An opinion on the UK’s lack of urgency concerning the current climate crisis in relation to last summer’s heatwave.

Words By Alex Lewis, Comment Online Sub-Editor

The 19th of July 2022 was a dark day for the advent of the climate crisis. Coningsby in Lincolnshire hit 40.3C, becoming the UK’s hottest ever recorded temperature. Hordes of people flocked to Brighton beach to enjoy what was marketed by much of the media as a lovely change in the dull normality of British summer time. However, underneath this charade, the UK suffered greatly.  

In 2020 Public Health England announced that the summer heat waves had caused 2,556 deaths that year. Further analysis is yet required for this year’s figures, but it is likely to be similar. The vulnerable proportion of the population i.e those with asthma and heart disease, saw a worsening of symptoms with many vulnerable elderly or young people needing medical help. The NHS is already on its knees after a decade of underfunding and three years of the COVID pandemic. Due to this and the increased frequency of heatwaves, concerns run even higher about NHS ability to cope with the future influx of patients. In 2018, the Environment Audit Committee stated that the UK was ‘woefully unprepared’ for heatwaves and warned that heat-related deaths could reach 7,000 per year by 2050. After seeing the impact of this year’s heatwave and previous figures, it unfortunately seems as if this prediction could be accurate.

The UK’s infrastructural ability is also a factor that must be called into question. Currently, the UK’s railway tracks are only stressed to 27C, leading to buckling when this temperature is exceeded.  Our buildings are also only designed for lower temperatures. They are designed to retain heat rather than expel it. It is infrastructural issues such as these that is the difference between the UK and countries currently within a hotter climate. 

Following on from this, many hotter countries have a set maximum temperature for working conditions, another area where the UK is sadly lacking. For example, in China outdoor work is suspended at 40C and in Spain light physical work is limited to between 14C and 25C. The UK currently has no set temperature limit for working conditions. Speaking from personal experience, working kitchens frequently reached 40C last summer, with no access to windows, open doors, or air conditioning. The health risks of having no such temperature limit are immense, with many workers having to go home sick after contracting heat stroke or similar.

Despite all these needed infrastructural changes, this is not the overarching solution to the climate crisis. To attempt to adapt to the climate crisis would metaphorically speaking be the equivalent of putting a plaster on a bullet wound. It is of course the continuing fossil fuel usage and elitist, capitalist greed that must be addressed. After seeing our current government’s inactivity, summarised by Rishi Sunak’s reluctance to attend COP 27, it is apparent that this will only change by raising our voices, protesting, and influencing our peers. It seems that we the general public must bring the change in which the current government is lacking. However, as extreme weather events become more regular, the UK must review its ability to cope. If we are to protect the health and safety of the population in the near future, infrastructural changes must be made. The climate crisis is no longer a distant, future event, it is happening right now.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Alex Lewis

Categories: Comment Opinion

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