Hot Hot Heat

It is, as some British-based readers may have noticed, rather hot. Really very hot, actually. Australia-type hot—even in Edinburgh. Last month we had a few days of the Harr, as a Scottish friend told us the fog that blankets the city in summer is called, which prompted days of amusing lines like “Harrrrrr, the fog be rollin’ in” and “Harrrrr, you call this a summer?” But now the Harr has fogged off, and the whole city is starting to bake.

Which on the one hand is quite delightful—it’s great to be able to go to work without taking any kind of sweater or coat—and on the other hand is quite disturbing. Edinburgh isn’t supposed to be like this. The buildings weren’t made for it: all that solid stone is trapping the heat, and there are no fans to blow it away. My office gets the afternoon sun and gradually warms up during the day, to the point where by four o’clock I’m struggling to stay awake. (Which is a worry, because our uni contracts have a clause explicitly prohibiting sleeping on the job. No kidding. Siestas are apparently an occupational hazard.)

The past couple of weeks have reminded me of January in the Coombs building when I was a postgrad. Everyone was away, the building was stinking hot, and the days melted away like icecream.

Of course, this hasn’t put an end to the traditional British pastime of complaining about the weather (which, as you can see, I’ve taken to like a Sloane to ski slopes). Because now Britain is discovering what every Aussie knows: hot summer days can get too hot. So hot that the nights don’t cool them down. So hot that butter melts when you leave it out, the kitchen bin starts to reek, and you start seeing ants outside, none of which have been a feature of the Scottish summers I’ve known.

And while a bit of warm weather certainly makes a change, it’s that very change that’s simmering away at the back of everyone’s minds. Is this it, then—the first of a thousand hot summers? Has Britain’s pioneering role in the Industrial Revolution finally come back to haunt us? (Not that other Western countries are any better; when it comes to carbon emissions per capita, Australia can take none of the moral high ground.)

And is this going to trigger a new ice age, or are we going to skip the sorbet and go straight to a main course of Waterworld? A recent article by a climatologist suggested that the slowing of the Gulf Stream won’t actually plunge Northern Europe into permanent winter, because the effects of continental landmasses far outweigh that of ocean temperature. That’s a relief. So it’s just going to keep getting hotter and hotter, with none of those unsightly glaciers and hazards to North Atlantic shipping. And if the Amazon jungle really is on the brink of becoming the Amazon desert—if not next year then sometime too soon—it’s full steam ahead to an iceless Iceland, a green Greenland, and a deep-fried Scotland in batter.

27 July 2006 · UK Culture

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