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Feeling the heat

03 August 2018

A KEY weapon in the armoury of climate-change deniers is the excitement caused by extreme weather. Whether sitting soggily on public transport or lying sleepless on top of the bed covers last week, people could console themselves with participating in a near-record-breaking event. This was certainly the tenor of the discourse about the heatwave. Would it be hotter for longer than in 1976? If so, might it shut up all those 60-year-olds who continue to grumble about their A levels, 40 years on? The other consolation was the confidence that, sooner or later, the heatwave would end, the rivers and reservoirs would refill, and the uncomfortably hot conditions would be replaced by uncomfortably chilly ones. So what if nine of the ten hottest years in the UK have occurred since 2002? We seem to have survived. So what if it has damaged crop yields? Isn’t that the farmers’ problem? We can just import more from around the world, trusting our supermarkets to keep the prices down by cutting a tough deal with overseas growers.

This cheerful pragmatism may not be echoed by the elderly, struggling to take their next breath; by the sick, and those whose symptoms are exacerbated by the heat; by anyone who is pregnant; by the mothers of small infants; by schoolteachers; by hospital staff; by cancer specialists, looking ahead to a spike in skin disease; or by the millions who live in countries where the climate and the economy are not so resilient, and where the effects of drought, wildfires, or flash floods are devastating and often fatal. Attention was drawn to Greece last week, where deaths caused by raging fires were estimated at more than 100. What the news media and, therefore, the public and the policy-makers so often miss are the unpublicised effects of our warming climate: the lonely individuals who die in their ones and twos — amounting to an estimated 7000 premature deaths a year in the UK by mid-century; or the thousands around the world who are forced to become refugees when their land can no longer support them.

The Church Times is preparing a special environmental issue, to be published on 12 October, with Richard Black, the BBC’s former environmental correspondent, as its guest editor. It will look at the latest scientific evidence about the climate, engage with the counter arguments, hear from other parts of the Anglican Communion, and consider the effectiveness of the measures that could still be taken to slow the planet’s warming. It will also address the reluctance of humanity to take seriously its responsibilities for the well-being of the planet, or even for the most vulnerable members of its own species. This is a theological issue of the first order, of far more importance and urgency than other topics that regularly occupy churchpeople. It is an issue that requires collective action, something that political leaders fail at repeatedly. It is thus incumbent upon ordinary people, churchgoers and others, to take a lead.

Correction. Last week’s leader column applied a phrase used by the Revd Graham Sawyer, “purple circle”, to those around Peter Ball. Mr Sawyer has asked us to clarify that he was talking in the present tense about the behaviour of some current bishops, as was reported in our news story. We are happy to make this clear and apologise for the mistake.

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