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March 1, 2019

The Hundred Acre Wood is burning down as UK temperatures reach record highs

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Photo of Ashdown Forest by David Brooker licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While my esteemed colleagues in the Melville House Brooklyn office are experiencing freezing conditions, in the UK we’re living through the hottest winter on record. It’s debatable as to when ‘records began’ but we’re looking at sometime around the 1880s. A high of 21.2C (70.2F) was recorded in Kew Gardens, south-west London this week. Bizarre to think that this time last year, much of the UK was covered in snow with lows dipping to -5C (23F).

This week an abundance of crazies have been parading around in shorts and sandals (it’s not that warm people, get a grip) and the glorious sunshine has been welcomed. Yet these highly unusual temperatures have brought dark tidings.

Ashdown Forest in East Sussex was the the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. Just north of the forest, A.A. Milne had his country home at Cotchford Farm. He and his son, Christopher Robin, would explore the forest together. Now it’s on fire, with 90 acres affected. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation, but it is generally thought to be ‘accidental’: the unusually warm weather has meant the ground was drier than usual. Forest fires also broke out in Edinburgh and north Wales. Martin Bowles, a Met Office meteorologist, told Aamna Mohdin at The Guardian:

The average temperature for this time of year is 9C in London and 9C in north Wales, so what we’re seeing is 10 degrees above average.

We can’t blame climate change directly because we’re talking about weather, not the climate. But it is a sign of climate change. There’s been a gradual increase of temperatures over the last 30 years so the extreme weather has also been increasing.

While Pooh and friends are getting roasted alive (In Which Pooh Smells Burning…) and ecosystems are destroyed, air pollution from forest fires is building. According to King’s College air pollution scientist Gary Fuller, author of the Melville House book The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution—and How to Fight Back, “global air pollution from such fires has been estimated to cause around 330,000 early deaths in an average year.” Terrifying stuff. And The US government’s mandated Climate Assessment Report, which we have just published as book The Climate Report, goes further to link forest fires to climate change:

“As the climate warms, projected increases in wildfire frequency and area burned are expected to drive up costs associated with health effects, loss of homes and infrastructure, and fire suppression… Increased wildfire activity is also expected to reduce the opportunity for and enjoyment of outdoor recreation activities, affecting quality of life as well as tourist economies.”

These are serious issues we need to understand and start taking action on. Now. But depressingly, most media coverage of the Ashdown Forest fire in the UK doesn’t even mention climate change or air pollution—not in the Independent, The Sun, The Metro, or the BBC.

The warmth is about to end with heavy showers soon to hit the UK, lowering the temperature to a more normal 11C (51.8F),  but that doesn’t mean we should blindly forget or ignore these unusual spikes we’re experiencing. How are we supposed to understand the direct (or indirect) consequences of human action on climate change and the environment if we don’t talk about it? How many fictional character have to suffer from smoke inhalation before we act? That’s why books like The Climate Report and The Invisible Killer are so important and why we are proud to publish them.

 

 

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.

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