As Summer approaches for Aotearoa it is paramount we remember the devastating heatwave that gripped London during the Summer of 2022. For anyone who followed the news this Summer, it’ll come as no surprise that the city of London faced a massive catastrophe. The outbreak was due to several smaller fires alighting amidst record-breaking heatwaves, which climbed above 40℃ on the 19th of July. This heatwave follows similar outbreaks in America, which led to the death of 2,000 cows.
This heat wave surpasses previous UK records of 38.7℃, reached just three years ago, bringing the country into its first ever ‘red warning’. That Tuesday afternoon's hot, humid air held the exact conditions for an uncontrollable blaze. In extreme wildfire events like these, the air becomes so hot that water molecules break down into their separate hydrogen and oxygen components, exciting the fire further. Only an excessive amount of water or a fire blanket can contain such a blaze, which only ceases when all available fuel is consumed.
While wildfires are a natural part of the landscape, they usually only occur in hotter climes, such as the Sahara and the Australian outback — vast areas of forest and shrub. During the hottest periods of the year, when the moisture content is at its lowest and temperatures are at their highest, these growth areas are ‘cleansed’ by frequent fires, which pave the way for new growth.
Of course, our modern development over the last few centuries has coincided with this natural phenomenon. As we expand over more territory, we too become caught up in events beyond our control. But because of our involvement, the size and intensity of wildfires are increasing. If this continues, we risk upsetting a delicate balance between life and death in which our wilderness cannot support growth.
What happened in the UK was an example of a heatwave acting as a lid, trapping atmospheric pollutants and particulate matter in a greenhouse effect. These pollutants also caused the air to become particularly toxic, increasing the effectiveness of the lid.
The UN now reckons that half of humanity is in the danger zone when it comes to extreme weather events. The balance of the world’s ecosystem is under threat, with humanity facing extinction-level events in the face of uncontrollable, unpredictable weather extremes.
Sources: National Geographic, Axios, Bloomberg, itv, United Nations, The Conversation
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.