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“This heatwave is just the start. Britain has to adapt to climate change, fast”

In the media

Professor Simon Lewis of the School of Geography at the University of Leeds has written a Guardian Opinion piece on the UK heatwave and climate change that has had over 10,000 shares on Facebook since its publication on 6 July 2018.

Pointing out that the heatwave, which has seen parts of Britain experience sustained temperatures of over 30C, is what is expected as Earth moves to an ever warmer state, he stresses that El Nino is not to blame as it is not yet detectable.

The long-term warming trend is driven by the release of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide, Prof Lewis writes in Comment is Free, and we have known about the causes for 30 years.

“Much of the world is in the grip of a heatwave. Britain is so hot and dry that we have Indonesia-style peat fires raging across our moorlands. Montreal posted its highest temperature ever, with the deaths of 33 people in Quebec attributed to the scorching heat. And if you think that’s hot and dangerous, the town of Quriyat in Oman never went below a frightening 42.6C for a full 24 hours in June, almost certainly a global record. While many people love a bit of sun, extreme heat is deadly. But are these sweltering temperatures just a freak event, or part of an ominous trend we need to prepare for?

“Earth’s climate system has always produced occasional extreme weather events, both warm and cold. What is different about now is that extra short-term warmth – from the jet stream being further north than usual – is adding to the long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The warming trend is very clear: the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that all 18 years of the 21st century are among the 19 warmest on record; and 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded. Overall global surface air temperatures have risen by 1C since the industrial revolution. It is therefore no surprise that temperature records are being broken. And we can expect this to become a feature of future summers.”


Simon Lewis, who also Professor of Global Change Science at University College, London, comments on the lack of preparedness  for the “coming new reality” on the part of politicians, citing climate change as “a greater threat to the UK than EU directives, terrorism or a foreign power invading”.

He emphasises the need for society to undertake “deep and difficult changes” and the need to adapt national infrastructure, adapt housing stock and alter land management to avoid further catastrophic fires, such as the moorlands fires in the North of England that continue to burn.

Prof Lewis, with Mark Maslin, is the author of new book, The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, and he links  heatwave to “this new unstable epoch”.

“Human action are driving Earth to a hot new super-interglacial state. What scientists call the Anthropocene epoch, this unstable time, is a new chapter of history. Today’s heat is a forewarning of far worse to come. To live well in this new world needs political action to catch up with this changing reality. Fast.”

Main image: Met Office

Read the Guardian article