we're experiencing a heatwave, so why aren’t we talking about climate change?

At this point, the weather is starting to feel a little bit sinister.

by Roisin Lanigan
26 July 2018, 10:50am

Image via Flickr.

You don’t have to be an environmental activist to notice that this summer is hotter than the face of the sun, and that’s not just because of the heatwave -- it’s because of climate change.

At first, if you so much as whispered the fact that you were worried about climate change during our glorious summer weather, you would have been immediately laughed out of whatever rooftop bar, pebble beach, BBQ or beer garden you were in. This is Britain after all. It rains and it’s cold and it’s miserable, and at the beginning, the heatwave was a welcome change from our grey, dreary normality. It tied in with the spirit of the World Cup, of pints in the air and football coming home and everyone watching Love Island while sipping Aperol Spritz. But that was a long time ago -- the British and Irish leg of the 2018 heatwave has officially been going on for one month and two days at this point -- and at some point we need to ask ourselves, why is the world so hot? Is it our fault? And if it is (it is), why aren’t we talking about that, like all the time.

Today, temperatures in the UK are expected to hit 35 degrees, and on Friday that increases to 37. It’s even been predicted that we may exceed the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Britain (38.5 degrees in 2003, in case you were wondering). The heatwave has now gone on for so long, with temperatures so excessive, that Londoners, usually the first to bask in a crowded beer garden with third degree burns and a £6 pint, are struggling to cope. The heat on the Underground is particularly oppressive, and as it’s often pointed out, it’s now so hot on the Central Line that its past the temperature legally allowed for the transportation of cattle.

Londoners aren’t alone in their struggles. Even in nations used to extreme temperatures -- that is, equipped with adequate AC -- the unseasonably hot weather is causing huge problems. In Japan the heat has been officially declared a natural disaster, with a death toll rising to 80 within the past week and temperatures in Tokyo reaching 41 degrees for the first time ever. Across America and eastern Canada, 54 people have died from the hot weather, while in Greece, record temperatures and dangerously dry weather have left Athens devastated by deadly wildfires. Just last month, in a town near Oman, the lowest temperature of the day was recorded as 42.6 degrees Celsius. That is, literally, the hottest "low" temperature ever recorded on earth. And it happened this summer.

The world is without a doubt getting hotter, but a quick scan at the news headlines for the past month or so – while millions around the world struggled to cope with the heatwave – are suspiciously lacking when it comes to explaining exactly why it’s happening. Sure, there’s a lot of celebratory tabloid headlines about England being hotter than the Costa del Sol. If you want pull out coupons for free paddling pools and op-eds about whether or not workers should get Friday afternoon off to deal with the heat, there’s plenty! Some news about a national fan shortage? Yep, gotchu! But climate change? Let’s best not mention it.

In fact, a study of all the major American news networks, created by Media Matters, found in two weeks of heatwave coverage, across 127 segments, the term “climate change” was mentioned just once. Its absence from the conversation is conspicuous, and suspicious. It’s like we’re afraid to mention it, or afraid that if we do mention it, we immediately become morally obligated to do something about it. Which to be fair, we do.

“This kind of weather isn’t normal, it’s not just some nice sunshine that’s come to make us all happy,” says Tolmeia Gregory, a sustainable fashion blogger and environmental activist. “People focus on the nice weather itself and they don’t realise that we all play a part in why that’s suddenly happening. It’s terrifying to think that what’s happening now is most likely going to continue and get worse, so it’s super easy for people to stay ignorant to it or just succumb to the idea that what’s done is done.”

While some of our problem when it comes to dealing with climate change is willful ignorance, Tolmeia says that a lack of education is also at play. “The president of the United States has said that climate change is just a money making hoax,” she tells i-D. “If that’s what people are hearing and being influenced by, we have a lot of work to do.”

It does seem though, that at least the physical, sweaty face of climate change is helping to educate us. A survey run twice a year by the University of Michigan found that 73% of Americans now believe climate change is real, and 60% believe that it’s down, at least partly, to human influences -- the highest percentage they’ve recorded since beginning the survey in 2008. If 73% still seems freakishly short of the 100% any rational person would expect, then consider this: only 50% of Republican politicians in the US believe there’s solid evidence of climate change. So you know, small victories.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for the other 50% to catch up. There are small things that each of us can do to help combat climate change. The first step comes with opening up the dialogue around it and accepting it as a fact (despite what the president of the United States might believe). Then, becoming more sustainable and more environmentally aware, in things as small as the products we use and the clothes we buy, can make a small but impactful difference. If you think that simply making the switch to sustainable fashion won’t make enough of a difference to prevent climate change, then consider this: the fashion industry accounts for the same amount of greenhouse gases as all of Russia. All of it!

“I believe conversations are starting to happen more frequently and more prominently,” says Tolmeia. “The current business climate, and the current actual climate has forced brands and designers to open up and discuss the environmental impact of their work. The statistics behind consumption are staggering and the rate at which we consume -- fashion or otherwise -- is putting increasing pressure on our planet. There’s still a lot of work to be done and unfortunately, there’s still the issue of those conversations being opened up under the guise of green-washing, but something is always going to be better than nothing.

“Nobody is perfect, but we really do need to embrace the small steps.”

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