When we seek shelter from a hot sun in the future, the climate crisis will seem all too real. Britain has experienced storms and floods in recent years, but what is happening these days is establishing a threatening discontinuity with our idea of normality. Heat is a danger to our lives. Politics’ attitude to the climate crisis will change. So far, the environmental cause has been supported by young people, progressives and ecologists, while the majority accepted their arguments, but with little conviction. It’s okay to be an environmentalist if our lifestyle changes are always about the future and no wind farms are built near us. In Australia, the experience of drought, fire and death transformed a nation skeptical of the climate crisis into a people of ecologists, putting a hitherto increasing right on the defensive. Britain will soon begin to follow suit.
This is not a traditional heat wave, a time for sunbathing in the park. In the summer of 2020, there were 2,500 more deaths from the heat; this summer is getting worse. And no one knows how our infrastructure, which is not built with extreme weather events in mind, will react. Cancellations of trains, buses and subways are likely. Does the electricity and water network last? And even if it were, will we then be able to get through July and August without any problems? World temperatures are rising. Like the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The polar ice caps are melting at a confusing rate. Sea levels are rising, as are extreme weather events.
London’s financial districts are debating whether it is better to divest completely from fossil fuel companies or to support them in the transition
A global commitment to zero emissions by 2050 could limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels. Progress has been made in the United Kingdom, mainly thanks to the decarbonisation of energy supply. There are signs of hope – every fourth new car bought in December 2021 was electric – but there is still a lot to do. By acting in this direction, there will be no shortage of jobs: it would be enough to rebuild the houses that currently have inadequate thermal insulation, around thirty million in the United Kingdom, and transform the energy system. But every year lost is another year of carbon dioxide scattered in the atmosphere, which adds to the existing and which makes the heat these days more likely. Doing nothing means exposing yourself to economic and social risks for the next fifty years.
But shopping will cost. Innovation alone will not save the day. The Independent Climate Change Committee has estimated a cost to the UK of fifty billion pounds a year (about 58 billion euros). For right-wing politicians, it is unthinkable. Collective action is terrible: it smells of expanding the powers of the state and involves the idea of raising taxes, science is like a Trojan horse. There is a bit of ‘we’ in the head of the tougher wing of the British Conservatives. Their thinking revolves around the idea of increasing the sovereignty of the self. Then extract the oil and gas, and burn it! We have always done this, even though renewable energy is much cheaper. Personal freedom is a priority. Tax must be lowered. The needs of the planet must take second place. Conservatives are out of step with science, public opinion or even business opportunities: a triple mistake that will be fatal to them.
In fact, there is little discussion that action against the climate crisis is a great opportunity. In the world of economics and finance, the most far-sighted have already committed to achieving zero emissions by 2050. In London’s financial districts, it is being debated whether it is better to completely separate from fossil fuel companies or support them in the transition to a new template; far from the chats of the study centers, columnists and right-wingers, it is said that change is necessary.
A partial re-industrialization is possible thanks to electrification, renewable energy, hydrogen, new forms of agriculture, electric cars and the conversion of real estate. A capitalism that starts from scratch can at the same time lead to zero emissions and a qualitative leap: a necessary and convenient vision from an economic point of view.
In the next few days you will suffer from the heat and your worries will increase but comfort you. This experience creates private conversations that will ultimately provide a collective response. As for the skepticism about the climate crisis, the British right wing is mistaken. And that is certainly not the way to win the election. ◆ ff