Hot and unbothered
The British press' coverage of the extreme heat and climate crisis is stuck in the 80s.
Monday, 18 July 2022
António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, tells ministers from 40 countries:
Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.
And The Sun tells its readers:
It’s super scorchio! UK will be one of the world’s warmest spots!
… and doesn’t mention the climate crisis across the three pages it dedicates to the extreme temperatures. Instead, it uses another spread to test the best-iced coffees to drink while you contemplate the planet being boiled:
Ice is nice in this heat — but caffeine lovers are dismayed to find that the price of iced coffee is rising with the temperature.
Yes, that’s what we should be dismayed about.
Over the weekend, The Daily Telegraph pushed an article about whether we really need so much water on its social media feeds1, which made it seem like Immortan Joe is now on staff (“Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!”).
In its leader column, the paper argues that “we must learn to adapt to climate change” and, after the usual harrumphing about wokery/Trumpton’s least popular character PC Gone Mad, deigns to admit:
The climate is unquestionably changing. The issue is how to deal with the consequences. There may well be more droughts, which means that governments should be looking to improve reservoir capacity and the ability to move water from areas that have plenty. Schools and transport systems may need to have air conditioning. Government agencies need to be more creative in their responses to expected events whether it be a few hot days or the resurgence of a virus.
A few. hot. days. The metaphorical frogs aren’t just lounging in the water as the saucepan heats up; the most comfortable froggy columnists are telling the rest of us to get used to it.
On Twitter, Jeremy Clarkson delivers his usual schtick:
It’s very hot in the south of France but so far as I know, there’s no DefCon 8 level 3 killer death heatwave warning in place.
Putting aside that DefCon 1 is the highest state of readiness in that system, Clarkson only needed to consult Le Monde to find that warnings are very much in place. The headline of the linked article translates as:
France under the heat wave: 15 departments on red alert, “a heat apocalypse” scheduled for Monday.
Or he could have turned on the TV to see large parts of France and Portugal on fire.
But there’s no point in fact-checking Clarkson or any of the other endlessly talking heads because facts — even if those facts include hellish fires — make no difference to them. They’re not there to argue honestly, they exist to maintain the status quo for employers who benefit from it.
Inevitably, Brendan O’Neill writes his article again for The Spectator, retooled this time to claim that anyone concerned about the climate crisis is “like one of those crackpot millenarian preachers you’d see on street corners in the old days.” His piece relies on reheating — in this weather! — arguments from Bjorn Lomborg that cold deaths “vastly outweigh” heat deaths.
O’Neill doesn’t mention that Lomborg’s claim is largely based on a single paper published by The Lancet in 2015 or that as Professor Kirstie Ebi, an expert in environmental, occupational, and global health at the University of Washington, writes2:
Mr. Lomborg is confusing seasonal mortality with temperature-related mortality. It is true that mortality is higher during winter than summer. However, it does not follow that winter mortality is temperature-dependent (which summer mortality is).
… The country with the strongest association between winter mortality and temperature is England, which appears in other publications to be at least partly due to cold housing. Winter mortality is lower in northern European countries.
But like a child with an excuse for bad behaviour, O’Neill says:
… while the warming of the planet might increase heatwaves, it will reduce coldwaves. Which will be very good for human life. Are we allowed to look on the bright side anymore?
The argument is so simplistic it should be printed on waterproof paper so the target reader can chew the corners. The future O’Neill sketches out with his best crayons ignores that death by temperature rise is not the only threat from climate change but that rocketing temperatures will lead to food and water shortages, increased migration away from extreme heat, and resource wars.
Tuesday, 19 July 2022
The Sun’s front page carries a picture of a Queen’s guardsman still being made to wear a bearskin hat and the headline:
… and while it talks about record-breaking heat, it avoids any mention of the cause. Inside its notorious headline from the 1976 heatwave (Phew! What a scorcher) is reworked as Phew! What A Torture but the inevitable picture of a packed beach remains alongside the images of people sweating and suffering.
The op-ed slot is given over to Mark Day, a former editor of the Murdoch-owned Australian, to chuckle:
Obviously, Day’s column doesn’t mention the increasingly severe fire seasons Australia is suffering as a result of climate change.
The Daily Mirror’s front page is even more unforgivable with an image of four people sunbathing — three women and one man — above the headline:
While the paper uses pages 4 and 5 to cover “blazes, travel chaos, and droughts”, it has its ice cream and eats it by dedicating the next spread to people on the beaches with the message “keep cool & carry on”. A light-hearted feature panel on the same page has a writer travel from London to Cambridge to report on how the heat feels.
To The Mirror’s credit, pages 8 and 9 of today’s paper are dominated by a Q+A with Professor Chris Brierley, an expert in climate modelling from UCL, whose most reassuring answer is:
Action is happening, so I don’t think we’ll ever get to that Mad Max world.
Good news for me as I couldn’t pull off the outfits but bad for Telegraph freelancer Immortan Joe.
Extinction Rebellion protests at News UK’s headquarters, breaking windows and spray painting “40 degrees = death” and “#Tellthetruth” on the building “to highlight the failure of the Murdoch press to cover the heatwave and climate crisis.”
Sunday Times journalist Hannah Al-Othman replies to the protest, tweeting:
It was literally on the front page on Sunday. I wrote it. I included material sent to me by our science editor that said this was due to happen more because of climate change.
As well as ignoring The Sun’s output, that also avoids any mention of examples like Melanie Phillips’ column — published just last Monday — in which she raged in typically fact-free style that:
Apocalyptic climate change theory is itself pure Lysenkoism. There is no evidence that anything is happening to the world’s climate that lies outside historic fluctuations. Scores of the world’s most eminent scientists have long testified to the theory’s bogus nature.
Meanwhile, The Daily Mail’s front page rages about the Sunny day snowflake Britain had a meltdown and that soldier in the bearskin hat appears again (“But it’s not too hot for a bearskin…”) alongside the consistently air-conditioned heir-to-the-throne (“…and Charles didn’t even take his jacket and tie off!”)
The single spread dedicated to the extreme heat by the paper is dominated by a picture of a woman in a bikini (chosen for its news value, of course) and grumbles that the UK is “a country where we are frightened of the heat” and where health chiefs are “acting like nanny” (unquestionably Mail readers’ top sexual fantasy).
In place of quotes from experts, the Mail turns to Sir John Hayes of the oxymoronic Common Sense Group of Tory MPs, who brays:
It is not surprising that in snowflake Britain, the snowflakes are melting.
In the comment section, Stephen Robinson howls Why can’t the Met Office just tell us the weather, instead of spreading alarm and scolding us with doom-laden lectures, his red-faced byline picture gives the impression of a lobster demanding that the doomsters stop telling him the pot is getting hotter. He ends the piece with a particularly greasy anecdote:
I noticed on our walk in the park, young French and Spanish women knew instinctively how to deal with the heat. They lay in their bikinis as if they were back home on the Med.
And, predictably, the Mail’s leader column ends by leaning on a ragged myth:
With common sense precautions, plenty of fluid, shade and sunscreen, there’s no reason why people should die… Whatever happened to keep calm and carry on?
Keep Calm & Carry On? It was a poster shelved because people found it patronising and not brought back into the light until almost 60 years later to feed a nostalgic misunderstanding of what wartime Britain was like.
In 60 years’ time, the newspapers of today will largely read as indicators of insanity, desperate shouts to keep everything the same even as the heat was on.
Thanks for reading this edition. If you enjoyed it, please share it by hitting the button below…
… and if you want to help me keep writing this newsletter, consider upgrading to a paid subscription:
Inevitably it also managed to get a dig about Harry and Meghan in there (“…Archie Harrison Mountbatten- Windsor (whose favourite word is “hydrate”)…”)
One of ten scientists who analysed and disputed Lomberg’s findings.