A high emissions future means a stark choice: how much are we willing to sacrifice?

Warnings that British summers could be up to six degrees hotter in 50 years time leave us with a stark choice now, NationalWorld environment specialist Amber Allott says

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There’s long been a general acknowledgement that the more average temperatures are allowed to creep up, the more sacrifices we’re eventually going to have to make.

Plant and animal species may be lost to us, as we start to exceed the temperature band they can comfortably thrive. Our already pricey power bills will increase, as we have to spend more time running our air cons. 

But an uneasy question remains: when does something become too much of a sacrifice to accept?

The Met Office has today warned that if a high emissions scenario continues, by 2070 the UK’s average hottest summer day could be between four and seven degrees warmer than a 1990s baseline, with summers in general between one and six degrees warmer.

The chance of temperatures exceeding 30C for two days or more will be a whopping 16 times more likely in the UK’s south, and the chance of it exceeding 40C will be similar to the chance of exceeding 32C in 1990, the forecaster said.

An elderly man sits outside in Hackney during the July 2022 heatwave (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)An elderly man sits outside in Hackney during the July 2022 heatwave (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
An elderly man sits outside in Hackney during the July 2022 heatwave (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Last year’s heatwave completely aside, the hottest days recorded so far in 2023 were in Surrey’s Chertsey and Lincolnshire’s Coningsby on 10 and 25 June respectively - which both tied at 32.2 degrees.

This exact temperature, 32.2C, is the threshold where people working or exercising outdoors can start experiencing heat cramps - painful, involuntary muscle spasms. Vets also warn 32C is the temperature when it becomes inadvisable to walk your dog, and your pooch becomes vulnerable to heatstroke. 

Just imagine for a second an extra 6C on top of that. 

When the mercury hits 35C, just half of that, electric fans are just pushing hot air around and are no longer helpful at keeping you cool indoors, according to the NHS, making little difference in preventing heat-related illnesses. 

We’re not even safe at home, with Britain’s housing stock already woefully unprepared. A recent University of Oxford study revealed the UK is nearly at the top of the chart when it comes to countries which will have to radically adapt their buildings, as average temperatures keep creeping up.

If we don’t, people will cook. It’s worth noting that for the vulnerable - people over 65, and those with heart, respiratory or kidney illnesses - the tipping point at which heat can become deadly can be lower, as the body starts to risk heart attacks or strokes as it struggles to keep itself cool.

Across Europe, there were 61,000 extreme heat-related deaths last year alone. The most vulnerable were disproportionately affected - the homeless, the elderly.

If there has ever been a more visceral, more pressing reason we need to rapidly move away from a high-emissions future, I sure haven’t heard it. 

Otherwise, we’re faced with a stark choice. Who are we going to allow to die in 2070, just so we don’t have to cut our emissions now?