What’s your number? Mine’s 353.2. No, not *that* tedious early 2010s genre of romantic comedy. But the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels parts per million in the year you were born. In 2021, levels reached 414.7 ppm, the highest on record.
As a result, we are gazing into a new geological era, often termed the Anthropocene. In other words, the climate today is different to the one all other humans have experienced, going back tens of thousands of years. I suppose that makes us pioneers.
The climate has of course changed throughout history. Glacial periods have given way to warmer interglacial ones. But never has the change in the composition of our atmosphere shifted so rapidly. Nothing like it.
The annual rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last 60 years is roughly 100 times faster than previous natural increases, including the one that took place at the end of the last ice age 11,000-17,000 years ago. Humans are responsible for this, pumping billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.
That is the science behind why the Met Office has today issued another first. Britain’s maiden red warning for extreme heat. Temperatures could reach 40C early next week “leading to widespread impacts on people and infrastructure”.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty (yes, that one – it’s serious) urged Britons to look out for each other and the signs of heat stroke. This heat is not only a threat to the elderly and those with health conditions, but to everyone.
Already this week, passengers on the Tube have complained of it being too hot to breathe. Temperatures hit 34.6C at Bank on a Central Line train. Now, trains will be forced to go slower in London and across the south-east next week to handle the heatwave, causing further disruption.
And in today’s paper, we report that the London Fire Brigade has attended more than 800 open land fires in the six weeks since June as temperatures continue to heat across the capital – that is 19 a day – with firefighters warning there is a very real risk more fires could occur as a result of the heatwave.
That’s the thing about climate change. From droughts and floods to ever fiercer storms, we’ve made fixed-cost investments in specific locations anticipating certain climactic conditions. These are changing – and fast. How much they continue to change will depend on how quickly we stop pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Net-zero targets are vital, but the political will and policy architecture to get there remain insufficient.
In the comment pages, we don’t deduct a grand slam from Serena Williams every time she loses a match. Elite sport isn’t a pub quiz wipeout round. I’ve written about why going out on top is overrated. I also – and this is unspinnably self-indulgent – have a moan about taking a few days off from this newsletter in the week the prime minister resigned.
Finally, we’ve updated our article on the best French restaurants in London, and I coincidentally ate at one of them last night. It was délicieux. I’m not telling you which one as it’s hard enough to get a reservation as it is.
Have a lovely weekend. Stay cool.
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