By Catherine Price
As I write this, much of the UK is experiencing its second heatwave of the summer of 2022. Temperatures are expected to reach 36°C. On the 19 July 2022, a record temperature for the UK of 40.3°C was recorded at Coningsby. Combined with this heat, the UK has also been experiencing a period of below average rainfall, with July 2022 being the driest on record since 1935. A drought has now been declared in certain parts of the country, which enables water companies to restrict the use of water for certain activities such as using hosepipes, and washing cars.
The combination of extreme heat and lack of rainfall is detrimental to food security. This is having a huge impact on crop yields, with some crops potentially failing. Drought conditions are not only impacting the UK but also Europe. This is also a problem for the UK, given that a large amount of food is imported from European countries. This will lead to increased food prices which is also likely to exacerbate the ‘cost of living crisis’ that the UK is currently facing. The ‘cost of living crisis’ refers to the fall in disposable income which is caused by high inflation outstripping wage and benefit increases.
The impacts of heatwaves and droughts are not only felt by humans, but also by the more-than-human world too. The combined threats of climate change and habitat loss are threatening a collapse of insect numbers. Heatwaves which are a product of climate change, may exacerbate losses because some species are unable to regulate their body temperatures. Bumblebees can die if there are extended periods of extreme heat. Wildfires have also broken out across the UK, with Wild Ken Hill, a nature reserve in Norfolk, badly impacted with a loss of wildlife across 33 hectares.
The impacts of climate change are now being felt, not only here in the UK, but also around the rest of the world. Scientists have warned that action needs to be taken now to limit warming to 1.5°C. Rapid and deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions are required, and this means drastically limiting the use of fossil fuels. On an individual level, this may mean rethinking how we travel. This could mean reducing the number of flights we take, or replacing our car with an electric model. A change from meat based to eating less but better quality meat and plant based diets, and the associated land use changes are also likely to lower emissions. On a wider level, a move from industrialised agriculture to regenerative agriculture could provide sufficient, healthy, nutritious food, whilst also improving natural ecosystems. Restoring wetlands such as peatbogs and coastal marshes would help keep rivers flowing during dry conditions, and store water during times of flooding.
Once the heatwaves pass, people may stop thinking about climate change if it is no longer being reported by news outlets. It is important that we continue to think about climate change and how we can play our own individual parts in addressing climate change. We need to act to ensure that future generations of both humans and the more-than-human world have a thriving planet to inhabit.
Dr Catherine Price is a Research Fellow in the School of Geography, University of Nottingham. Her research interests include relationships between humans and the more-than-human world, the environment, climate change, and the social and ethical impacts of agricultural technologies. She is currently working on the interdisciplinary Biochar Demonstrator project which is addressing the key deployment barriers of biochar for carbon sequestration. Details of her research can be found at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Catherine-Price-9