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19 July 2022

Calm down about the heatwave? The right-wing press takes us for fools

Commentators fall back on patronising clichés to promote climate scepticism.

By Philippa Nuttall

According to the contemptuous right-wing press, generally in the form of white men, we should deal with climate change and the heatwave by just chilling out and eating ice cream while forests burn and people die.

“The heatwave green hysteria is out of control,” wrote Brendan O’Neill in the Spectator yesterday, urging everyone to “calm down”.  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”, he commented. “What next – plagues of locusts as a punishment for our failure to recycle?” What a joker. Sardinia is experiencing its worst locust invasion in over 30 years, in large part because of the dry, hot weather.

The heatwave is “no crisis,” insisted Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun on Sunday. “We need to get a grip… Most people are actually enjoying a long-awaited blast of sunshine after a miserable Covid winter.” Does that include the commuters who, his newspaper says today, are “bracing for more rail chaos and school closures” or the 12 people who have “tragically” died in the UK during the heatwave?

Kavanagh continued: “True, this is a ‘Phew! What A Scorcher’ event, with temperatures heading for a record 41 degrees Celsius— uncomfortable but quite common in, say, Sicily, Spain and Australia.” Just in case he hasn’t noticed, though, the UK hasn’t become part of the Mediterranean basin. “People there carry on pretty much as usual,” he says. Yet nothing is normal at the moment about life in many parts of Portugal and Spain, where more than a thousand people have died in temperatures up to 46°C and wildfires rage. 

An explosion of “eco fear porn”, meanwhile, is troubling Dan Wootton in the MailOnline. Calls from medical experts to stay in the shade, travel as little as possible and hydrate are, says Wooton, simply more proof the UK is a land of workshy layabouts. Apparently, it is “staying at home that has damned us to our current predicament of a cost-of-living crisis, soaring taxes and millions who don’t fancy getting a job”. Good to know that rising energy and food prices are nothing to do with Russia invading Ukraine, but the result of “woke bosses accept[ing] lame excuses from staff members who can’t be bothered to come into the air conditioned office but are more than happy to ‘work’ from the park or the beach”.

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There is more than a hint of sexism and chauvinism in these outpourings. O’Neill talks about “infantile claims” around the causes of climate change and invokes how “unnatural climatic phenomena” in previous centuries were often pinned on “a great conspiracy of witches”. He insists modern environmentalists are searching for a “witch” or “sinner” to blame.

Wootton is outraged that a “grim-faced” Sky News reporter allowed Chloe Brimicombe, “a heatwave PhD researcher just out of nappies”, to express her views on protecting workers during very hot summers. 

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None of us should be calming down when greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, despite the masses of political rhetoric spouted on the need to take climate action. By all means sit in the shade and have an ice-cream. But then write to your local MP to pressure them to push for ambitious emissions-reducing policies.

[See also: How deadly could heatwaves in Europe get?]

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