In the UK, where talking about the weather is a national pastime, a heat wave is like the World Series. You’re nobody if you don’t talk about it. In London, on the rare occasion when the temperature exceeds one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, the wheels begin to come off. Schools are closing and trains are slowing down. The tarmac is melting. On Twitter, confusion reigns. Should window shutters be left open or closed during the day? Does a fan just blow hot air around a hot room? Subway commuters – adept at insulating themselves from the cold and damp, but useless in the heat – are clutching plastic water bottles filled with ice and looking offended. The seats are cloth and damp. There is, in all likelihood, no air conditioning. Where is the rain?
On Friday, the Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, issued its first-ever “red warning” for extreme heat, and a national emergency was declared. Monday and Tuesday, managers saidtemperatures in cities including London, Manchester and York could exceed forty degrees Celsius (one hundred and four degrees Fahrenheit), surpassing the previous record of 38.7 degrees Celsius (101.7 degrees Fahrenheit), taken on a sweltering day in Cambridge, in 2019 The National Health Service has prepared for a surge hospital admissions, and warned that some appointments may be canceled because of the heat. (Many hospitals in the UK are not fully air-conditioned.) In west London, plans were to wrap parts of Hammersmith Bridge – an ornate, creaky suspension bridge opened in 1887 – with foil to keep it from collapsing.
At first, these warnings, grim and constant, seemed a bit exaggerated to me. I had spent many summers in unair-conditioned apartments in Brooklyn, sleeping under a fan with a wet washcloth over my face. When I read that Northern Ireland could reach a temperature over eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, I had to read the number twice. Certainly it is not then wrong? But the UK, like its people, is not built for the heat. by some estimates, less than five percent of homes have air conditioning of any kind, including portable machines or the bulky, precariously balanced window units that are a fixture of summer in New York City. In London, bars and restaurants are likely to have an umbrella stand and a coat rack, but central air is in short supply. You might sit in a movie theater downtown on a hot day and find the heat sweltering and unbearable.
As temperatures soared, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who earlier this month agreed after a wacky amount of time to step down when his party chooses a new leader, seemed conspicuously absent. Monday he jumped up an emergency meeting on the heat wave. We learned that he hosted a farewell party on Sunday to party at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country estate. Incongruous images have emerged of Johnson in the cockpit of an RAF fighter jet, during an air show in Hampshire. (“We did a fantastic loop!” he said after.) On LBC radio, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a Tory MP, answered listeners’ questions about the extreme weather. A woman named Maria described a park filled with dead grass. “I was deeply shocked, I had no words,” she said. “Coming from a country where our landscape is beautiful and green, to see how dry the grass has become, it actually shows the horrific effect this climate change is having on our society.” She wanted to know: “What is the government doing to tackle this? “It’s not just for the government, is it, Maria?” Hancock tells her happily. “It’s for everyone. We can all do our part.
Are we all doing our part? The leading contenders to replace Johnson as prime minister – now down to three favorites – range from lukewarm to reluctant in the face of efforts to slow climate change. During a televised leadership debate on Sunday, the day before the UK recorded its hottest night on record, the candidates were asked about their views on the UK’s long-standing goal United to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, backed the policy but said: “If we go too hard and too fast we will lose people. ” Liz Truss, the foreign minister and one of Sunak’s main rivals, has went furthersuggesting a suspension of the “green levy,” a type of charge that appears on household energy bills and supports a host of progressive energy policies.
The lukewarm response from the candidates, and from some media, galvanized some and exasperated others. Cabinet minister Alok Sharma, who headed the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, did not rule out quitting if the new Party leader backed down from his commitment to net zero. “Any candidate aspiring to be our next prime minister who doesn’t think we face a climate emergency should consider the temperatures we are seeing in the UK, across Europe and beyond,” he said. he declares. saidin an interview with the Guardian. “No one should have any doubts about the gravity of the situation if we don’t have a clear plan and continue to press for action in this critical decade.” Near London Bridge, Extinction Rebellion activists broken some of the windows of the News UK building, which houses Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers Sun and the Time, to protest against the publications’ media coverage of the crisis. Outside the building they spray painted the words “Speak the truth” and “40 degrees = death”.
On Tuesday, my husband and I hung sheets from the windows of our top-floor apartment, which has no blinds or air conditioning. The night before we bought a plastic fan from a woman down the street and used it to circulate the hot air in our attic room. At 12:50 p.m. pm, Heathrow reported a temperature of 40.2 degrees Celsius (104.4 degrees Fahrenheit), an all-time high for the UK, which had never exceeded forty degrees Celsius before. (A village in Lincolnshire then recorded 40.3 degrees Celsius.) Later that afternoon, fires broke out across London, prompting the London Fire Department to declare a major incident. In the subway, people were eating Popsicles. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has warned against barbecues and cigarettes. “Don’t take any risks. Stay safe in the heat,” he tweeted.
Around noon, I headed to a women’s pond in Hampstead Heath, North London, which allows swimming. The slot machines were competitive; a friend had waited in a line for tickets earlier. (“Ladies Pond is like Glastonbury in a hot week,” she texted.) The grass in the park was yellow and dusty, and the queue to enter the pond was long. A tourist who had not reserved a place was turned away. “It’s a shame, but this weather is crazy,” said a woman in line. People wore bucket hats or straw hats and carried paper fans. “Boil me in the shade,” someone muttered. When my turn came, the water was sublime. A lady did a backstroke, in ecstasy. I wondered how long the relief would last. ♦