Considering air con? That’s how much the UK’s climate has changed already

I don’t think I had a single conversation about air conditioning until 2005, when a burst of August weather that we would now consider a respite felt like the mouth of hell.

Sitting in a pub living some Smiths lyrics (gasping, dying, but somehow still alive), a lugubrious friend who took delight only from grim irony said: “If this carries on – which it will, because it’s not a freak event – everyone will want air conditioning, which will only make climate change worse.” I said: “Don’t be ridiculous; this is freak weather, not British weather. Nobody will want air conditioning, because it’s an Americanism, culturally anathema, like Halloween.” Fifteen years later, air con is all anyone talks about. I may also have been wrong about Halloween.

We were so hot last week that we got into full, five-way family combat about whether we would rather have air con or still have a coastline by 2100. This culminated in my 12-year-old insisting that he definitely would not be alive by then and me yelling: “You’ll be 92! That’ll be a spring chicken in 2100.”

It is so far south of moot, this point, because it is over my dead body. I don’t even believe in fans. I believe, implacably, that you should be able to tell exactly how hot it is outside from how hot you are inside. Install air con and you might as well be living in a shopping mall. Why not brick over your windows and put in a brow bar while you are at it?

But it was this conversation – or, more specifically, having a cross-generational argument about it – that rammed home how different things are. Generations have been separated before by epochal change, by wars and whatnot, but, emigres aside, we have always had a few constants – what good weather looks like, what hot means, whether April is indeed the cruellest month, whether or not to cast a clout before May is out. My kids are growing up in what is already a completely changed climate.

They can still whistle for air conditioning, though. Even when they have left home, it is on my disinherited list, right up there with motorbikes.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


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