The Scary Reality of the July Heatwave


Katy Leverett comments on how the recent heatwave is a reminder of what's to come if countries do not act to mitigate climate change

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By Katy Leverett

Have you felt a bit hot over the last few days? I cannot imagine anyone in the UK would answer that with a ‘no’. I’m currently writing this on the first of two days in which we will witness temperatures soar into the high thirties, with some parts of the country hitting forty degrees. According to the Express, only 1.2 per cent of the Earth’s surface will be hotter than the UK and France over the next 36 hours.

Before today, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK was 38.7 degrees Celsius in Cambridge back in 2019. Before that, the hottest day on record was a mere few decimal places below in Kent in 2003. Therefore, today’s record hitting temperature doesn’t sound so bad. Yet, on reflection, the gap between the last two hottest days is 16 years, while the gap between today and Cambridge in 2019 is only three. The five hottest years on record are in the last decade. This is a sure sign that we are witnessing the realities of global warming prophesied for so long, coming into effect.

Global warming is nothing new to anyone. We’re all aware that the Earth’s temperature is rising at an unprecedented rate. Before 1980, the Earth’s annual temperature increase was 0.08 degrees Celsius. Since then, however, it has been rising at a rate of 0.18. It is widely known that if global temperatures increase above 1.5 degrees Celsius devastating and irreversible impacts will be felt across the whole planet. Yet the scary reality is that on our current trajectory, we could reach this pinnacle as early as 2030. We are in 2022.

This week’s temperatures are just a taster for what’s to come if the world doesn’t change. There is still time. But is there enough?

The past week has also seen social media controversy regarding Kylie Jenner’s latest Instagram post with Travis Scott, in which the couple pose alongside their two private jets with the caption “you wanna take mine or yours?”. The influencer was flooded with critical comments referencing the damage aeroplanes cause to the environment, with many rightly asking why they should do their bit when the Kardashians rack up huge numbers of air miles in their private jets. The post shows how out of touch Kylie is with her followers. The backlash received by the post has been heightened  as sweltering conditions sweep the UK. Many of her fans have highlighted the hypocrisy of the situation: the hottest conditions the UK has ever seen are ironically caused by the lifestyles of people like Kylie.

The scale of Kylie’s reach is huge. Sending this kind of message is tone deaf, with or without a massive heat wave affecting a large proportion of her fan base. Despite many identifying the problematic nature of the post, a large number commented on how aspirational Kylie’s lifestyle is, yet it is one that damages the planet. And Kylie is not the only one. Celebrities and influencers with platforms to spark change instead choose to promote their paid PrettyLittleThing partnership, or global lifestyle without considering the impact it has on people’s environmental perceptions.  Kylie’s backlash, ultimately, was fuelled by a heat wave. Would she have been criticised as much in December?

So is it down to influencers to stop climate change? They can play a part. Many aspire to the lifestyles of their Instagram idols, often attempting to imitate them. If influencers used their platforms to promote an environmentally friendly lifestyle, then perhaps more people would be inspired to switch their plastic straw for a paper one, or to buy their clothes from second-hand stores rather than fast fashion sites. Whilst these changes are small, they all add up in mitigating the effects of climate change. This doesn’t mean we should all stop using planes or refuse to buy all plastic products, as this is not yet completely attainable. Without change from the top, change from below can only do so much.

The quickest way to ameliorate climate change and halve emissions by 2030 as required, is to cut the use of fossil fuels, replacing them with renewables such as solar and hydro power. Whilst this has occurred in many countries,  it is not enough. Most still use fossil fuels, while lower-income countries in particular don’t have the means to prioritise renewable methods. Politicians remain deaf to the benefits of this switch, for their own country, and for others.

If all countries helped each other, putting aside differences for the sake of the planet and future generations, halving emissions would become a reality.

I’m sure many consider COP26 to be a milestone in our progression toward a greener planet, but how can pledging to “end deforestation by 2030” become a practical reality? And what can be done about countries that didn’t or couldn’t attend the summit?

Without alterations from the top, from corporations, governments and high-profile individuals such as Kylie Jenner - not from me choosing to have a paper straw in my Starbucks drink - change cannot truly happen. Unless large-scale action is taken now, we can expect our summers, and weather conditions for everyone across the world, to get much hotter than what we are currently experiencing. So put your sun-cream on and get yourself a nice, cool drink: we’re in for a scorcher.