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Barbecue Weather in Winter Should Freak Us All Out

The bizarre existential dread that comes with weather that's actually nice before Pancake Day.

by Joe Sandler Clarke
08 March 2019, 3:05pm

A traditional February scene in the UK (Lisa Howeler / Alamy Stock Photo)

Last week, Instagram asked me if I was thinking about "cracking out the barbecue".

We’d not even had Pancake Day, but that didn't stop Londoners from doing exactly what Instagram suggested. All across the city, people stood around back gardens as a shirtless friend of a friend cremated a packet of Taste the Difference sausages.

"Isn't the weather lovely?" they asked each other, as if it was normal for February.

As temperatures in the UK crept passed 20 degrees, I spent most of last week feeling almost paralysed by dread. It's not just the fact that I've developed a near all-consuming obsession with climate change in recent years, I think I'm also predisposed to getting caught up in the existential. Born at another time, I might have worried about the prospect of nuclear war or Spanish flu.

"Why can’t you just enjoy yourself?" my Tudor girlfriend would have asked.

"Bubonic plague," I’d sigh, looking up at the clouds.

But it’s not just me. Nick Bridge, the top climate diplomat at the Foreign Office, tweeted last week that the weather had made him feel the "deepest existential unease".

For teenagers and 20-somethings, it’s unfortunate that we have to make a way for ourselves at this time. That we have to deal with a crisis that’s not our fault. But it’s important that we do. We can’t let sunbathing in February become normal. Our natural world and the eco-systems that support life on earth just won’t survive if we do.

So far, the explosion of greenhouse gas emissions that came with industrialisation have raised global temperatures about 1 degree above pre-industrial levels. Already, that temperature rise has played havoc with much of the world.

Last year there were 14 climate-related disasters in the US that cost more than $1 billion in damages, according to National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). A report by Christian Aid found that floods, droughts and fires around the world cost almost $100 billion. This is to say nothing of the human suffering caused by these events.

And yet we go on. Soaking up the sunshine. Cracking out the barbecue. Humans have an extraordinary ability to make do and mend. A timely new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at responses by US Twitter users to extreme weather events and found that while the first unusual heatwave or blizzard prompts a flurry of social media comments and discussion, similar events are barely noticed the second time around.

This natural inclination to normalise is fed by our economic system. When it’s not flogging grilled-halloumi burger recipes in February, our rapacious, globalised form of capitalism is working out new ways to keep the show on the road, even as civilisation falls apart.

The British non-profit CDP asks major companies to submit a report every year detailing their climate impact, and report on any opportunities they might see from global warming. The submissions should put pay to any idea that the corporate world will be able to innovate us out of the climate crisis.

"As people begin to experience severe weather events with greater frequency, we expect an increasing need for confidence and preparedness in the arena of personal safety and the well-being of loved ones," Apple wrote in its report.

The company adds that iPhones "can serve as a flashlight or a siren; they can provide first aid instructions; they can act as a radio; and they can be charged for many days via car batteries or even hand cranks".

Google acknowledges that increased global temperatures could hit its advertising revenue, but notes that "if customers value Google Earth Engine as a tool to examine the physical changes to the Earth's natural resources and climate, this could result in increased customer loyalty or brand value".

Can you imagine the people writing this.

"Sandra, have you finished that report on how your unborn child will live in a world where they have to use their £500 iPhone as a heavy object to beat their neighbours to death as they scavenge for food?"

"Oh sorry, Mark. I was just at lunch."

We all live in a kind of denial for most of our lives. We’re all going to die, but we spend whole days playing Fifa, or spaced out in front of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or coming up with the perfect line for our Tudor girlfriend to say.

We can’t think about death all the time. That would just be depressing. In the same way, we can’t obsess over climate change. But we can live as if life is a precious thing, where every day can be used as an opportunity to make the world a little better. Where panic can drives us to action.

So much of the modern world is crap. There has to be a better society out there.

Next time you find yourself in some old friend's garden, eating supermarket coleslaw on an unseasonably warm day, and someone you’ve not spoken to since freshers' week comments on "how nice the weather has been lately", don’t agree with them: tell them we should all be freaked out.

Joe Sandler Clarke is a reporter for Unearthed .

@JSandlerClarke