Climate, London tells us a lot

We did it. No, I’m not talking about politics, but about the heat in London, which in recent days has hit 40 degrees Celsius for the first time since temperatures began to be measured. For a day it looked like we were experiencing the apocalypse, but now here in England it’s back to a perfectly normal 23 degrees in July, complete with drizzle. But after the scorching heat, no one complains anymore, not even tourists.

I have heard many comments outside the UK this week.

Comments from Sardinia and in Italy, but not only, that diminish the hot emergency experienced here. To give an example, sentences like “but what an emergency, we live with much higher temperatures and much more often without shouting about the emergency.” Unfair comments that ignore the impact of preparedness and culture in dealing with climate emergencies.

I can assure you that 40 degrees in England is very different to 40 degrees in Sardinia, although that temperature also causes problems on the island. Words about a semi-Sardinian who has lived in London for 30 years. 40 degrees in London has a similar effect to what minus 10 degrees Celsius would have in Cagliari – temperatures that would both find cultures unprepared for these extremes.

First of all, it is an architectural question. British houses turn into ovens as soon as the temperature rises. In the average English house there are carpets and rugs everywhere. A comfort for the feet in the cold winter, but suffocating in the summer. Ceilings are usually low and the roof is pitched in almost all homes to help with rain, snow and hail during the cold months. But the roof itself turns the ceiling into a heat trap as soon as the thermometer rises.

Bay windows are typical of English houses – three tall windows to let in more light in the long winter, but also allow for heat waves in the summer. With few exceptions, air conditioning in the home is rare, a luxury that would only be needed for a few weeks a year. All houses and buildings are built to keep the heat in during the cold months, not to stay cool in the summer. This was not normally a problem, but now that these temperature rises are becoming less and less rare, Britons are finding no shelter or relief at home. But it’s not just an architectural problem – it’s the whole way of life in Britain that isn’t suited to high temperatures. Since in winter it is already pitch dark at 4.30 in the afternoon, the early afternoon hours are the most active. There is no real lunch break, unless we count an hour eating a sandwich in front of the computer. The shops are all open all day and usually close between 6 and 7. Children play in the garden around 3, eat dinner at 5.30 and go to bed at 7. The so-called “siesta” is seen as a foreign laziness. Just a few days ago I heard one of the most influential journalists in Britain say that the state of emergency declared by the British authorities was an exaggeration and there was no reason to remain as “one of those countries in the south Europe, where no one works for months”. I know, I know. Ignorance can be annoying.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this illusion of invincibility that many Britons make risky decisions as soon as summer arrives. After months of bad weather (and a lifetime of cold summers), it’s hard to shake the thought that the sun is a prize, the ability to store the necessary vitamin D. People with very light complexions walk in the half-naked park and get under the midday sun. And then, like all the people of Northern Europe with their complex relationship with alcohol, they start drinking. To drink a lot. Sun and beer. Not always a winning combination.

Every culture is created by the situations it has been exposed to. With climate change now impossible to ignore, summer temperature rises will become more and more frequent and the UK will adapt. Perhaps following the example of places like Sardinia.

Journalist in London

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