The way the British media is reporting today’s heatwave, you’d think the country had been reduced to smouldering ash, the few survivors huddling for shade in burnt out dwellings. “Blowtorch Britain”, “Meltdown Monday”… you get the idea.
The Hound has glanced across a number of news websites on the continent to get a flavour of how the rest of Europe is facing up to this heatwave. It seems things are rather worse over there…
Yes, some of our schools are shut, and trains cancelled, but we have not had to evacuate thousands of people from towns and campsites due to the threat of nearby wildfires. We have not had to contend with the destruction of houses, restaurants and thousands of hectares of farm land. And, thankfully, we have not faced hundreds of heat-related deaths.
In France, Spain and across southern parts of Europe, they are not so lucky.
What’s interesting is the tendency, across the continent and at home, to plunder the dictionary for military language and metaphors to talk about the heatwave.
The Daily Mail talks about Brits “battling” the heat, rather than simply enduring it.
France 24 refers to “water-bomber aircraft“, and we’re introduced to “firefighting commander Miguel Fonseca” in Portugal Resident.
In the same piece we’re told that “the Castelo Branco fire … [has] advanced at a rate of 2.5 kms/ hour.” The fire is personified; it is a living, breathing enemy, a great army, and counter-attacks must be mounted.
Some will wince at all this, no doubt. But perhaps in the long run it’s no bad thing. A 2017 Harvard study showed that people tended to take climate change more seriously when the language and metaphors used to describe it were those of war, in contrast with the less alarming “race” framing – the UN refers to humanity’s “race against climate change”.
Things aren’t so bad in Britain. But for those elsewhere in Europe on the frontline – see how easy it is? – talking about fighting an enemy makes more sense. We’d do well to remember how lucky we are.