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Caught unprepared: the red-alert heat wave in the UK

The episode of extreme hot weather forecast for the first half of next week when the temperature could hit 40 degrees C highlights the changing climate we are all experiencing here and globally. This is also a precursor of what is in store for us in the future. The scientific community has been telling this for many decades now but time and again we are finding ourselves unprepared for such events when they hit us. The signs are loud and clear but the short-term nature of many decisions is prioritising quick gains over long-term sustained wellbeing of the society.

As temperatures rise, the overheated homes are becoming unbearable for the residents. Roads are going to melt, making travelling difficult. Commuters will face train and underground rail disruptions and travelling will be more problematic. Rising demand for water is leading to water scarcity although most part of the country receives sufficient rain throughout the year. The rising temperature is bringing bad news for the power supply network. Higher temperature prompts more energy demand but unusually calm weather is likely to reduce wind power generation. In a situation of energy crisis, the red-alert is aggravating the problem.

The insulated homes, designed for better comfort and warmth in winter months, lack proper ventilation and cooling systems. Even the table fans or pedestal fans are not enough to provide adequate air circulation. People are not complaining much about this issue until now due to limited occurrence of high temperature episodes in an otherwise damp and relatively cold country. But imagine what happens if the hot weather becomes a permanent feature within the next decade. The overheating issue will be a regular feature of our homes and thermal discomfort and heat-related health issues will aggravate, particularly exposing the vulnerable section of the population.

The issue is not limited to residences alone. Hospitals, office buildings, commercial buildings, shops and all premises will face the same challenge. The short-term response will be to go for ad-hoc solutions (e.g. air coolers, air conditioners) that will increase energy demand rapidly, and impose further stress on the energy network. This will also increase the energy security concerns during extreme weather conditions, adding further worry of energy disruption and higher energy bills for the society.

The solution lies in taking a holistic perspective. We need to take the climate challenge seriously and addressing the long-term challenge will bring short-term benefits as well.

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