THIS week has seen Ireland basking in record high temperatures.
Although West Cork enjoyed temperatures in the high twenties, we didn’t quite see the uncomfortably high and record-breaking 30+ degrees which were experienced in Dublin and other midland locations.
But should we really be using the word ‘enjoyed’ in connection with summer temperatures at all?
There is a tendency in a country that often ‘suffers’ rain-sodden Junes and Julys to embrace any kind of summer heat. There have been many commentators – climate experts, mostly – writing or speaking in the media this week, blaming those same media for glamorising the heatwaves by using images of ice-cream, packed beaches, kids jumping off piers and headlines welcoming the long-awaited summer, when really (they say) we should be shouting ‘Climate Crisis!’ from the rooftops instead.
But the reality is, it is not just the media that likes to welcome the sun into our Irish lives, after months of grey days and damp weekends.
As Irish folk, it is basically in our DNA to welcome a bit of heat into our bones.
Stand around any water cooler this week, or even a queue for an iced coffee, and you will find people commenting on the fact that our summers are most definitely getting warmer, and that the conditions in central Europe this week are no joke.
Welcoming the sunshine but acknowledging the increasing threat to the planet does not need to be mutually exclusive.
There is no doubt that the majority of people in West Cork breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the temperature stop climbing when it hit 26 degrees on Monday.
Our proximity to the coast here meant we availed of a cool breeze most days this week, although there were still some worrying hill fires, and Clonakilty and Coppeen were named as locations where water levels were causing issues for the utility supplying them.
And therein lies another major problem – with the increasing heat, and associated droughts that we are expected to experience most years from now on, the scarcity of that essential resource will become a massive headache for governments.
Although we are on an island, past administrations have shied away from controversial options like expensive desalination plants and extending reservoir facilities and have largely kept their heads in the very dry sand about finding solutions to the contentious water supply issue.
It is unlikely water charges will be a popular subject for any prospective government, and yet we need to fund ways to sort out what is going to become one of the most pressing issues of the next few decades, if temperatures continue to rise.
It is almost unbelievable to think that, despite all of this week’s startling scenes from Europe of wildfires, scorched earth and even fatalities due to heat exhaustion, there are still those people who are climate change deniers.
We don’t have to look too far for them, either. Any random scroll on any given social media network will unveil plenty of them. The ‘sure I remember a hot summer 30 years ago too’ brigade.
But what they fail to see is that it is not the occurrence of these hot summers that is worrying – it is the frequency and regularity of them in the past two decades.
Climate change commentator Peter Thorne of Maynooth University wrote last week that it is not just the daily temperatures that we need to worry about – but the aggregated heat they lead to – the ground and our buildings do not get a chance to recover and so they accumulate the heat after several days of exposure – so our bodies are not recovering, either. For those adults who are young and fit, this may not seem such a concern. But for the very young, the elderly, or those with Covid, or breathing issues, it could put even more pressure on our ailing health services.
The climate crisis has tentacles reaching out into so many areas – at a micro level it is affecting our relations, our friends, our pets, the farmers, the utility companies, the economy. It is hard to find a sector or group of people that will not be touched by it in some way. On a macro level, it will lead – and is already leading – to climate migration, the devastation of vast swathes of land, and an energy and food crisis.
Whatever way you look at it, it is a matter of life and death.