Thu, Aug 02, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Earth needs voters to put
more heat on politicians

Britain will not be unscathed by global warming and leaders will only listen if a critical mass of voters raise their voices

By Andrew Rawnsley  /  The Observer

Illustration: Mountain People

Over the course of Britain’s sweltering summer, the landlord of the building inhabited by the Observer periodically informs us that our air-conditioning is undergoing an “automated controlled shutdown,” because the weather has become so hot and humid that the system is at risk of damaging itself.

So just when you really need cooling air, you cannot have it. One to be filed under: You could not make it up.

This is not uncommon. The offices, factories, homes, roads and railways of Britain were designed on the assumption that it is a country of blessedly temperate conditions, immune to extremes of heat and cold.

When people say that Britain is not built to withstand a sizzling summer, this is more literally true than they might know.

We can avoid thinking about what this intense heat wave could mean for the future of the planet by taking careless refuge in the consolation that others are having it much worse.

The devastating wildfires in Greece have killed at least 87 people and ignited national fury about the state’s inadequate response. Japan has declared a national disaster after more than 20,000 people were taken to hospital in a week.

Algeria has reported the highest temperature ever reliably recorded in Africa: 51.3?C. That is hot. Forests are blazing within the Arctic Circle. That is not usual.

Scientists tell us to expect weird weather to become more familiar. The fiery conditions we have seen this summer are the result of the jet stream stalling, an effect caused when the poles heat up more than the equator does.

There is further broad and deep scientific consensus that climate change is at the heart of it. The jet stream has been hinky in the past. The consequences are more severe this time, because global warming has raised baseline global temperatures.

This is a glimpse into a frazzled future, a warning every inhabitant of the third rock from the Sun would be wise to heed.

Extreme weather events — ferocious heat waves, epic floods and violent storms — are going to happen with increasing frequency. The most catastrophic consequences will be felt by other, often much poorer nations, but Britain will not be unscathed.

You cannot run from climate change and you cannot hide. Not absent the ability to get to another planet suitable for human life.

The question then becomes a political one: What, if anything, are we going to do about it?

There is a school of thought that contends that politics is fundamentally incapable of addressing this challenge. It is just too overwhelming for politicians and electorates to handle. The problem is so complex and so global that it induces fatalism in the leaders and the led.

I find this view to be self-defeating and self-harming. There are things that governments can do and they have even managed to achieve some of them.

There are now days when Britain meets all its energy needs without burning any coal, something that has not happened since before the Industrial Revolution and a development that would have astonished earlier generations.

We last year produced more electricity from renewable and nuclear energy than from gas and coal, making it the first year that low-carbon resources met most of the nation’s demand for power.

That is a legacy of good decisions made by earlier governments. This is progress. It is not sufficient progress, but it does demonstrate that there are things that can be done to mitigate climate change and there are smarter responses to this threat than burying your overheated head in your sweaty hands.

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