(Credit: Getty images)
18 July 2022
If you find yourself wondering over the next few days why it is so swelteringly hot, I have an answer for you. It’s because of rich people. It’s because of those wealthy elites with all their gas-guzzling vehicles and reckless holidaymaking. It’s their fault you’re sweating on the Tube.
This infantile claim really is being made, and by supposedly serious politicians. Labour’s Richard Burgon, over on his Instagram account, is wringing his no doubt sweaty hands over the filthy rich folk who apparently landed us in this weather apocalypse.
‘As we face 40C temperatures and the first ever Red Extreme Heat Warning, remember this climate crisis is driven by the wealthy’, he cries. His stern words are accompanied, naturally, by that Met Office map showing half of Britain coloured dark red – the hellish hue that has been chosen to illustrate how dire our predicament has allegedly become.
Is anyone else tiring of all this green hysteria over the heatwave? There is something medieval about it. There is something creepily pre-modern in the idea that sinful mankind has brought heat and fire and floods upon himself with his wicked, hubristic behaviour. What next – plagues of locusts as a punishment for our failure to recycle?
The unhinged eco-dread over the heatwave exposes how millenarian environmentalism has become. Climate-change activism is less and less about coming up with practical solutions to the problem of pollution and more about demonising mankind as a plague on a planet, a pox on Mother Earth. These people really do view hot weather as an indictment of humanity, and a forewarning of the imminent heat death of our world that we’ve brought about with all our evil pollution and consumption.
They’re all at it. Caroline Lucas says, ‘The climate emergency is right here, right now’. One observer describes Europe as a ‘continent on fire’ – which just isn’t true, is it? – and says the hot weather is proof of ‘the ravages of climate change’. The words ‘heatwave hell’ are appearing everywhere, and many in the opinion-forming set know exactly who’s responsible for this hell: me and you and everyone else who has dared to live modern, technological lives.
This isn’t the first time a weather event has been depicted as a hell of man’s own making. When the latest IPCC report was published last year, hell talk was widespread. ‘If we do not halt our emissions soon, our future climate could well become some kind of hell on Earth’, said an Oxford prof. And of course we brought all this fiery punishment upon ourselves just as surely as Sodom and Gomorrah invited God’s divine retribution by being so perverted. We are ‘guilty as hell’, the Guardian’s environment editor cried, sounding for all the world like one of those crackpot millenarian preachers you’d see on street corners in the old days.
To my mind, there could be no better proof that climate-change activism has become an End of Days cult than the fact that its chief ideologues are now even incapable of enjoying hot weather. They feel the sun’s rays on their faces and all they can think about is the Armageddon that the modern masses have created with their cheap flights and their 4X4s and their addiction to disposable fashion. When you see everything as a sign, as further proof of your own apocalyptic belief system, you have a problem.
Let’s have some perspective. Propagandistic terms like ‘extreme weather’ and ‘Weather of Mass Destruction’ are meant to whip up fear in the populace every time there’s sunshine or floods. And yet, as Bjorn Lomborg points out, the number of people dying in climate-related disasters has plummeted spectacularly over the past hundred years.
In the 1920s, close to 500,000 people died every year in storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves. In 2020, just 14,000 people died as a result of such natural calamities. That means global annual deaths from climate disasters have fallen by 96 per cent. The modernity that eco-warriors so disdain has actually helped to protect humanity from the violent whims of Mother Nature. Lomborg also points out that in most parts of the world, cold deaths ‘vastly outweigh’ heat deaths. So 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?
This isn’t the first time extreme weather events have been blamed on wicked human beings, whether it’s Richard Burgon’s wealthy elites or just people in general driving their diesel cars and taking two easyJet flights a year. No, in the Middle Ages, too, scapegoats were often sought whenever there was a scary climatic event.
As the German historian Wolfgang Behringer has documented, in the 14th and 15th centuries ‘unnatural climatic phenomena’ were often blamed on ‘a great conspiracy of witches’. During the Little Ice Age in particular, when crops failed in many parts of Europe, there was a frenzy of witch-hunting. Some in society ‘held the witches directly responsible for the high frequency of climatic anomalies’.
Sound familiar? I definitely hear echoes of that old, regressive belief that sinister people are responsible for weird weather in today’s attempt to pin heatwaves on the rich or on coal-mining or on motorists. Environmentalism has rehabilitated in pseudo-scientific form the age-old instinct to find the witch or the sinner who is to blame for society’s misfortunes.
Everyone needs to calm down. We’re safer from weather than we have ever been. It’s sunny. Go outside. Sit in the shade. Have an ice-cream.