Global warming? Global roasting would be more accurate

  • Author(s): Cliff Buddle

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Progress on finding an equitable solution to the climate crisis has been depressingly slow. Hope lies with those likely to be most affected – the young

A comedy sketch showing environmental activist Greta Thunberg delivering the weather forecast is one of the more memorable scenes from the recently revived satirical TV show Spitting Image. A scary puppet version of the campaigning teenager glares into the camera and yells: “Hot!”

The fiery forecast has proved accurate for many parts of the world this month, from Europe to the US, mainland China and Hong Kong. Soaring temperatures have broken records and caused chaos. The heatwaves have left behind a trail of death, destruction and disruption.

Hundreds died and thousands were displaced in Europe as wild fires raged and the intense heat took its toll. France, Spain, Portugal and Greece were among the countries hit.

Britain saw the temperature hit 40 degrees Celsius for the first time last week. A national emergency was declared.

The UK, known for its cold and wet weather, is ill-equipped to deal with what tabloids there call “a scorcher”. Roads and runways melted. Houses caught fire and transport was severely disrupted. People were advised to stay at home. It was not quite a lockdown, but the many sheltering in their homes would have felt that way.

Meanwhile, Saturday was “Great Heat” day in the traditional Chinese calendar. It lived up to its name. China is experiencing a prolonged period of hot weather with many areas sweltering in temperatures of more than 40 degrees.

Hong Kong did not escape. It recorded the second hottest July day ahead of a sizzling weekend.

Thankfully, the city is accustomed to high temperatures. But even by Hong Kong’s standards the heat this week has been searing. I pity those living in subdivided housing with no windows who are driven to seek refuge in shopping malls and parks as their homes turn into ovens.

Those of us who are more fortunate survive the summer heat by moving from one air-conditioned environment to another. Our homes, offices, shops and public transport offer a much-needed respite.

Ironically, this means we spend most of the summer freezing thanks to glacial air conditioning. It is most striking when going from one extreme to another. Even a brief period of exposure to the sun leaves us soaked in sweat. We hurry into the sanctuary of an air-conditioned building. Within seconds, the sweat has chilled.

The discomfort has been made worse by the requirement to wear a mask. Masks might be briefly removed to wipe our dripping face. By the time the mask is donned again, it is not only wet but stone cold – a most unpleasant experience.

Indoor events in Hong Kong usually require warm clothing. I sometimes take a leather jacket just for the air conditioning. The enthusiastic applause we often hear seems partly driven by the audience wanting to warm their hands.

There have been signs of improvement in recent times as companies become more aware of the need to at least be seen to be trying. Some permit slightly warmer temperatures in their premises. Technology helps, with more sophisticated air-conditioning systems regulating the level according to different needs.

Employers are simultaneously adopting more sensible dress codes. Many no longer require the wearing of a suit and tie. These are, of course, marginal improvements. There is so much that needs to be done.

Climate change deniers lost the argument long ago. But the soaring heat of recent weeks provides the most compelling and direct evidence, should that still be needed. This is, quite literally, global warming. Global roasting would be more accurate.

It would be nice to think global leaders will stop squabbling and come up with an effective and equitable solution to the biggest crisis facing the world. But progress has been depressingly slow. Hope lies with those likely to be most affected – the young.

Thunberg, with her efforts to raise awareness and mobilise youth, is a prime example. The Spitting Image script writers raised a laugh with the teenager’s imagined weather forecast. Sadly, the prediction that temperatures will be “hot” is set to be proved true over and over again.

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