‘Global warming isn’t a problem for our grandchildren; it’s happening now, and we’re totally unprepared’

Our columnist Agromenes is blazing with rage at those who have wilfully shrugged off global warming and denied that it's worth getting hot under the collar about.

Remember those people who used to say ‘bring on global warming — I’m fed up with our awful British weather’? It was, of course, another of the many ways they tried to avoid facing the issue, but this month’s record temperatures have changed all that. Reaching 40.3˚C (or, for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s benefit, 104.5˚ Fahrenheit) was literally unheard of in the British Isles and we are totally unprepared for it.

For the fortunate in overseas countries that regularly reach such temperatures, houses are built to withstand the heat, infrastructure is designed to cope and people are much more attuned to avoiding the effects; the poor — they simply have to live or die with it.

We in the UK have not taken adaptation to climate change nearly seriously enough. It is not only something that will affect our children and grand-children — it’s happening now. Yet it has taken years of campaigning to get adequate funds to protect against flooding and, despite the constant warnings of Government advisers, there has been little attempt to future-proof homes to cope with the heatwaves that are bound to become much more common. In recent years, nearly two million new houses and flats have been built without any serious improvement in the standards of ventilation or insulation.

For country people, the effects of these high temperatures are particularly threatening. It’s not only the damage farmers face with droughts and parched crops, it’s also the unshorn sheep expiring in the heat and the ever-present danger of fires, such as those that swept through grass and woodland in Worcestershire last week. Indeed, the disaster in Wennington in East London was not in any real sense an urban fire at all — about 20 houses were destroyed, but the scale of the disaster was the result of burning grassland that was set alight by compost that had spontaneously ignited in the heat. For years, residents had looked with pleasure over the open space, never thinking that this enviable outlook would ultimately mean that they would lose their homes.

Across the whole country, the fire service has been stretched to breaking point and chiefs have recognised that many forces don’t have the specialist equipment needed to fight fires on fields and in woodlands. Urban-based vehicles are not designed to get out away from tarmac nor drive over rough ground and tilled farmland.

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All this was somewhat foreshadowed in the updated risk assessment the Government produced earlier this year, based upon evidence produced by the Climate Change Committee. The assessment is designed to be the basis for next year’s updating of its quinquennial National Adaptation Plan. This plan acknowledges the likelihood of serious heatwaves becoming much more general and the standards to which new homes will be built in future are to be improved to reflect this.

However, ministers intend to do nothing to improve commercial buildings or conversions. Builders will, therefore, continue to turn offices into flats that will often be too hot to live in. Nor are there any plans to deal with the retirement and nursing homes where thousands of vulnerable people have accommodation entirely unadapted to the summer temperatures we must now accept as normal.

The pressure on fire brigades is also left unaddressed in this inadequate response to the inevitable changes in climate, however successful we are in keeping the temperature rise below 1.5˚. We must insist that 40.3˚C is a wake-up call for the new Prime Minister and insist that next year’s National Adaptation Plan faces the reality of an ever hotter Britain. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.