For 17 days this June and July I traveled through northern Europe – first in London, England for business, then in Scotland and Norway for pleasure. The conversations I had in each country had a loud and resounding theme: It’s hot out.
Upon arriving in London on June 22, my extended family welcomed me with affirmation that bright, sunny days come in bursts in England and there might not be sunshine and warmth during my whole stay. Throughout the business trip, colleagues kept apologizing for the heat – “It’s not normally this warm out.” (I had to remind them that I live in Washington DC, where the heat and humidity are oppressive. They gawked at my explanation of stepping out of my air-conditioned home to the outdoors where my sunglasses would immediately fog up.)
Every night of my business trip, I went out to local haunts with friends or coworkers and inevitably, weather made its way into the conversation. Weather is one of the easiest ice-breakers for starting a conversation or filling in gaps when you’ve run out of things to say. This wasn’t the case. It felt like the weather was affecting everyone personally, whether they were enjoying time in the sun or ready for a respite of cool temps and cloud cover.
Parks were peppered with people throughout the city: every square inch of grass was being used by city dwellers so unaccustomed to consistent sun. One colleague noted, “It rains so much and is often so cloudy, you don’t know when you’ll get the next sunny day. Everyone’s taking advantage.”
In Scotland, it was much of the same. My friends couldn’t get over how “lucky” I was to see Scotland in this way. “This isn’t usual Scotland weather,” my friend Sarah said. We even made a stop to a Tesco to get sun cream before heading out one day otherwise she and her fiancé would “burn to a crisp.”
I traveled north into the Cairgnorms National Park in Scotland, where I saw frequent Fire Warning signs. Camp fires were prohibited because it was so dry and wildfires could spread so easily. Around this time, I became aware of the wildfires ravaging England, officially declared a UK disaster, the heatwave directly to blame. One morning after hiking to the top of a local hill, I encountered three Scotsmen in their 70s. “Beautiful day, huh?” I offered in a bouncy tone, happy to be outside and active. “Yea. Unusual. But can’t complain,” one fella returned dryly. We talked at length about our respective travels, the wildfires, and US politics.
Assuming it would be cooler further north, I set out for Norway, prepared with sweaters and jackets. However, in Oslo, daytime temperature crept into the high 20°s (that’s 85°+ in F). “We Norwegians are not used to this,” my friend Haakon laughed, after telling me there was no air conditioning in the apartment.
The most meaningful conversation about weather I had was further north in Norway, in Ulvik. I was staying at an old farmhouse, the grounds of which were covered in orchards of cherries, apples, plums and more. My host, Berit, talked about her harvest while we picked cherries one day. “It’s been dry, very dry,” she said, and I recalled seeing more fire warnings and campfire prohibitions on my drive north.
“We have not had a summer this dry in over 50 years, maybe 100. I’m 70 years old and I don’t remember a summer this dry.”
Inevitably, the dryness will affect her orchard, which could then affect food supply, which will then affect prices of available foods, the impact of which will be felt by everyone.
Over those 17 days, not once was climate change mentioned. And that’s okay. To me, for everyone to agree that it’s hot out, that this weather isn’t normal, is evidence of changing perceptions. Though there is distrust of the media these days, we trust our fellow citizen. So let’s listen to each other. The extent of increasing wildfires is unprecedented – affecting the drinking water of 28 million people in the UK and costing over £55 million annually. That’s not to mention the homes affected, lives of firefighters put at increasing risk, and ecosystem degradation. Crops that fail to grow because of dry and hot conditions will affect our global food supply and cost more money to afford. Food is a right, not a luxury. And for regions home to fair-skinned people, increased sun exposure could surely lead to skin problems or cancer.
The omnipresent theme in my conversations the past 17 days comes as no surprise as I return home: The Washington Post has reported all-time heat records across the globe in the past week alone. I trust the reporting. I trust my fellow citizen. Let’s keep these conversations going. Our future depends on it.