Global warming burns ‘Cool Britannia’: The Tribune India


Pritam Singh


Emeritus Professor, Oxford Brookes Business School, Oxford

APOCALYPSE is no longer the dystopian sci-fi scenario after what happened on July 19 in the UK. It was a historic turning point in the global spread of overheating. The word ‘global warming’ is used in the UK instead of ‘global warming’ because warming suggests slow heating when what is happening is accelerated heating. The maximum temperature in the UK last Tuesday exceeded the threshold of 40°C. It touched 40.3°C.

The UK Met Office had issued its first “red warning” earlier in the week, fearing the heat surge. In the British public imagination, temperatures in the 1940s are associated with the ‘Third World’ or parts of southern Europe. The normal social practice of greeting even strangers on a sunny day by saying “what a beautiful sunny day” might be undergoing a change now.

The consequences of what happened that day in the UK are a case study of the future the world will face if global warming is not urgently reversed. The country seemed to have turned into a frightening hell. From London to Yorkshire, the UK has witnessed wildfires sparked by dry grasslands. The parched earth was so vulnerable to fires that even a carelessly discarded cigarette butt could start a fire. The government spokesman confirmed that 41 properties had been destroyed by fires in London, in addition to 14 in Norfolk and five in Lincolnshire.

Firefighting services were so overwhelmed that London Mayor Sadiq Khan said firefighters in the capital had endured their busiest time since World War II. Off-duty officers had to be requisitioned. Regular training sessions had to be cancelled, further weakening the capabilities of technical human resources to fight future fires. Mark Hardingham, chairman of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said the blazes resembled blazes in California, Australia and southern Europe, encompassing Portugal, Spain and Greece.

Rail services were interrupted because tracks in many places buckled and overhead wires were damaged by excessive heat. At least at one airport, the runway was melting, making it unsafe for planes. Hospitals have reported an increase in admissions of dehydrated people, some of whom are vulnerable due to other health conditions. Appointments for some cancer patients requiring radiation therapy have been canceled and computer systems in some hospitals have crashed, resulting in the denial of access to patient records. Primary schools in some places had to be closed early and children were told to go home.

The National Farmers Union reported that crops were “dried to the bone”. Excessive heat has led to the disruption of farmers’ crop seeding plans, the growth of creeping weeds and lack of water for growing vegetables. There were ugly scenes of overripe strawberries rotting in the fields as enough farm workers and pickers were unavailable due to many feeling unwell and taking the day off. Livestock also suffered from excessive heat. Farmers reported that insufficient grass growth during the heat wave created feeding problems for sheep and cows. The cows produced less milk. Pets, especially dogs, also suffered.

High levels of heat have a cascading effect. The production of renewable energy from the wind decreases because the high pressure of hot summer days generates less wind. It may seem counterintuitive that solar power plants also become less efficient in hot weather. It is estimated that depending on where the solar panels are installed, excessive heat above 25°C, which PV panels are normally tested for, can reduce output efficiency by 10-25%.

However, it is important to point out that in the long term, the energy generated by solar panels is relatively efficient. However, even solar energy is not the perfect solution to the challenge of global climate change because the production of solar panels requires the use of energy and eventually all solar panels become polluting waste. Excessive heat also causes hydropower generation to decline as water reservoirs – the sources of this energy – dry up.

Global warming caused by the use of fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) creates a vicious circle. Two examples best illustrate this. One is the use of air conditioners (AC) by institutions and households to cope with the heat and the other is the growth of forests to absorb carbon emissions. Not all AC users understand that AC is bad for the planet. Even those who understand this feel helpless. Air conditioning accounts for about a fifth of the electricity used worldwide. Much of this electricity comes from power plants that use fossil fuels, contributing to new greenhouse gas emissions and leading to a greater increase in average global temperatures. This, in turn, creates a greater reliance on air conditioning.

Forests and trees are nature’s built-in system to deal with human excess in creating nature-destroying carbon emissions. However, I must add that uninformed tree planting campaigns can have a negative effect on the environment. Tree plantations and forests are not the same thing. Naturally regenerating forests are rich sources of biodiversity, but some tree planting exercises can invade grasslands and species-rich wetlands that are important for storing carbon dioxide.

The excessive heat caused by the drying up of forests creates the conditions for almost uncontrolled forest fires that can erupt simply when two random stones collide and create a spark. This, in turn, further contributes to global warming and the emerging apocalypse.

The UK case is not isolated as heat waves have been reported in India, Pakistan and China leading to droughts and floods, as well as famines in parts of Africa.

There is an urgent need for the use of fossil fuels to be drastically reduced everywhere in the world to avoid total environmental and social collapse, the murderous preview of which we have just seen in the UK.

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