OPINION: The UK’s scorching start to the week felt like more than just a heat wave.

It was hard not to face unprecedented high temperatures without an accompanying sense of unease about what the extreme heat currently gripping Europe bodes for the future — the feeling that, as climate scientist Corinne Le Quere told the Financial Times, that we are now living “in a system that is out of equilibrium”.

It seems clear that extreme weather could become the norm even in traditionally moderate climates like those of the mostly un-air-conditioned UK.

Countries can adapt to hotter weather but power-hungry solutions — like pumping more buildings full of air artificially chilled with gas-fired electricity — come with environmental trade-offs that could make it harder for the UK and others to follow through on ambitious net zero targets.


Indeed, the heat wave was expected to push up demand for gas in Europe just as the continent is scrambling to find alternatives to Russian imports, and the grinding war in Ukraine, like the wildfires raging across parts of Europe, have only added to the sense of foreboding.

Extreme weather has heightened concerns about energy security in Europe, as elsewhere. Short-term solutions are necessary to address immediate problems. But policymakers and heads of industry should not lose sight of the longer-term emissions-reduction objectives that could help restore some equilibrium to the “system”.

Nor should the rest of us. As Le Quere puts it, “It really needs to be a society-wide movement.”

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)