London’s Burning – and so is everywhere else

Temperature map 19 July 2022

By Charlie Wilson

With an unprecedented heatwave this Summer with wildfires out of control all across Europe and North Africa, thousands having to be evacuated, whole streets of houses being burnt out, red level heat alerts in 84 cities in China, and 28 states in the USA issuing heat warnings with temperatures expected to reach 46C in places; people are beginning to wake up and smell the smoke.

It has even broke through the desperate attempts by right wing media outlets – both mainstream and on the Farageist fringe – to keep it safely contained in a “Phew! What a Scorcher!” discourse; as the official declaration of a Red Heat alert meant that serious talking heads had to point out that 40C heat is “a threat to life for fit and healthy people”; so brassing it out by taking your mad dog for a walk in the midday sun with an ice cream and a Keep Cool and Carry On T shirt really wouldn’t hack it – and that this is way hotter than 1976, just as our current level of average temperature is hotter than anything we have experienced for 125,000 years.

At this moment, we need to reflect on two things.

  1. The temperatures we’ve just sweltered through are happening with the world having heated by just 1.1C above pre industrial averages. The aim of the Paris agreement is to keep it below 1.5C. While this means that this is not a one off and we will now “go back to normal” and can forget about it with a sigh of relief; it will be even hotter sooner than we think. We are in a period in which the most strenuous possible efforts have to be made now to limit the damage that is heading our way and prevent it becoming a complete catastrophe. Adaptation does not mean letting it rip. Let it rip and we won’t be able to adapt. It will overwhelm us. 1.5C will be bad enough. Go much above that and the whole of society melts down like the runway at Luton airport. Adaptation to worsening conditions has to build in infrastructure that is both resilient to them and cuts the emissions that are driving them.
  2. This heat wave is taking place during a La Nina phase in the first part of the year. La Nina years usually have the impact of cooling temperatures. The next El Nino phase- which tends to produce hotter, dryer, drought like weather, is due at the end of this year and may go on all through 2023, perhaps up to 2025.

In the week that the High Court ruled that the UK government is in breach of the Climate Change Act in not spelling out how its 2050 Net Zero target will be met, and ordering it to make such a plan and present it to Parliament by 2023, we have seen the unedifying spectacle of the two leading contenders for Conservative leader – and therefore PM – sticking their heads firmly in the sand, or somewhere else the sun don’t shine. On the one hand we have Rishi Sunak – having offered tax breaks for new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea when Chancellor – firmly committing to continue opposing onshore wind; despite the fact that support for them is around 75%, including among Conservative voters – and that support gets closer, the closer you get to them. Given that Onshore wind is among the cheapest forms of energy generation, and the quickest to build, this has been appositely described by Ed Miliband as “unilateral economic disarmament”. And we have Lord Frost’s Truss – arguing that the way to reduce the impact of increased energy costs caused by increasing gas prices, is to cut levies that partly contribute to transitioning away from relying on the gas that we can’t afford. Whoever wins this parade of horror, this winter, we can expect a populist campaign directed against “green levies” and for patriotic fossil fuel exploration demonising the “woke” campaigners trying to get things changed at the pace they need to happen, which will be turned on us full blast.

The climate and labour movements have a common interest in linking the climate and cost of living crises. We need five essential climate related demands this autumn, and to take them into all the campaigns and strikes that are brewing up in what will be a long hard winter.

  1. The most rapid possible roll out of insulation for homes and public buildings like schools and hospitals, to cut energy demand and therefore emissions, cut energy bills and make them warmer in winter and cooler in summer. One of the myths being put about by the right incidentally is that insulation means homes will be hotter in the heat. The reverse is the case. This will require state investment in training up the skilled workers capable of doing it (with climate awareness as part of the course) and should be run through local authorities using direct labour to take advantage of local knowledge and economies of scale.
  2. The most rapid possible transition to renewable energy. The latest contracts for a further generation of 10GW of offshore wind is a good step that needs accelerating and replicating on land; by unblocking onshore wind applications held up by planning rules designed to allow one curmudgeon a right of veto even when there is strong local support and a similar plan to roll out solar as part of the homes and buildings upgrade.
  3. A windfall tax on the banks to pay for free public transport over the winter, like they’ve done in Spain. We need to give people a chance to get out of the cars they can’t afford to run.
  4. No new fossil fuel exploration and a plan to ease the transition of workers in oil, gas or coal into new jobs in sustainable energy generation.
  5. Tell the truth – in the media, in Parliament, in schools and colleges.