When we decided that this month’s theme at Clitbait should be heat, I wanted to write a love letter to the sun. I wanted to write about how nourished I feel by its warmth. My world comes alive when it is illuminated and dripping in sunlight.
I grew up in London, a city notorious for the endless rain. I go to university in Edinburgh, which is equally famous for three o’clock sunsets and freezing, toe-curling winds. When I’m stepping out of my warm home and straight into the embrace of a biting gust of wind, I sometimes feel like my life is the sequel to ‘March of the Penguins’. I don’t feel as happy or healthy or fulfilled when I’m cold. So I was going to take my burning hot passion and write a damn love letter for the burning hot sun.
But two events stopped me. First, a call from my grandma who lives in Lahore, Pakistan.
‘It is so hot!’ she wailed down the phone.
‘I’m so jealous!’ I wailed back.
But when I looked up the heat in Pakistan, my jealousy morphed into horror and then pity pretty quickly. Highs of fifty-three degrees – three degrees past the threshold towards boiling point. The ground is so hot that the plastic shoes are melting. And what if you don’t have shoes? The human body cannot withstand that kind of heat, let alone other living organisms like crops. The sun that I so deeply yearn for in the UK is setting Pakistan, my other home, ablaze.
Just a few days later I woke up to the news that Athens was on fire. Literally. Wildfires prompted by the intense heat destroyed parts of the city. I looked aghast at pictures of thick, black smoke and wild orange skies. I spent the early part of this year in Athens volunteering. I left part of my heart there. So to see aerial shots of it set totally alight made me feel nauseous. I checked in with friends who live in volatile housing situations. Many people suffer from natural disasters, but your suffering is probably only documented if you have legal status.
It doesn’t feel appropriate to write something beautiful about how I yearn for heat when two places that I love are burning. And I’m not ignorant about climate change, I know that this is not the first (or last) year that countries have documented dangerously high temperatures. Maybe I’m selfish, but I struggle to contextualize or connect to pictures of vast glaciers crashing down. I’ve grown up watching David Attenborough documentaries and I know the drill: ‘Planet Earth is rapidly changing…’. But melting glaciers seem very far away. They almost don’t seem real.
What is real to me is the lived experience of my loved ones. My friends who are choked by smoke or my grandmother who cannot breathe in the heat. The UK has not experienced a sustained heatwave this year, but climate change has led to mass flooding. My friend’s house flooded, and all her books were destroyed. She said it was worse than any breakup she had ever had. But she was lucky – it could have been worse.
When things get hot, they also get trippy. The sky is not meant to be orange, and it should not be possible to see fires in the middle of the ocean. I recently heard that people have started to buy land in the UK to grow champagne grapes. Champagne country in France will soon be too hot to grow them. What will we call champagne when it no longer comes from Champagne? Although champagne is the least of our fucking worries. The climate change migration is set to be one of the biggest challenges facing us. There were fifty-five million economic migrants at the end of 2020, and with the way this year is shaping up, nobody anticipates that number going down. The phrase ‘going to hell in a handcart’ comes to mind.
So I ended up writing about heat and the sun. It’s not exactly the glowing piece I had initially envisioned, but it is red-hot because I am so angry that we keep demanding better and that Boris will still fly to Cornwall in a helicopter to the G7 Summit. That whole embarrassing, infuriating and frankly just lame episode encapsulates the Global North’s approach to climate change: total apathy. I don’t know if it’s dumb to have faith; but still, I keep my fingers crossed that tomorrow the sun won’t shine down on the world with such force.
Laila Ghaffar, Co-Founder
Photo via Unsplash.