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Last summer, as UK temperatures reached 40 degrees – a record since temperatures were first recorded – talking heads on some of the UK’s newly formed right-wing television channels performed physical and mental contortions to present the record heat as a good news story.
It wasn’t. Over 1,000 of those aged over 65 died as a result. Moreover, according to modelling from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, this summer stands to exceed past averages.
Global heating is a fact and, according to a report by the UN earlier this month, Europe has been heating twice as fast as any other continent since the 1980s.
The evidence is overwhelming. Despite still being in June, wildfires in Scotland have already put pay to nearly six square miles of land. Elsewhere, small fires are already burning in historically cooler countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Wildfire warnings are in place across much of the continent.
Nevertheless, the 1.5 degree cap on global heating, agreed as far back as 2010, now looks likely to be broken. This isn’t a remote or theoretical possibility. According to researchers, increased temperatures look set to conspire with changing weather systems to push the global rise in temperatures past that cap at some point between now and 2027. How permanent that peak is remains to be seen.
A Torrent of Disinformation
Despite the extreme risk, those campaigning against reducing humanity’s contribution to the climate crisis are often derided as extremists and cranks. On balance, a few people in T-shirts walking slowly down Oxford Street stand little chance against the vast forces arrayed against them.
In 2021, Channel 4’s Dispatches programme linked UK Ministers to fossil fuel giants lobbying to ‘compromise’ ahead of COP 26. Last year, the Guardian reported on MPs investigating climate change having their admin fees paid by PR companies acting for oil and gas companies. In April, rather than address the intense challenges facing the species, the UK’s Home Secretary introduced legislation intended to make it easier for police to arrest those demonstrating against it, a law described by the UN’s Human Rights’ Chief as “deeply troubling.”
There is little that is benign in this. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, oil and gas companies engaged in a series of adverts and sponsored editorials intended, not simply to question climate change, but debunk it entirely. In December of 2022, a US House Oversight Committee ended a one year investigation into the industry, concluding that the major oil companies had been actively waging a longstanding disinformation campaign while raking in record profits.
“It’s very hard to put an exact figure onto what energy companies spend on lobbying policy makers,” Faye Holder, of InfluenceMap, an organisation which tracks business and finance’s links to the climate crisis, said. She continued, sketching out the opaque methods fossil fuel companies employ to influence public policy, from trade groups, to their spends on social media and think tanks.
“One example would be the passage of the Climate compatibility checkpoint system, which would have brought the licensing of new platforms in line with the UK Government’s target of Net Zero. After extensive lobbying from BP, Shell and industry trade groups, the most ambitious tests were dropped,” she said.
“We’re also seeing an increase in disinformation. Few companies can seriously argue that climate change isn’t happening,” Holder continued, “However, what we see is oil and gas companies trying to dominate the discourse with news of all the improvements they’re doing, while overlooking the damage. The argument, really, is that they don’t need any further regulation, whereas the reverse is true,” she said.
The challenges facing Europe are especially profound. Rising temperatures, triggered in part by the melting of the ice caps of the Arctic, are hitting Europe first, giving some indication of what might await the rest of the globe if urgent action isn’t taken. From 1991 to 2021, Europe warmed at an average of 0.5 degrees a decade, gradually encroaching on the 1.5 degree target. In 2022, Europe was approximately 2.3 °C above the pre-industrial averages used to agree the global cap of 1.5 °C in 2010.
“The Arctic has warmed at more than twice the global rate over the past 50 years,” José Álvaro Silva from the World Meteorological Organisation said, “and it is virtually certain that surface warming in the Arctic will continue to be more pronounced than the global average warming over the 21st century.” For Europe, sat on the frontier of that continent, the effects look set to be particularly bleak. Exceptional heat, wildfires, floods and other signs of climate breakdown all look set to continue to impact societies, economies and ecosystems across the continent.
Last year, in the UK alone, a little under 3,000 people in the UK are thought to have died because of the heat. This year, throughout Europe, longer heatwaves, brought about through human activity, are anticipated to combine with changing weather systems to produce one of the hottest, and potentially deadliest, years on record.
This isn’t to say that Europe will be affected universally. “The sea acts as a sort of climate battery, so the inland, continental areas will be more severely affected than coastal regions,” Álvaro Silva continued, “We’re already seeing extreme weather events, with a long running drought in southern Europe set to continue.”
If left unchecked, the situation in the southern mediterranean looks set to go from bad to worse, as less rain conspires with increased heat to draw whatever soil moisture as remains underground into the atmosphere, leaving it incapable of supporting vegetation, leading to increasing losses of plant cover, Álvaro Silva said.
“Sceptics will deny climate change, or humanity’s role in it, of course they will,” Álvaro Silva said, “The only response is scientific fact. We are not discussing humanity’s role in climate change as a possibility anymore; It’s a fact. It’s happening,” he said.