Tag Archives: heatwave

Hot, angry and sick of injustice

The UK has had a heat wave this week with temperatures far higher than anything we are used to. Climate chaos is here, and it is brutal. However, we’re not all experiencing it the same way, and there are issues of both social justice and relationship with the land involved in this.

If your home is out on the flat, or on a south facing slope you are likely to experience more heat. I’m lucky in that I’m tucked in under a hill and only get a few hours of direct sunlight on the windows. I’m also surrounded by trees, which greatly help with cooling. Compared to friends who live within a few miles of me, I’ve got off relatively lightly. The shape of the land you live on will greatly inform how you experience the heat.

The size of your accommodation is also a big factor. There may be no cool side of the house. If your room is under the roof, it’s going to be a furnace. You may not have access to other rooms – people renting a room in a house can have limited options. 

Human bodies put out heat. If there are a lot of you in a small space, this has implications.

Financial pressures mean a lot of people are living in cramped, unsuitable conditions. Building for rent has not been held to the highest of standards. Many of us live in small spaces, and those are harder to keep cool. The way in which landlords are allowed to charge a great deal for tiny, unhealthy spaces means a lot of people are suffering at the moment. Homes that won’t cool down at night put a lot of pressure on your body and will make people ill.

Climate change and social justice aren’t separate issues. How climate chaos impacts on people will depend a lot on where they live and what’s around them. Homes that are designed to keep people safe in all kinds of conditions would also reduce energy needs which would help reduce carbon output. It is always the people who are least resourced who suffer most in extreme weather conditions. It is the people who are most resourced who are most responsible for causing what’s happening. They are also the people most intent on telling us there isn’t a problem and that we shouldn’t make a fuss.

Once temperatures hit 25c or more, the risk of dogs dying is considerable. Once the air is hotter than your own core temperature, it takes care, effort and attention not to overheat. What do you do if your workplace is unbearably hot and you can’t safely function in it? If you’re the CEO, you can go home, if your office doesn’t have air conditioning. It is the lowest paid workers who will be forced to slog on, putting their health at risk.

Heat stroke can kill people. Heatwaves kill. I find that once we get to about 30c I’m good for very little. But I’m lucky because as a self employed person I can down tools, or work at different times. There’s a limit on how long I can take off to cope with the heat, but at least I have some options.

For people who are already ill, the situation is worse. For people on some meds, the meds increase sensitivity to sunlight. Being ill means probably being poorer, and therefore also more at risk from all the other issues as well.

It sickens me that our government is taking no interest in climate chaos, and is ignoring the way the economic crisis they have presided over is increasing the risk of death for people right now. On top of this, the internet has been awash with misinformation, and one Tory MP called people cowards for acting to evade the heat. Not killing people through neglect should be the least we can expect of our leaders, but we don’t even have that.

The power of urban trees

We’re having a heatwave in the UK, thanks to the climate crisis. It seemed like a good time to talk about how powerful and important urban trees are.

Urban trees have a huge cooling effect on urban spaces. They cool the ground beneath them, they shade and shelter nearby buildings. The need for air-con goes down when there are trees, which of course reduces energy use and that in turn can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause the problems in the first place. With a crisis of living cost in the mix too, not everyone can afford to cool their homes. Less affluent areas are less likely to have trees in the first place, though.

Heat can be a killer. 2021 saw thousands of heat related deaths across Europe. Heat puts a strain on the whole body – heat stroke and dehydration cause problems in their own right, and put strain on your organs. Hearts can give up in extreme heat. 

Publicly owned trees have the power to save lives, and to make it more feasible for people to keep functioning safely in hot weather. At the same time, trees help solve the problem of excess C02 in the atmosphere. It’s a win all round.

Cities would be much better places if some of the colossal amount of space given over to driving and parking cars was used instead for trees.

At this time of year I’m very aware of how the shade from a nearby horse chestnut tree impacts on the temperature in my small flat. Smaller living spaces, especially if they’re a bit on the crowded side – are harder to keep cool to begin with. The tree makes a lot of difference. No doubt many people would be helped through excessive heat by the presence of more trees.

Planting more urban trees right now won’t solve the problem immediately, but it’s a good investment in the future.