We Need to Stop Living in this Mirage of the Perfect Summer

The grass always does seem to be greener. For years, I’ve been thinking about packing all my things and heading off to a hot country, to relish in all the joy that the Sun brings. However, after spending the last few weeks coated in a constant layer of sweat, the life that I had once planned for myself doesn’t seem quite so idyllic. Now, the grass looks very much yellow.

With this being without a doubt the hottest summer I’ve ever experienced, I was still shocked to see my thoughts come to life all over Groningen, where the once lush green parks had turned into some kind of middle aged version of themselves. In turn, this got me thinking: is this Mother Nature’s way of telling us that it’s too hot for her?

Longest heatwave recorded in over 40 years

With the current heatwave being the longest one recorded in the UK since 1976, the effects are already starting to show, and not only because many people are finding it hard to keep their beverages at the right temperature for a day in the park with friends, a particular cause of distress for many people worldwide.

Really, the consequences are actually quite serious. People are are reporting difficulties sleeping, leading to reduced productivity at work. Other reports suggesting that there are hundreds of heat related deaths. This isn’t just happening in the UK, other parts of the world such as South Korea are also effected. In addition, despite my instagram feed being full of sun, sand and summer bodies, there is little mention to the real significance behind this four month summer: climate change is real, it’s dangerous and it’s already here. 

A beach trip to enjoy the warm weather.

Heat related deaths set to increase by 2050

Of course, this is just the start: it is suggested that by 2050, there could be 7000 heat related deaths per year in the UK, which is triple the current value. Furthermore, the amount of the human population exposed to dangerous temperatures will increase from around 30% to 74% under a system of growing emissions.

However, haven’t people always lived in these really warm climates? While this is true, I’ve talked to a number of people from these areas in the last few weeks and they all say the same thing: it’s bearable due to air conditioning (AC). Is this what we’re heading for? A world in which 74% of the population is at risk without suitable AC? And of course, there’s also the vicious cycle: more AC means more energy, and more energy means more pollution. 

A 100% renewable energy system said to be a cost effective reality

Although it was time to act before I was even born, this summer could hopefully be the wake-up call that we so desperately need. With recent reports suggesting that a 100% renewable system is a cost effective reality, we could potentially reach zero emissions by 2050. This report tells us that the technology is there, the political will is simply missing. It’s time for us as a population to put pressure on our governments, to become more conscious of our the way we consume and to stop being so complacent in the way we deal with the natural world around us. 

Pro-environment protest sign. Source: Mark Klotz.

I’m not suggesting that everyone has to essentially drop everything they’re doing and rush to make a placard adorned with some fancy slogan out of sustainable materials before heading to their nearest government building – though by all means do so.  it’s more about spreading the word and taking responsibility for our collective behaviour. You wouldn’t stand there and allow someone to express racism unchallenged, it’s not ok to be complacent in misogynistic or homophobic behaviour, so why is a blatant disregard for all life on Earth consistently allowed? It’s an uncomfortable truth to accept, but we are all collectively responsible for what happens from this point on.

Personal responsibility important for creating change

There are a number of ways in which you can help to reduce your impact on the environment. In a nutshell, the less resources you use, the less of an impact you have. By avoiding single use items, by buying second hand clothes and phones or by using more public transport, you’re already on your way to making a difference. You could also change your energy provider to a company who invests in renewables, thereby putting your money behind companies who are trying to make a big difference. Another option is to give up flying, in favour of alternative forms of travel.

However, the biggest way that you can affect the environment is through diet, if the recent study by Joseph Poore from the University of Oxford is to be believed. The suggestion is that a diet which is composed primarily of plant based foods has a much lower impact on the environment, given that meat and dairy compose 18% of total calories, but contribute to 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, this is a decision that each person themselves needs to make.

Corporate supply chains are problematic

I’m forever the optimist in the hope that one day people will see that the only way to ensure change is to first look at your own behaviour. Big corporations and our governments have their fair share of the blame. Recent reports show that 100 companies have been responsible for 70% of emissions since 1988. However, what the report doesn’t ask is why are these companies producing this pollution? Although profit is the number one answer, these companies have produced commodities for us to consume through supply and demand. We don’t have control over what these companies do, but we can choose not to consume products further down their supply chains.

People have been relying on scientists for so long to save them, expecting a technological solution to materialise out of thin air. Now that the technology for a sustainable future seems like a viable option, it’s up to everyone else to implement it successfully. Given the reports of reduced productivity, it could be that a few more of these heatwaves leads to some large epiphany from larger corporations, as reduced productivity could begin to affect their profits. All in all, be complacent if you wish, I nor anyone else can force you to do anything. But remember, inaction is a form of action. I just hope you’re still sure of your decision when you’re looking into your grandchildren’s eyes and explaining to them why you’re leaving them a damaged world behind. 

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Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.