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  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

Too Hot to Blog

A blog inspired by a heat wave, about why I wrote it.

Honestly, I was considering cancelling one week’s blogging in response to how much the heat wave has set me back. Thanks to a generally minor condition, I get fatigue induced by high temperatures. The tiredness is bad, but the worse aspect of it is the mental fog (a concept I love in its metaphorical aptness). It is hard to come up with and execute a subject while inside this fog.

However, rather than cancel the blog, I have decided to reflect on the heat itself. Its meaning to me, it’s meaning more globally. (I use the word ‘global’ advisedly.) Every summer has become a kind of nightmare. Each year, as it closes in, I anticipate the thickly, damp hotness of it with dread.

Right now, I have my fan on, my windows open. On the bottom right of my computer screen a little weather icon shows and oranging yellowy orb like a threat. If I move away from the artificial coolness I generate around my desk, I will be sweating in moments. I feel compelled to be sedentary. It is not even 10am and I am already exhausted.

The problem, in part, is that the UK is not built for this weather. Our homes are heat sinks, without even the horrifically polluting relief of air conditioning. Moreover, as an island, Britain has a lot of humidity. It is a cliché that when people arrive here from technically hotter but drier places, they find the wetness of our warmer days unbearable, incomparable to their former climes.

To place the blame on the ecological crisis of global warming is liable to be met with rolling eyes. But it undoubtedly is the case. A study from Bristol University and the University of East Anglia's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, puts it aptly and terrifyingly: ‘extreme hot days, are projected to warm up to 50 per cent faster than the average rate of global warming.’

Global warming (a better term than climate change, which is pathetically anodyne about the slow destruction of the habitability of earth for much life, including human life) does not impact all of us equally. It does not even impact us all equally within the more protected spheres of the world. But it will and inevitably impact all of us eventually, and to some extent without consistent regard for our relative protectedness.

Not long before writing this, floods impacted my end of London. I was walking home and could not traverse a walk tunnel because it was now an underground stream. I told a young family to not even try, that the water is dangerous. Meanwhile cars waded through streams of water that were once roads.

Navigating a motorway crossing to get home, I met a young man who insisted some vague ‘they’ were responsible. That the rains were not ‘that bad’ and so someone in authority must have blocked the drains, to lend credence (in his mind) to the idea that global warming was responsible. He was desperate to have his conspiracy heard and believed.

Around the same time far worse floods hit and devastated Germany. And interviews at the time revealed a certain pattern. ‘You don't expect people to die in a flood in Germany,’ said one woman, ‘You expect it maybe in poor countries.’ Another, a man, observed, ‘You can imagine this sort of thing happening in Asia but not here.’ Neither were trading in conspiracy, but like my conspiracist, there was a refusal to accept.

The heat is not as cataclysmic as a flash flood, but that eye rolling I mention is a cousin to this type of response. The metabolic rift, the general misalignment between Nature and human production under a set of historically contingent social relations, has more manifestations than just cataclysmic weather. A pandemic like Covid-19 is one, which people also steadfastly refuse to accept. And even when they do, find it hard to do so.

This has all been quite well theorised. In their book The Imperial Mode of Living, Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen identify the ideological justifications and infrastructure that others the consequences of contemporary capitalism and dehumanizes victims who are always framed as elsewhere.

The concept of the ‘imperial mode of living’ points towards the norms of production, distribution and consumption built into the political, economic and cultural structures of everyday life for the populations of the global North. And it works, increasingly, in the countries with ‘emerging economies’ of the global South, as well. However, we mean not only material practices but also, and especially, the structural conditions and guiding social principles and discourses that make these practices possible. To put it pointedly: the standards of a ‘good’ and ‘proper’ life, even when they are a part of comprehensive societal relations, and especially of material and social infrastructures.

The authors use this to aptly explain the push to the far right in many imperial countries, seeing in it an alignment of different class interests against those people who are elsewhere. The people in ‘Asia but not here’, the people ‘in poor countries’.

[W]e considered the rise of the extreme right to be an attempt by relevant forces, mainly in the global North, to safeguard the imperial mode of living by authoritarian means against the claims of those who hitherto had been excluded from the mode of living or had been condemned to bear its socio-ecological costs.

I quote from this book extensively because I wish to impress on you that it is highly worthwhile reading. It explains the seeming irrationality of so many responses to these now omnipresent conditions better than anything I could articulate here.

It is very hot in the UK right now. The heat presages so much worse. Covid-19 presages so much worse too. I find it hard to think in my current fatigued state, but I worry far more about the fog of ideology than my mental fog. An ideology that has people witnessing flash floods and soul crushing temperatures only to say, ‘but surely not here?’ or ‘but surely a plot, a contrivance by malign and sinister interests?’

It is here, now, it is too hot, it is flooding, it is a pandemic. And while we are not all equally responsible for the systems of domination that got us here, we should all be compelled—no matter what systemic incentives we are temporarily given to look the other way—to dismantle those systems. It is too hot to say anything, to do anything, which is why we must.


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