehistoric sites, such as Neolithic ceremonial monuments, Iron Age settlements, square burial mounds and through revealing a Roman farm for the first time; crop marks. While this is exciting for archaeologists, such arid soil is a nightmare for farmers. The result of lower yields for farmers is higher prices for consumers, with meat, vegetable and dairy prices set to rise by at least 5 per cent in the coming months. In fact, Consultancy CEBR suggested that 2018’s extreme weather could end up costing consumers about £7 extra per month.

Drought is also villainous in terms of sparking fires. According to National Geographic, the worst fire years appear during seasonal extremes, where a wet season fuelling plant growth is followed by an extremely dry season that dehydrates the plants and soil. In the UK, the area burned in 2018 so far (13 888 hectares) is more than four times the average of the past decade.

Unfortunately, long-range forecasts seem to suggest that the sizzling summers are set to stay. According to a mathematical model developed by researchers, the period from 2018 to 2022 is likely to see an increase in extreme global temperatures. Our sweltering summer in the UK is just a small part of a much bigger issue. Climate change is real and it’s menacing. It is threatening our planet in more and more immediate ways. While researchers cannot say for sure whether climate change specifically ‘caused’ the heat-wave that hit Europe this year, the World Weather Attribution group have revealed that human activities including the burning of fossil fuels made 2018’s European heatwave twice as likely to occur. There is no doubt about the existence of a significant correlation between climate change and extreme weather.

Should this be our wake-up call to finally address climate change with a real sense of urgency? The majority of us are probably pretty well-versed in the predicted impacts of climate change by now, after having it drilled into us time and time again at school, but these threats are quickly becoming reality. With concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at their highest level in three million years, the very things scientists predicted in the past are quickly becoming observable in the environment; there has been a loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise, and of course, longer, more intense heatwaves. Looking ahead, perhaps one of the most frightening predictions for before mid-century is that the Arctic Ocean is expected to be-come essentially ice free.

Some people claim that climate change is not the result of human activities. Since there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat in the past 650 000 years, some are convinced that climate change is out of our hands. But even if it’s not certain that we are significant contributors to global warming, does that mean that we should continue to pollute as much as we currently do? It cannot be denied that air pollution is detrimental to our health, even if it’s not the undisputed primary cause of climate change. Carbon dioxide is just one of the pollutants released as a result of fossil fuel exploitation. Other gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the air we breathe daily, having various impacts on our health. Recent research has even indicated that there may be a link between exposure to nitrogen dioxide and developing dementia. Surely it is worth reducing these harmful emissions for our immediate health, even if not for the future security of our planet?

Nevertheless, climate change is strongly correlated to our careless and overly indulgent exploitation of fossil fuels. But there are solutions to the problem, and we are going in the right direction. In 2017, the National Grid reported that renew-able sources of energy generated more electricity than coal and gas in Great Britain for the first time, with wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplying 50.7 per cent of UK energy.

So let’s continue in this manner, and hope that we can begin to reverse the harmful effects of pollutant gases. Perhaps a return to the classically wet British summer will be a welcome price to pay for the preservation of our planet.

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