Socialist Worker

Heatwave shines a light on a system that could kill us all

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2614

Extreme weather makes events such as the recent wildfires in east London more likely

Extreme weather makes events such as the recent wildfires in east London more likely (Pic: Ana Blake)


Britain has been sweltering in an unusually long and a particularly hot spell of sunny weather.

Newspapers are speculating whether this will be the hottest summer since 1976.

The heat and drought have caused real problems. But privatised water companies in England would rather implement hosepipe bans during dry periods than fix faulty systems which mean billions of litres are lost through leaks.

So while water is wasted because fat cats want to trouser profits, some communities face severe droughts.

About 4 percent of Scotland’s population is at risk of running dry. They are “off mains” and rely on springs and wells for their water supply.

Agricultural

Sandy Tulloch, a farmer in Aberdeenshire gets his water from a spring, which he thinks will run dry in a week. He said “the water is in dire straits really, we need to get rain pretty quickly and we need to get some heavy rain.”

And farmers are warning of an agricultural crisis in some parts of Britain, because of “scorched” land.

Extreme weather also has a wider impact on the natural world.

Barn owls are suffering because they struggled to nest and breed during the extreme weather this spring.

Now the hot weather is making it harder for them to find food and water. And for humans, soaring temperatures can cause health problems and even death.

It’s thought over 2,000 people died in 2003 because of a heatwave that swept across Europe.

After this the NHS developed guidance for preventing exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration. It advises to stay inside during the hottest parts of the day, and keep cool.

This is good advice for some—but most people have to work or travel during the day.

Air conditioning costs thousands to install and only 0.5 percent of homes have it. Protection from heat-related injury should be treated as a matter of public health policy, not left to whether an individual can afford air conditioning.

Infrastructure

Homes should be built, or retroactively fitted with appropriate cooling and heating systems. And other infrastructure should be built—like “Cooling centres” that operate in countries such as Canada.

These allow people, including the homeless, to go there during the day to stay cool and healthy.

The heatwave also causes travel chaos because rail tracks bend, meaning cancelled or delayed services.

And roads are closed because of asphalt “behaving like molasses” and melting. A tougher kind of asphalt is produced—but only 5 percent of roads are coated in it, because it costs more.

Technological solutions to climate change are only a delaying tactic, though—more drastic change is needed.

Only a society organised for the needs of the majority of people, not capitalism, will provide the basis for a sustainable world that is now so desperately needed.


Competition means capitalism can’t solve climate crisis

Although it may appear obvious that the heatwave is directly caused by global warming, a direct line between the two events doesn’t exist.

Climate change makes extreme weather patterns more likely, but there are other factors to consider as well.

Edward Hanna, a professor of climate science and meteorology at the University of Lincoln said, “You can’t just link individual events to climate change.

“There’s a lot of natural variability [in the weather] and we’re talking about seasonal changes which are always variable to some degree”.

But it is true we are likely to see longer, hotter summers as a result of a hotter earth, where temperatures have risen by 1 degree centigrade since 1850.

Catastrophic

It might not seem like much, but any future increase in temperature will be catastrophic on a global scale.

Sea levels will rise, more animal species will be threatened with extinction and extreme weather such as hurricanes and tsunamis will become more commonplace.

In 2015 world leaders agreed a target to limit temperature rises to a maximum of

1.5 degrees—a figure that’s set to be broken by 2020.

Much more drastic action is needed to tackle climate change properly.

But scientists are still working out exactly why Britain is experiencing such unusual weather.

Climatologist Ted Shepherd said 2018’s heatwave was “a sign of things to come”, and warned that “we can expect more and more warm temperatures”.

One solution to limit the impact of global warming is straightforward—stop burning fossil fuels and start using renewable, clean energy sources.

But capitalism is addicted to competition, which means individual CEOs or government leaders don’t want to lose ground to their competitors.

Shepherd warned, “Because of climate change we will get more hot summers in general, and this is a good example of what’s going to come so it’s an opportunity to think of our resilience and if we’re ready for such a thing.”

This heatwave shows how much more will need to be done to meet the challenge of climate change.


Why leaks aren’t fixed

United Utilities, which provides water for north west England, is the first company in England to implement a hosepipe ban in 2018. The firm said the ban was necessary to maintain “essential supplies”.

But United Utilities loses 439 million litres of water every day through unfixed leaks. In fact, 20 percent of Britain’s water is lost in this way.

Water industry expert David Hall said companies just aren’t interested in fixing the leaks. “They can’t recoup the cost of making reductions in leakage levels except by reducing profits, that’s not what they want to do,” he said.


Blowing hot... and cold

This heatwave follows the “Beast from the East” cold snap which combined freezing temperatures with heavy snowfall in February and March this year.

As many as 16 weather-related deaths were recorded.

Motorists were stranded overnight and passengers had to sleep overnight on broken-down trains.

Not all transport suffered the same fate. Heathrow Airport had invested £37 million in snow-clearing and de-icing equipment. It is possible to weatherproof services—but bosses will only do it when it’s in the interests of profit.


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