27 july 2019

If you can’t stand the heat … stop being a climate emergency denier

This week, melting infrastructure proved Britain can’t cope with 40C summers. But this is the future that could await us

Nell Frizzell, The Guardian, Fri 26 Jul 2019

Since Monday, Britain has felt like a sun-bloated packet of supermarket pasta salad: sweating and smelly, abandoned at the bottom of a dog-waste bin, by turns greasy, hot, unpleasant, swollen and revolting. I have seen topless men resting beaded armpits on bus poles, teenagers dipping their feet in bright-green canals that are so choked with weed they seem hardly wet, parks turned to hay, parents wiping screaming and heat-exhausted children with flannels outside long queues for swimming pools, and car parks littered with ice-cube bags and fizzy drink cans. I have smelled other people’s arse cracks and seen carrier bags of used cat litter create a fiesta of bluebottles around our communal bins. I have left imprints on other people’s furniture.

In the words of my mother – who lived through the 1976 heatwave with my newborn sister – “It’s pretty hard to deny climate change in this.” But, my friends, if this week has taught us anything at all – other than that strange, slippery, silvery feel of under-breast condensation – it is that Britain is not ready to live at 38C; we are ill-prepared for our changing climate.

According to a new piece of modelling by the global ecology research centre Crowther Labs, by 2050 London will have the climate of Barcelona. Sure, allow people to burn fossil fuels, farm intensively, drive and fly unnecessarily and waste natural resources like water and gas at the rate we are now and we’ll eventually have the climate of Barcelona. But we’ll have it with the culture of an NCP car park: crowded, threatening, poorly designed and smelling in every corner of someone else’s piss. When temperatures spike at 30C for a few surprising days a year, the UK could feel like a giant summer party. Benches are dragged on to pavements turned moist by recently melted chewing gum; children play out into the golden glow of late evening, hitting balls against garage doors and screaming through the spray of a hose; you’d go to a beer garden on the way home and drink something ludicrous because it was cold and you smelled of suntan lotion and felt you were on holiday; you might text someone you shouldn’t; you might soak your bed sheets as a result.

But this week, as our children’s bedrooms still thrum away at 34C by midnight and our mosquito bites turn ankles into hot, stiff tree trunks of infection, people were not smiling. Tragedies occurred as people flocked to unsound bits of dockland, river and coast, desperate to find relief from the screaming sun above us. Parents, employees and trains simply dragged to a halt, like carthorses through liquid concrete. Emotions frayed, gardens withered, pets gently desiccated and children were sprinted from tree to tree by anxious parents trying to find entertainment in the shade for eight hours at a time. Suddenly, selling off all those shady public parks, local swimming pools, cool and quiet libraries, pieces of riverbank and tree-lined playgrounds didn’t seem like such a clever way for councils to claw back some money after years of vicious government cuts.

Yesterday, during the hottest July day of my entire British life, I walked past a group of men in long-sleeved, full-length, high-vis worksuits, laying tarmac in the middle of a road junction. Machines pounded, the bitumen steamed, the sun raged down on their sweat-streaked faces. Each one looked, in his own way, like he was about to die. Rushing home, I half-filled my 20-month-old’s baby bath with cold water (to be later poured over our plants), in the middle of our front room, unable to go outside and unwilling to burn more precious resources and thereby increase the climate problem by buying a fan or – ye gads – an air conditioner. I thought of all those people in flats, like mine, with windows designed to open the width of a dildo. I thought of the nappies bulging in ripe bin bags like slow-roast casseroles. I thought of the cars occupied by single drivers, chugging poisonous blue fumes over fields and rivers because profit-crazed, micro-managing, outmoded bosses refused their request to work from home. I thought of all the ice-creams turning soft in corner shops.

I have walked down enough fart-warm high streets, watched enough music festival fights and spent enough time on glaze-baked buses to know that Britain isn’t ready for 40C summers. Not in our homes, not in our workplaces, not even in our bodies. You may want to deny the climate emergency, you may want to hang on to the luxury and irresponsibility that denial allows. But my friends, you cannot deny the smell of a twice-cancelled commuter train service, with a blocked and swinging toilet, creeping past a fly-tipped ditch as a sweaty businessperson pulls a tuna mayonnaise sandwich from their heat-soft leather bag. This is the future that climate denial is heading us for. And I, for one, am not cool with that.

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