By Keira Power (

(To submit an article to our “First Summer After COVID” theme email for features)

Perhaps it doesn’t look dramatic, but this is considering that only about 2-5 degrees change is needed globally for our world to start becoming uninhabitable. 

2022 summer heatwave

Cast your mind back, past the last two months to the final week of the school year. What do you remember? The excitement of the start of summer? The amazing school trips? 

Regardless, what will remain with us for many summers to come is the extreme heat.  A blast of Saharan-like air that shortened the school day, abolished the uniform and generally made everyone irritable after the first day of 30-degree heat. However, apart from the insomniacs among us showcasing their ability to survive on 2 hours of sleep, we didn’t really consider this a serious issue. In this country we spend the winter complaining about the cold, so many of us relished the chance to relax in the sun. However, this apparent phenomenon may have far more disastrous consequences than we would have realised at the time. 

In September the Met Office declared that temperatures above 40 degrees are “virtually impossible” without the aid of human induced climate change. Whilst we all recognise that climate change is universally bad for both the planet and ourselves, people may not see the little ways that these heatwaves take Earth one step closer to dangerous temperatures. For example, in Gloucester 12000 newly planted trees, out of a project involving 12800 trees, died as a direct result of the heatwave- that’s 95%. This has drastic effects for forests and polluted cities, as trees photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. For humans this has two benefits, the first being the production of oxygen so that we can breathe. Whilst the second is that carbon dioxide is the main contributor to the greenhouse effect, so removing it helps to reverse the effect of global warming. Now if you take into account that since the Industrial Revolution, around 1830, the number of trees in the country has been declining as we mindlessly use up land for cities and houses, we have lost most of our wooded areas. In fact, in 1919 we had just 5% of woodland covered areas left. As the heat annihilates the young saplings planted to combat this issue, we allow more and more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. 

Another issue is that our climate is not meant for this level of prolonged heat, it’s not natural for the Northern hemisphere. The natural conclusion, therefore, would be to say that this heatwave was a direct consequence of previous rising temperatures. However, according to some you can’t pin the blame for a single weather event on climate change- there simply isn’t enough scientific backing as to why global warming would appear to have affected just a few weeks in July and August. Despite this, it clearly indicates that over the past few decades the yearly summer high has been increasing, from 35.9 degrees in 1976, to 38.7 degrees in 2019 and 40.3 degrees in 2022. Whilst I have only selected data from significant heatwaves the change is quite dramatic- in the 3 years between 2019 and 2022 the summer high rose by 1.6 degrees. Perhaps it doesn’t look dramatic, but this is considering that only about 2-5 degrees change is needed globally for our world to start becoming uninhabitable. 

Quite apart from the environmental issues, there are pressures on the NHS from heat-related illnesses. These illnesses may not be apparent immediately but the more time we must spend in the direct glare of the sun the more likely we are- even when smothered with factor 50 sun cream- to develop skin cancer. Whilst this is certainly distressing for individuals, it is also extremely expensive for the NHS, which we all know doesn’t get enough funding as it is. The more of us who either neglect, forget or even don’t re-apply sun cream during extreme heat, the more pressure we are placing on our vital health service as well as compromising our own futures. Another malevolent health issue related to heat is heat stroke; it is estimated that there were 3000 more deaths this summer in the over-65 categories than since 2004. This is because the elderly have less adaptive bodies than younger people, they are also more likely to have a pre- existing condition that makes heat extremely dangerous for them. 

Climate deniers may relate the abnormal weather to the 1975 heatwaves and drought; however, I would like to point out that though the droughts faced back then were, I will admit, severe, the drought faced by most English counties, particularly those in the South- East, were both much more extensive and dangerous as the population is larger. The 2022 heatwave lasted for longer at a higher temperature which led to ongoing drought well past the initial heatwave and throughout the summer. 

In conclusion, this year’s heatwave was nothing short of painful and, if the statistics are right, then we will be getting this same sort of “freak” weather for the next few years, until we find a way to limit the effects of global warming or face the consequences in forest fires and floods.  

EXTRA READING: The health effects of hotter summers and heat waves in the population of the United Kingdom: a review of the evidence | Environmental Health | Full Text (