OPINION - Homes destroyed as wildfire sweeps through east London amid 40C record

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

Records are generally broken in increments. Perhaps the most famous example in sport is the men’s 100-metre dash. For decades, whenever it was beaten it was generally done so by one or two one-hundredths of a second.

Then Usain Bolt came along. His time at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin (re-watch here if you have a spare 9.58 seconds) shattered his own world record by more than a tenth of a second. That sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen.

Neither is what took place today in Britain, where no photo finish was required. The all-time temperature record was broken even before midday. 40C was hit shortly thereafter. And there is still time for further rises. Oh, and multiple homes have been destroyed and a major incident declares as grass fires have spread through east London. Our climate has truly changed.

We talk a lot about net-zero, but it is an underwhelming and often unhelpful term. It shares an error made by everyone from policymakers to shoe salespeople: talking about features rather than benefits.

Features can be technical in nature. Take for example a king size bed. Its features are that it is larger than a standard double. But the benefit? A better night’s sleep. Or fibre-optic broadband. The feature may be 60Mbps (erm, ok). But the benefit? Face-timing with your friends and family around the world without ever suffering from a buffering screen again.

The same prism can be seen in net zero, the widely-used term for the point at which greenhouse gas emissions are equal to or less than the emissions removed from the atmosphere. Its features might include wind farms, electric vehicles and loft insulation. But the benefits are so much more exciting. A habitable planet in which we can go outside in July. Clean air to breathe, car-free streets and cheaper energy bills leaving us more money to spend on things we like.

Sure, revolutionising a global economy predicated on the burning of fossil fuels for 200 years is hard. But even in a sci-fi utopia where the release of carbon dioxide didn’t warm our planet, net-zero would still be a really good idea with amazing benefits.

In that world, we may have chosen not to do it so quite so quickly. The costs of transition are substantial. But the benefits – both in terms of worst-case scenarios avoided and tangible positives – are real, plentiful and worth doing anyway.

So if, like me, you’re feeling not only hot but a little anxious today, remember this: there are proper nice things to look forward to if we can get it together in time. I admit: that’s a rather large ‘if’. But to go full Thatcherite and say it in the language Conservative leadership candidates might understand: there is no alternative.

Elsewhere in the paper, net-zero flip-flopper Kemi Badenoch is out of the Conservative leadership contest. Liz Truss is still in third place but looks set to sneak past Penny Mordaunt and into the top two after tomorrow’s final vote amongst MPs.

In the comment pages, Anna van Praagh knows this weather isn’t normal, but asks can’t we still enjoy the sun? While Melanie McDonagh has some advice on what to say when you get that invite to a wedding abroad (i.e. a request to spend several thousand pounds): No.

And finally, did you get any sleep last night? From lavender spray to calming playlists and blackout blinds – Jessica Morgan has tried it all. Nothing helped her drift off, until she discovered brown noise. I can sense your cynicism from over here but judge for yourself.

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