Opinion The UK experienced its fifteenth hottest summer since 1910 this year, according to the latest Met Office figures, with the raging heat unsurpassed except in the years 1911, 1947, 1955 and eleven other years over the past century.
"People are not adapting their homes, particularly in cities, to make them cooler. For vulnerable people, such as the elderly, that might be a matter of life and death," commented Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, in a briefing circulated to the press in recent days.
“If you have a heatwave and people are at home and unable to keep their homes cool, that is potentially life-threatening – particularly for the elderly or people with respiratory problems," added Ward.
Ward warned that the crushing heat seen this summer and during other, much hotter summers dating back more than a century could throw a massive burden on the NHS as Britons struggling to cope with the heat could wind up in hospital. This would of course have been a particularly serious issue in such hot summers as 1911 and 1947, when there was no NHS.
Ward also suggested that the UK is entering an era of unprecedented wetness and rainfall. No less than four of the rainiest winters recorded in Britain since 1910 occurred prior to the Second World War: 1915, 1916, 1920 and 1937 are all in the top ten wettest.
"We still haven't learnt from the 2007 flooding," expostulated Ward this week. (Met Office figures show that 2007 was the seventeenth rainiest year in the UK since 1910. Only the years 1912, 1916, 1923, 1927, 1928 - and eleven others - were wetter.)
"It is only a matter of time before we see another major incident in one or more cities because of heavy rainfall," said Ward, unarguably.
"You are dealing with people's lives, you can't repair the damage done when people are killed or injured by heatwaves or flooding.
"This is a matter of public safety - not just an economic problem." ®
Bob Ward is a climate activist, public-relations man and former freelance journalist now employed as head of PR at the Grantham Institute. He has a "first degree in geology and an unfinished PhD thesis in palaeopiezometry".
When issuing his briefing to the UK media this past week he naturally chose to focus on some rather different numbers from the Met Office statistics, leading to headlines such as "Warmest year warning is issued", "This year set to be hottest on record" and even "Britain had one of the warmest and wettest years on record" (Grauniad of course). This is based on Mr Ward's calculation that the period January-September is the warmest such period in the Met Office record: it would be equally valid to write "2014 could be coldest on record, says man" or similar.
The Met Office, however, cautioned against this sort of cherry-picking.
"The reason we have records for set periods, for example monthly and annually, is so they can be quantified against each other year on year, otherwise anyone could make up a theory and anyone could come to a conclusion," a spokesperson told the PA.
That's certainly true, as we like to think we've illustrated above.