In case you haven’t noticed, it’s seriously hot. Not just hot, but the heatwave that is ripping across Europe is currently smashing through previous records, mirroring predictions of the devastating effects of climate change – except it’s happening 30 years before scientists originally thought.
England is currently melting under temperatures expected to reach 41 °C (106 °F) and recently experienced the hottest night on record, places in France topped 43 °C on Monday, and Spain is experiencing raging wildfires. The UK government was forced to release the first-ever amber warning for the risk of life the heat poses, urging residents to stay inside.
With all that said, you would expect many people to finally become more aware of the real impacts of climate change – after all, this heatwave isn’t even happening during El Nino, which typically brings high temperatures. However, many have instead taken the stance that these temperatures are barely noteworthy, because in 1976 the UK saw almost the same heat. So, is 1976 even slightly comparable to this heatwave, or is it just climate denialism?
The 1976 heatwave versus 2022
In 1976, the UK experienced the highest temperatures since records began. England and Ireland experienced severe drought while the intense heat hit over 30 °C for 16 days in a row, and the summer was one of the warmest and driest in the entire 20th Century; it was also attributed to 20 percent “excess deaths” during the heatwave period.
At its peak, the summer of 1976 saw a high of 35.9 °C. Yet despite the high temperatures, this was an incredibly rare event that was not seen again for many years.
Let’s compare that to the 2022 heatwave. Temperatures are expected to peak at 41 °C, but they have already soared past 1976 with some places experiencing 40 °C, breaking the previous record. Yet, that record was set just three years ago in 2019, when 38.7 °C was experienced in Cambridge, UK. The rate at which records are currently being set is startling, and the consistency of hot, dry summers is becoming more apparent.
Over the last 30 years, the average temperature has risen according to a 2020 Met Office climate report, and nine out of ten of the hottest days on record have happened in that period.
"1976 was indeed a heatwave and we have had heatwaves before, but the point is they're happening more often and they're becoming more intense," says Proffessor Hannah Cloke, climate scientist at the University of Reading, in a statement to the BBC.
But that’s not all. Not only is the UK boiling at a scale far beyond 1976, but the entire globe is. Taking a map of climate anomalies from NASA, it becomes evident that the 1976 heatwave was significantly less widespread and far less intense compared to the 2022 heatwave.
Therefore, in the last two years, the UK and other countries have experienced heatwaves that make 1976 pale in comparison, making and breaking new records as they go. The average temperature has risen, anomalous events like now are becoming more intense and frequent, and both the Met Office and raw data state that both these factors directly link back to climate change. Maybe it’s time to take notice.