The buzzword in the British press has been "glorious" to describe the first time the UK has experienced 20 degree Celsius heatwave in February. To Jonn Elldge it's not glorious at all. It's terrifying.
On Monday, the temperature hit 20.3C in Ceredigion, west Wales: the highest February temperature ever recorded in Britain and the first time the thermometer had breached 20C in winter. The BBC weather account tweeted it out with a gif of the sunshine icon and the same excitable breathlessness with which Springwatch would announce it had found a new type of vole. My response contained a single word, repeated seven times. It began with F.
Because this isn’t good, is it? However enjoyable the unreasonable sunshine feels, whatever feeling of relief it instils in you after weeks of grey sky and Brexit, the idea of beach temperatures in February should be scaring the living shit out of you. It shouldn’t be possible to wander round London half-naked in February without bits of you falling off. There is a fairly direct inverse correlation between your ability to go out without a jacket at this latitude in winter and a polar bear’s likelihood of surviving the winter – yet the population of Britain wandered round with their shirts undone looking pleased with themselves. Nation of animal lovers my arse. Something has gone wrong.
John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, portrays a dystopian, post-climate change Britain in which the entire country has been walled off to prevent “others”, from the ruined, flooded world beyond, getting in. The young resent the old because the change happened on their watch; the state kills with ease, and slavery has returned. But it is set in a place that is still recognisable as this country, in which people go to pubs, get pissed, commute on crowded railway lines and think the Lake District is a nice place to go. It’s a vision that’s haunting precisely because it is so banal. You can believe in this future. The world is ruined, and the British people have conspired as much as possible to ignore the fact.
The country’s response to this unseasonably warm spell suggests Lanchester may be on to something. The 20 hottest years on record have all happened within the past 22 years; the five hottest were the last five. Yet the beaches and the beer gardens fill up, while the papers describe the weather as glorious and expend more words on the latest Westminster soap opera than on the looming climate crisis. The thing about an environmental apocalypse is that it doesn’t have a face.