The grass always does seem to be greener and 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. With this being without a doubt the hottest summer I’ve ever experienced, I was still shocked to see bouts of yellow grass spread over Groningen, turning the once lush green parks 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?
With the current heatwave being the longest one recorded in the UK since 1976, the effects are already starting to show with many people finding it hard to keep their beverages at the right temperature for cracking open a few cold ones in the park with the boys, a particular cause of distress for many people worldwide. Not only that, but people are also reporting difficulties sleeping, leading to reduced productivity at work, as well as reports suggesting that there are hundreds of heat related deaths. Saying that, this isn’t just happening in the UK and is happening in other parts of the world, such as in South Korea. 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.
The start of things to come
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; and 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.
The Summer of ’18
While it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, the Summer of ’18 could be Bryan Adams’ next smash hit, or perhaps someone else will steal the limelight this time. Or maybe, just maybe, this summer is the wake up call we all need to realise that it was time to act before I was even born. With recent reports suggesting that a 100% renewable system is a cost effective reality, we could potentially reach zero emissions by 2050. The technology is there, though the political will is 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 world around us.
I’m not suggesting that everyone has to essentially drop everything they’re doing and rush to make a placard out of sustainable materials with some fancy slogan, and subsequently march on government buildings – though by all means do so – it’s more about spreading the word and taking responsibility for your own 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.
There are a number of ways in which you can help to reduce your impact on the environment, but 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. 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.
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. People have been relying on scientists for so long to save them, and now that the technology for a sustainable future seems like a viable option, it’s now the turn of 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, and I 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.
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.