Media reaction: The 2018 summer heatwaves and climate change
This year’s northern-hemisphere summer has seen a succession of heatwaves take hold in Europe, Asia, North America and northern Africa.
From heatwave deaths in Japan, Algeria and Canada, to wildfires in Sweden, Greece and California, the extended spells of hot, dry weather have become frontpage news around the world.
Carbon Brief looks back at how the media has reported the extreme weather and how the coverage has – or has not – referenced climate change.
The summary below is split into five sections:
- Roundup of the recent spate of extremes.
- How the media has reported the UK’s heatwave.
- How it has covered other extreme events across the northern hemisphere.
- Notable mentions – and omissions – of climate change.
- Summary of the comment and opinion articles.
Heatwave media coverage began towards the end of June – when summer temperatures started to soar across, among other places, the UK and central Europe, parts of North America, including the US East Coast and Canada, and East Asia, such as Japan.
(Some parts of South Asia, including Pakistan and northern India, had previously experienced record-breaking heatwaves throughout April, May and early June.)
Temperatures exceeded 30C across much of the UK and central Europe towards the end of the month, Al Jazeera reported – and parts of southern England faced their “driest June since 1925”, noted the Daily Telegraph.
The hot and dry conditions fanned the flames of “unprecedented” wildfires across Saddleworth Moor in the north of England, which forced hundreds to flee their homes.
Saddleworth Moor fire. A woman wearing a gas mask makes her way back from the shops in Mossley this morning (Image: Allan Bentley/Cavendish Press) pic.twitter.com/qMDQUgrLgO
— Dave Haslam (@Mr_Dave_Haslam) June 27, 2018
Around the same time, Quriyat, a city in Oman, experienced a 24-hour period where temperatures did not drop below 42.6C – breaking the record for the highest “minimum” temperature ever felt on Earth, according to the Washington Post.
Episodes of record-breaking heat continued into early July – when all-time temperature highs were experienced in Denver (40.5C), Chino in California (48.9C), Montreal (36.6C), Belfast (29.5C), Glasgow (31.9C) and Yerevan in Armenia (42C), according to MailOnline. Northern Siberia in the Russian Arctic also experienced “anomalously high temperatures” more than 20C warmer than usual.
How hot? So hot the Glasgow Science Centre roof is melting a bit 🔆🔆🔆 https://t.co/TUzm3GJZ1K pic.twitter.com/I5uNLBcnWv
— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) June 28, 2018
On 5 July, a weather station at Ouargla in the Algerian Sahara recorded a maximum temperature of 51.3C, reported the Guardian. This could be the highest ever recorded in Africa, said BBC News, as there are doubts about the credibility of the existing record of 55C, measured in Kebili, Tunisia, in 1931.
The National Post, an English-language Canadian newspaper, reported that up to 89 people from Quebec died from “heat-related complications” between 30 June and 7 July. In Los Angeles, the increased temperatures prompted an “unprecedented” surge in air conditioner usage – which subsequently led to power outages affecting 34,500 people, CNN reported.
On July 17, many UK publications reported on the announcement of a hosepipe ban – which will affect millions in northeastern England from 5 August. The ban aims to “safeguard existing supplies” as rainfall continues to be minimal or completely absent across much of the country, officials told BBC News.
Meanwhile, Sweden raised the alarm after 11 separate wildfires broke out inside the country’s Arctic circle, the Guardian reported. The fires were sparked from a number of sources (including barbecues, cigarettes and lightning), the Guardian noted, but were able to spread quickly in the hot dry conditions.
It’s as hot in the Arctic Circle as it is in southern Spain. pic.twitter.com/dGhIbhi2Pt
— Dave Throup (@DaveThroupEA) July 19, 2018
On July 20, the Met Office confirmed that the UK is experiencing its driest start to summer since records began in 1961, according to BBC News. Only 50.8mm of rain fell from 1 June to 19 July, according to Met Office officials. (The previous record of 58mm over the same period was set in 2013.)
Sussex farmers say crops are "shriveling-up" and dying in the heatwave. pic.twitter.com/jC6XjELIgd
— BBC Sussex (@BBCSussex) July 23, 2018
Temperatures continued to soar over the weekend and into the beginning of this week. On Monday (23 July), Japan reported its highest temperature ever recorded as Kumagaya, a city 40 miles from Tokyo, reached 41.1C, according to the Japan Times.
The paper reported that at least 77 people died in the heat from July 9-22, while 30,000 sought hospital treatment. In South Korea, at least 10 people died from heat-related illnesses, according to the Straits Times, an English-language newspaper based in Singapore.
On the same day, the Met Office issued an amber health warning urging people in southern England to “stay out of the sun” around midday, BBC News reported, as England experienced its hottest day of the year so far. The Daily Mail carried the news on its frontpage with the headline: “Tourism chiefs’ fury at summer killjoys.”
By Monday evening, news had broken that wildfires were quickly spreading across the Attica region of Greece.
The Financial Times later reported that the fires killed at least 81 people, injured at least 187 and forced thousands more to flea to nearby beaches and into the sea. The flames, which may have been started by arsonists, an official told BBC News, had been fanned in the region by strong winds.
The chances of wildfire were also heightened by high temperatures, which have exceeded 40C in some Greek regions this year, and “an unusually dry winter” which left vegetation dried out, a second story in the Guardian reported.
By Thursday 26 July, at least 60 “uncontained large fires” had broken out across the US, Think Progress reported. MailOnline reported that Yosemite National Park had to be evacuated as firefighters attempted to control a large fire to the west of the park. Many of the blazes across the west of the country are being driven by hot dry weather and high winds, according to Reuters.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, the Met Office warned that temperatures in southeastern England could reach a new high of 37C on Friday.The map shows a collection of extreme heat (purple dots) and wildfire (yellow) events in the northern hemisphere summer in 2018. Mouse over the dots for the specific location. The underlying maps shows the global temperatures at two metres above ground level on 25 July 2018 (as an anomaly from a 1979-2000 baseline). Shading indicated warmer (oranges and reds) or cooler (blues and whites) than average temperatures. This is generated from the NCEP Global Forecast System (GFS) model by researchers at the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine. Source: climatereanalyzer.org
Hot takes on the UK’s hot weather
With such an abundance of record-breaking extremes across the northern hemisphere, much of the media has been quick to ponder the reasons behind the prolonged spell of very hot and dry weather.
In the UK, many media reports focused on the position of the jet stream. On Monday’s BBC News at Ten, the BBC’s science editor David Shukman explained:
“The key, as ever, is the jet stream – that’s the flow of high-altitude air that governs our weather. Often in summer, it has a rather gentle wave, meaning we tend to get cooler conditions. But this year, it’s been meandering in great loops, and we [the UK] have ended up to the south of it, which means we’re getting hotter weather.”
Too hot to sleep? What’s happening with the #Heatwaveuk? @e_wolstencroft and I take a look https://t.co/rLwEoM10rl
— David Shukman (@davidshukmanbbc) July 26, 2018
In the Sun’s words, when the jet stream is north of the UK, “this creates the conditions for high pressure to develop – and that means hot and dry weather”.
Speaking to the Observer, Dr Dann Mitchell from the University of Bristol explained that the position of the jet stream has allowed the hot conditions to persist:
“The jet stream we are currently experiencing is extremely weak and, as a result, areas of atmospheric high pressure are lingering for long periods over the same place.”
The northerly position of the jet stream is, in part, driven by sea surface temperature patterns in the North Atlantic, explained Prof Stephen Belcher, the UK Met Office’s chief scientist, on the BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday evening. These look “strikingly similar” to the patterns in the summer of 1976, said Belcher, which is still the UK’s hottest summer on record.
However, “what we didn’t see in 1976 was this band of heatwaves right around the northern hemisphere,” added Belcher.
This is reflected in a pair of maps, shown below, that compare global surface temperatures in June 1976 with June 2018 (against a baseline of 1951-80; note the slightly different colour scales).
The maps – originally tweeted by Simon Lee, a PhD student in meteorology at the University of Reading – were subsequently shared more than 10,000 times on social media and featured in news stories published by the Metro, Express, Daily Mail, Mirror and Independent.
The big difference between the heatwaves of 1976 and 2018.
June 1976: the UK was one of the warmest places relative to normal across the globe, with most areas cooler than average.
June 2018: the UK was just another warm blob in a mostly warmer than normal world.#GlobalHeatwave. pic.twitter.com/eIsj7glEiE
— Simon Lee (@SimonLeeWx) July 22, 2018
Rising global average temperatures mean when these weather patterns do occur, they are more likely to bring very hot conditions, noted Belcher:
“Since 1976, the global mean temperature has risen by more than half a degree [Celsius], so any extremes we get are superimposed upon that warming. So it makes it more likely that these extreme events are going to give us higher temperatures.”
This point has been echoed throughout media reports in recent days by other scientists. Speaking to the Guardian, Prof Myles Allen from the University of Oxford said that “there’s no question human influence on climate is playing a huge role in this heatwave”.
In the same article, Prof Peter Stott, who leads the climate monitoring and attribution team at the Met Office Hadley Centre, pointed out that human-caused warming since the pre-industrial times “is increasing quite significantly the risk of such a heatwave”:
“The temperatures of 30C and above this week have gone from being a very rare occurrence to, not a frequent occurrence, but much more likely.”
Stott was also interviewed on the BBC’s News at Ten, where he pointed out that recent temperatures “could potentially become the norm in only 30 years time or so if we continue emitting greenhouse gases”. He added:
“It’s important to say also that the trajectory of future climate depends very much on whether mankind continues to increase emissions or whether it is possible to reduce those emissions.”
Speaking to the Press Association, Prof Len Shaffrey of the University of Reading said the heatwave was down to a “combination of North Atlantic Ocean temperatures, climate change and the weather”:
“Global temperatures are increasing due to climate change…The global rise in temperatures means the probability that an extreme heatwave will occur is also increasing.”
Shaffrey’s quotes have been reproduced in numerous outlets, including the Sun, the Independent and the Daily Mail – although the Mail’s print version did not include the part that said “global temperatures are increasing due to climate change”.
Shaffrey also has a guest article in the Conversation about the “three (and a half) reasons why it has been so hot and dry in the UK and Ireland”.
Media reports of the heatwave in the UK have overlapped with broad coverage of a new report from MPs that warns that heat-related deaths in the UK could triple by 2050 as global temperatures continue to rise. The report, published on 26 July by the Environmental Audit Committee, says the UK government is not doing enough to improve resilience to heatwaves. Carbon Brief has all the details within a wider piece about how the UK is planning to adapt to climate change.
On July 27, the Sun published a frontpage story saying that “Britain faces a future of baking summers every year for decades, experts [have] warned”. It said:
“As the nation sweated yesterday, it emerged that red-hot summers may become an annual event. Prof Peter Stott of the Met Office said: ‘Since 1976, global temperatures have increased significantly. The risk of extreme heatwaves is increasing rapidly worldwide due to greenhouse gas emissions. This summer we are seeing an expression of that increased risk. It’s human-induced climate change that has made such a situation as we’ve seen in 2018 more likely.’”
On a similar theme, the Washington Post published a feature headlined: “Climate change is supercharging a hot and dangerous summer.” Grist posted a piece by Eric Holthaus labelled, “The UK is tropically hot right now. 6 maps show why.”
The weak jet stream has also been linked to the extreme heat elsewhere in Europe, as well as in Canada and southern California.
It’s not just the UK experiencing high temperatures at the moment. With the #jetstream well to the north, much of Europe is hot at the moment. Paris could also see a new record maximum temperature on Friday 🌡️ pic.twitter.com/J2PVHIgnW4
— Met Office (@metoffice) July 25, 2018
Ben Rich, a BBC meteorologist, said the “jet stream has shifted further north than usual, allowing a plume of very warm air to waft northwards across the USA and into large parts of Canada”. Combined with a lack of rain, this had allowed temperatures to “rise well above average”, he told BBC News.
Scientific American looked in detail at why hot and humid conditions in southern California had arrived in July, rather than their usual month of September. This was down to a “high-pressure system parked over North America that gradually bled westward”, it said.
A Guardian editorial also linked the “completely unprecedented heatwave” in Siberia to the jet stream:
“What seems to be happening at the moment is that a fixation of the jet stream has produced the heatwave in Siberia as well as ours here.”
Warming of the Arctic coastline will have “consequences that are unpredictable in detail, but surely bad on a large scale”, the Guardian warned. A more frequent weakening of the jet stream has been linked to the rapid pace of warming in the Arctic, meaning “heatwaves are prolonged and so are cold snaps”.
This point was also made by Prof Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University in her interview in the New Scientist:
“Heatwaves over northern hemisphere continents in recent years fit the hypothesis that rapid Arctic warming is playing a role.”
Elsewhere, InsideClimate News reported that the high number of excess deaths linked to the Quebec heatwave could be down to high nighttime temperatures, which are rising even faster than daytime temperatures:
“When temperatures fail to drop at night – when the overnight lows are too high – the heat can become deadly, especially for the elderly and children.”
Hot nights are also especially important for wildfires, the report noted.
“Firefighters historically have counted on lower temperatures and higher humidity at night to bring ‘recovery’ periods that help them tamp down blazes, but that’s been changing. Hot air holds more moisture, meaning lower relative humidity, so fires can continue to rage through the night.”
In Greece, the wildfires were prefaced by “an unusually dry winter”, reported the Guardian. The lack of rainfall, combined with “temperatures topping 40C hit some areas during this summer’s heatwave”, laid the foundations for wildfires. “Strong winds then fanned the flames and spread the fires widely” allowing the fires to take hold before firefighters could get them under control, noted the Guardian. Police are now investigating whether arsonists started any of the fires.
The New York Times spoke to climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, the deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, about how rising global temperatures have been affecting the Mediterranean region. “In the Mediterranean we also see a drying effect: If you have a drier soil, it heats up more quickly,” she said.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the number of wildfires hitting Europe this year has been 43% higher than the average for the last 10 years. Figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) show that increase has been driven by high rates of wildfires in central and northern European countries – for example, both the UK and Sweden have seen 57 more wildfires than average.
Writing in the Scotsman, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, noted that recent research has shown that the frequency and severity of drought conditions have increased in southern and eastern Europe in summer and autumn since 1950.
And in a piece in the Conversation, climate scientists Dr Andrew King and Dr Ben Henley from the University of Melbourne write that “heat extremes similar to those witnessed over the past month or two are expected to become more common as global temperatures continue to climb”.
(King recently co-authored a Carbon Brief guest article on how more than 100 million Europeans will typically see summer heat that exceeds anything in the 1950-2017 observed record every other year under 1.5C of warming – or in two of every three years under 2C.)
The dry spell has lasted longest in E Anglia and SE England. Brooms Barn, Bury St Edmunds, has had no rainfall since 5 June, 48 days ago. We actually classify a 'dry day' as less than 1.0mm of rain – several sites have had 54 consecutive 'dry days' https://t.co/5NYY91P8FN pic.twitter.com/RzaFngGBt8
— Met Office (@metoffice) July 24, 2018
Speaking during the wildfires on Saddleworth Moor in northern England in late June, Prof Guillermo Rein, a professor of fire science at Imperial College London, told the Guardian that recent research showed “climate change is expected to increase the fire frequency and severity of wildfire in Europe”. While Dr Fabrizio Manco of Anglia Ruskin University wrote in the Conversation that such fires are “becoming more common and one of the reasons for this is climate change”.
Interviewed by CNN, Dr Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University pointed out that the catalogue of extreme weather events recorded over the northern hemisphere in recent weeks shows that climate change is already here “and this is what it looks like”:
“Cold and hot, wet and dry – we experience natural weather conditions all the time – but today, climate change is loading the dice against us, making certain types of extremes, such as heatwaves and heavy rain events, much more frequent and more intense than they used to be.”
And quoted in the Independent, Prof Rowan Sutton – director of climate research at the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading – pointed out that “no one should be in the slightest surprised that we’re seeing very serious heatwaves and associated impacts in many parts of the world”. He added:
“An increase in the frequency and severity of heatwaves has been a robust prediction of climate change science for decades.”
However, not all media outlets made the connection to climate change.
On 5 July, for example, the UK’s Times newspaper reported that “meteorologists attribute the northern hemisphere heatwave to a weather pattern known as El Niño”. Yet, as Carbon Brief’s US analyst Zeke Hausfather pointed out, the El Niño climate phenomenon has largely been in a “neutral” (or even negative) phase for most of the year – and only a modest positive phase is expected to emerge later in 2018.
In an editorial a few days later, the Times said that “doomsters” will argue the conditions are “just a harbinger of the baking heat and natural disasters that climate change will bring” and again pointed the finger at El Niño, saying that “El Niño will lead to drought and hosepipe bans as soon as our gardens reach full bloom”.
This was in stark contrast to the Irish edition of the Times, which wrote in an editorial on 2 July that the increased frequency of extreme weather events “suggests that we are already experiencing the direct impact of global warming”.
The Daily Telegraph claimed that scientists were “split on whether climate change is the main cause of the summer heatwaves”. The article featured Prof Peter Stott saying that “climate change models had predicted an increased frequency of heatwaves and the these models are being borne out this summer”. Yet it also quotes Prof Sir Brian Hoskins from the University of Reading and Imperial College London, who said that average temperatures in the northern hemisphere are “not out of step with recent years”:
“We have seen sustained warm and dry patterns. What we don’t understand at the moment is whether climate change makes these patterns more likely”.
Several outlets pointed out that attributing a single extreme event to climate change is less than straightforward. iNews said that it was “difficult to say whether the current hot weather is down to climate change”, while both the Mail Online and Wired quoted Prof Edward Hanna from the University of Lincoln, who cautioned that:
“You just can’t link individual events to climate change. There’s a lot of natural variability [in weather] and we’re talking about seasonal changes which are always variable to some degree.”
In Canada’s Globe and Mail, Dr Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo pointed out that suggesting Canada’s heatwave and climate change are not linked “would be like arguing that no particular home run can be attributed to steroids when a baseball player on a hitting streak is caught doping”.
In BusinessGreen, its editor James Murray railed against the media’s tendency to “either exclude climate change from reporting on extreme heat altogether or its insistence on dowsing its coverage in a surfeit of caution about the potential relationship with climate change”.
“The simple fact is the mainstream media does not apply such high standards of precise attribution to any other phenomena that I can think of.”
(Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has a Twitter thread on how “real time attribution of increasing heat waves to human climate change is solid. This has been predicted, and predictions are playing out”.)
Writing for Channel NewsAsia, Dr Kumuda Simpson, a lecturer in international relations at La Trobe University in Australia, commented that “climate change is only occasionally mentioned, and often just in passing” in media coverage of weather extremes. The debate about whether a particular event “was directly and indisputably caused by the warming planet is counterproductive”, she argued:
“Instead, it is imperative that we shift the conversation away from a debate about climate change that all too often becomes politicised either though omission or oversimplification. We must focus on what these events can teach us about the kinds of climate-related risks we face in the near future, and how unprepared we are for them.”
New York magazine asked David Wallace-Wells, who wrote one of last year’s most-shared articles on climate change, to look at the subject again. His feature, published on July 26, is headlined: “How Did the End of the World Become Old News?” It examines the media’s “self censorship” of linking climate change to extreme events.
Meanwhile, on Politics.co.uk, Tom Chivers looked at why the “BBC is still vulnerable to false balance on climate change”. Similarly, a feature in Climate Home News examined “how the UK media changed its tune on climate change”. It quoted Leo Hickman, Carbon Brief editor, saying:
“It’s noticeable that the UK media was being hesitant about mentioning climate change [until Tuesday of this week when BBC News covered it as its headline story]…[But the news coverage] has lacked that false balance we used to see five or 10 years ago. All of the doubting is being left to the op-ed columns.”
Opinion and comment
The record-breaking heat has sparked fresh debate and discussion on a broad range of topics related to climate change over the past few weeks.
Writing in the Guardian on 6 July, Prof Simon Lewis, a researcher from the University of Leeds and University College London and contributing editor at Carbon Brief, said that the UK heatwave was a harbinger of the country’s future under climate change. He says:
“Climate change is a greater threat to the UK than EU directives, terrorism or a foreign power invading. Instead of this blinkered view where the future is the same as the past, we need to step out of the intense heat and take a cool look at what we are doing to our home planet.”
Irish Times writer Conor Murphy echoed Lewis’s words, arguing that the record-breaking heat “reveals vulnerabilities [Ireland] should not ignore”.
Other opinion articles contemplated whether the UK heatwave would convince people to “wake up” to the scientific consensus on climate change.
Writing in the Guardian, environmental journalist and author Michael McCarthy considered whether a new temperature record would have an impact on public concerns surrounding climate change. “I hoped 2003’s record heatwave would make people more aware. Yet they promptly forgot all about it,” he wrote.
In a column for iNews, Stefano Hatfield suggested that the heat could have the opposite effect – leading to more people burying their heads in the sand in panic. He asks: “Perhaps we simply don’t want to believe we have abused our own planet?”
A second opinion piece in the Guardian, written by columnist Ian Jack on 16 July, said that, while previous long summers in the UK and Ireland brought joy, this year’s feels “ominous”. He added:
“Ireland, for instance, has a rural economy that largely depends on grass, and in a drought grass fails to thrive. That has huge consequences for every cattle farmer, but posterity may see it as no more than a little local difficulty, one of the negligible effects of a global temperature change that melts glaciers and ice caps.”
Simon Kelner, former editor of the Independent, echoed Jack’s words in an article titled: “This heatwave is nothing like the one in 1976. For a start, we’re not celebrating it.” (The UK 1976 heatwave ran from mid-June to the end of August and included 15 consecutive days where temperatures exceeded 32C in the country.) Writing in the i, he said:
“In 40 years or so, will we be talking about the summer of 2018? Possibly not, because by that time we may have dozens just like it.”
A third article comparing this year’s heatwave to that of 1976 notes that, in both years, the country faced “huge political upheaval”. In the Guardian, features writer Andy Beckett noted
“Once the summer interlude of 1976 was over, Britain changed very fast – and in many ways not for the good. Perhaps that’s something for Theresa May, and the rest of us, to ponder while we enjoy the sun.”
Writing for the Evening Standard, columnist and critic Nick Curtis lambasted “millennials” for “moaning about the temperature”. He said:
“I remember the long, hot British summer of 1976 – well, I half-remember it, I was 10 at the time – and let me tell you, this warm snap is NOTHING.”
On July 26, the Daily Mirror ran an editorial arguing that the UK “must prepare for the consequences of climate change. Or, better still, tackle it.”
The editorial was reacting to a new report (see above) from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) which warned that the UK was “woefully” underprepared to deal with heatwaves and other forms of extreme weather. (Carbon Brief has published a detailed look at the report’s findings.)
As temperatures in the UK near record levels, MPs warn today that heatwave deaths could triple by 2050.
So what do the editors of the Daily Mail and the Sun do?
Order their writers to aggressively attack climate scientists… pic.twitter.com/QoMd5IFsYt
— Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) July 26, 2018
Meanwhile, columnist Rod Liddle criticised the “tiresome drongos” at the Met Office – who put out an amber alert for high temperatures this week – in an opinion piece for the Sun. He says:
“Give it a rest. I think there is something to global warming. I am not a denier. But I remember the last few summers we’ve had – rainy and cool – and the climate change monkeys saying THAT was a consequence of global warming, too. You can’t have it both ways.”
However, research published in Nature Climate Change has found that climate change could significantly increase the chances of summer downpours in the UK.
Using modelling, the researchers found that global warming could cause UK summers to become drier overall, but punctuated by more extreme downpours as a result of convective storms. These kind of downpours can lead to dangerous flash flooding.
On a similar note, Christopher Booker in the Daily Mail argued that “this kind of summer heat is far from unprecedented”.
In a prominently positioned opinion article, Booker claimed that “we shall continue to have abnormally hot summers from time to time, just as we did in 1976 and 1846, way back before global warming was invented”.
Booker complains about quality control of today's temperature measurements but thinks estimates of a Central England Temperature in 1846 are not worth discussing.
— Gareth S Jones (@GarethSJones1) July 26, 2018
Reacting to the column, Dr Gareth Jones, an attribution scientist at the Met Office, criticised Booker’s referencing of just the Central England Temperature (CET) record instead of the nationwide UK record.
On July 27, the Guardian published an editorial saying that “adapting to hotter temperatures is sensible – but ignoring their causes is dangerous”. It reads:
“Treating the symptoms of climate change makes no sense if the causes are not tackled at the same time. British laws – as well as the Paris agreement – commit the UK government to doing this, meaning decarbonisation of the electricity supply, heating and transport. These measures have cross-party support, but commitment by politicians is inconsistent.”
On the same day, an editorial in London’s Evening Standard said “we should plan for more years like this…The heat will go out of the news for now. But the battle for the future of our climate won’t go away”.
An accompanying opinion piece in the Evening Standard by Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate change at WWF-UK, stated:
“It’s a sign of a planet in crisis – one that needs urgent action to tackle climate change and conserve water.”
In the Scotsman, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Mary Church said: “What we are witnessing now is the impact of a mere 1C of warming. The impacts of 1.5C, 2C or more will be far, far worse.”
Meanwhile, in the Times, science editor Tom Whipple said that recent extreme events mean “it is impossible to ignore climate change”. In the Irish edition of the Times, an editorial remarked:
“We should not need any more wake-up calls on global warming but, alas, Ireland’s record in this area unfortunately suggests otherwise.”
A long feature on the heatwaves in the Economist, which cites Carbon Brief analysis mapping the influence of climate change on extreme events around the world, said: “Worryingly, such weather events may not remain unusual.”
The Financial Times carried a spoof “diary of a sweaty climate change sceptic” written by political correspondent Henry Mace.
[Update 30 July]
Media reaction to the heatwaves continued over the weekend. Several newspapers in the UK published editorials focused on the implications of the heatwaves.
On Monday (30 July), the Financial Times said: “As residual scientific doubts over global warming evaporate, the need for action by policymakers, businesses and private individuals becomes more urgent. Their response must combine ‘adaptation’ to make society more resilient to the inevitable future impact of climate change with ‘mitigation’ measures that cut carbon emissions…One of the most important issues is how and where we build homes…For many, this will be the hottest summer on record — and there is no denying that man-made climate change is to blame.”
An editorial in Monday’s Independent bemoaned the way the UK’s travel infrastructure fails whenever there is extreme weather: “While it would be wrong to overreact to each individual weather event, everything we know about climate change tells us that extremes are becoming more common. As a consequence, there is sense to considering, in a broad context, how the UK’s travel industry could improve its preparedness for ‘unusual’ weather.”
The Saturday edition of the Times (28 July) carried an editorial arguing that “best way to respond to climate change is to use our human ingenuity”. It continued: “Technological ingenuity rather than arbitrarily reduced consumption or changes in behaviour are the best hope. When we devise methods for developed economies not to pollute their atmospheres, that will be the ultimate solution to struggling into work in the stifling heat.”
Amber Rudd, the former home secretary who was also the UK’s secretary of state for energy and climate change from 2015 to 2017, wrote in the Sunday Times: “Climate change is here, and rising global temperatures are baked in. We will have to adapt – and help those most vulnerable to higher temperatures, often the poor, the elderly and the very young, to adapt as well. Yet adapting is not enough. We also need to reduce the emissions that are driving temperatures higher…Climate change is a global problem that requires global collective action…Like other global risks – immigration, poverty and disease – self-centred nationalism of the kind we are seeing from the current US administration provides an inadequate, feeble response…Both Brexit and future climate negotiations will require British leadership.”
Saturday’s Guardian led its frontpage with an interview with Prof Michael Mann, one of the world’s most prominent – and outspoken – climate scientists. He told the paper that the extreme heatwaves and wildfires wreaking havoc around the globe are “the face of climate change”, adding: “We are seeing our predictions come true. As a scientist that is reassuring, but as a citizen of planet Earth, it is very distressing to see that as it means we have not taken the necessary action.”
The Financial Times‘s “Big Read” on Saturday also focused on the extreme weather. It quoted Prof Sam Fankhauser, director of the UK’s Grantham Research Institute: “People are starting to have the feeling that it might be a lot worse than some of the estimates suggest,” he says, referring to the economic modelling about the costs of climate change. The Financial Times also has a video titled: “Forest fires stoke climate change debate.”
The Met Office published a blog co-written by its chief scientist Prof Stephen Belcher and Prof Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. They wrote: “The temperatures we are currently experiencing may not yet be the ‘new normal’, but within a few decades they could be.”
Meanwhile, many of the newspaper columns over the weekend also discussed the heatwaves. The Observer‘s Andrew Rawnsley wrote: “You can’t run from climate change and you can’t hide. Not absent the ability to get to another planet suitable for human life. The question then becomes a political one: what, if anything, are we going to do about it?…We live on a windy island inhabited by a lot of clever people and surrounded by a lot of sea. With the right levels of public investment and well-targeted incentives for the private sector, this country could be a world leader in tidal and wave power.”
In the Sunday Times, the former climate sceptic Nigel Hawkes said the 2018 heatwave has led to a “summer on steroids” concluding that “it’s time to bury the cynicism”. In the Irish edition of the Mirror, Siobhan O’Connor wrote: “Earth is roasting and we can’t go around with our heads in the sand or thanking the man upstairs for granting us a hot summer – it’s not by chance that the planet is on fire…We aren’t quite as stupid as Donald Trump who has been denying climate change since he took up office, rather we are in denial and it’s suiting us to turn a blind eye as we enjoy weather that feels like California dreaming.”
In the Sun on Sunday, Baroness Brown, chair of the Committee on Climate Change’s adaptation sub-committee, wrote: “The UK has much to gain from addressing the risks of climate change. We can have a healthier and safer population, while growing low-carbon business and improving people’s prosperity. Now that should give you a warm feeling.”
In the Daily Mail on Saturday (28 July), Quentin Letts used the heatwave to attack his familiar foes, such as the Met Office, the Guardian, BBC, European Commission and, finally, “officialdom’s quasi-religious belief in the alleged disaster of man-made global warming”.
In Monday’s Times, Marcus Linklater argued that, even if climate sceptics cannot be persuaded by extreme weather, they should consider that “it is the acidification of the oceans that should really worry us, because this can be measured accurately, using geological tests over millions of years, not just a few summers”. Meanwhile, on the same day, the letters page of the Times led with a collection of letters headlined: “Climate change survival and energy policy.”
Updated on 27 June to add further news coverage of the heatwaves and correct an error in the reporting of European wildfires.
Media reaction: The 2018 summer heatwaves and climate change
How the media reacted to the 2018 summer heatwaves