The summer of 2022 will go down in the record books for scorching temperatures across Europe, and the resultant destruction from drought and wild fires. Many people, though, have looked at 40˚Celsius on the thermometer and have been alarmed not by the summer heatwave, but by the thought of the winter to come.
One of the climate shifts we are experiencing is of hotter summers and colder winters. High summer temperatures are certainly dangerous to the vulnerable but not nearly so dangerous as the risks of hypothermia when the mercury plummets. The NHS in England has already flagged up an imminent health crisis when people are unable to keep their homes adequately heated.
This winter the usual practice, for most of us reading this, of turning up the boiler and putting on the gas or electric fire will be less automatic. The rising cost of energy is already biting and forecasters predict that by Christmas it will leave millions in fuel poverty. In the UK the average monthly combined fuel tariff in 2021 was £140. It is now nearly £400 and rising. Although one-off targeted fuel support payments are being paid out, they will, if the pun be excused, barely touch the tip of this iceberg.
As this is a global crisis, exacerbated by the continuing war in Ukraine, it is understandable that we can feel helpless as householders when we watch our smart-meters tick through money we do not have. Helpless when the choice becomes between food and fuel for many already struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line.
Global problems need collaborative solutions, and better stewardship of our planet and its resources, though non-negotiable as a concept is still far from seeing many practical applications. It is perhaps the only positive of the current situation that a heightened sense of urgency in achieving sustainable and renewable energy will lead to real global progress in this area.
Meanwhile, our homes need to be heated. The thoughts which follow in no way minimize the crisis as set out above, but depending on our own circumstances offer some potential approaches to facing winter this year. As always in the home, actions and activities go hand in hand with attitudes. What we do reflects how we think, so here are a couple of things to think about.
The one single biggest change to how we live in our homes was not the television or indoor sanitation but central heating. Before central heating in most homes only one room would be heated – the kitchen where a fire heated food, water and the family. It was to this hearth that all the family members gathered – not necessarily out of fellow-feeling all of the time, but simply to keep warm. Nowadays with radiators or heat-sources in every room there is no need for such gathering or such a heart/hearth place. What if this winter we made a hot hub in our homes? It would not work for every household, but for many the decision to make one place the gathering spot and to spend time together there might have other benefits as well as cutting our heating bills.
People who are only in their seventies now have memories of growing up in city neighbourhoods where there were communal baths and bread ovens. Far from seeing these as signs of deprivation they are remembered as part of a time when the logistics and costs of hot water and getting domestic ovens hot enough to cook bread made them welcome amenities. No one is going to turn back this particular clock, but is it possible that we could take a turn in being a hot house? Inviting extended family, friends or neighbours to come and make the most of our heating and cooker for supper once a week – or however often – and enjoying having the compliment repaid by going to their hot house on another day.
Thinking about our lives as lived in relationship and in community with each other is the building block that enables a global joined-up energy policy. Not facing winter on our own; being prepared to share the warmth, physical and emotional, of our homes beyond our own front doors.