Has the time come for us to siesta?
By David Penney
The meteorological events of the last week have been something of a wake-up call.
Regardless of your thoughts on how we reached this point, what is absolutely clear is that we should no longer be talking about climate change in the future tense.
As has been well reported, on Tuesday we experienced the highest ever temperatures in the UK with England recording a temperature above 40 degrees for the first time - an increase of almost two degrees from the previous record.
If you break this down across the regions, this week’s temperatures are even more remarkable, with the new record in Wales more than four degrees higher than the previous highest temperature.
These temperature rises are the result of just an average one-degree global rise in temperatures and so even if humanity is able to keep global rises to 1.5 degrees as per the 2015 Paris Agreement - which will be a huge challenge in itself - we need to accept that the UK must now adapt to the reality of a much warmer future.
In terms of achieving the global temperature target of 1.5 degrees, we must all play our part and hopefully after the experience of this week, redouble our efforts.
I have talked before about our own commitment at Penney Financial Partners to reducing our carbon footprint as well as our own individual responsibilities when it comes to living more sustainable lives.
However, while businesses should be looking at every opportunity to become carbon neutral in the future as a bare minimum, we must also be looking at the best ways to mitigate the temperatures that are already here, and likely to increase in the years ahead.
There has not been any reliable data yet about the impact on productivity of the extreme temperatures from Monday and Tuesday, but I think we can safely assume that it fell off a cliff.
With less than five per cent of homes in the UK having air conditioning, those many millions still working from home either part or full time would have had had few opportunities to escape the worst of the heat.
Ironically, the best place to be on Monday or Tuesday was probably in an air-conditioned office but with melting tarmac, multiple car fires and buckling rail tracks, good luck getting into the office – or for many who did make it in, getting home.
An oft heard response to the general weather-induced chaos this week has been to bemoan our inability as a society to manage the challenges of extreme heat, when many of our European neighbours seem to manage just fine, never mind those living in further flung climes where extreme temperatures have long been the norm.
The reality is of course that we are not prepared for these temperatures because we have never had to. Our infrastructure is not built to withstand such heat and neither is our own physiology.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that humans do eventually adapt to hot climates as the blood concentrations of water and salt adjust to allow greater cooling but this happens over a period of weeks or months – if heatwaves come in short bursts then our bodies will continue to suffer.
It would seem that if we are going to manage the impact of climate change and these extreme weather events then we are going to have to consider practical changes to how we work otherwise accept productivity will suffer as a result – something that can probably be absorbed in the short term but not really a long-term solution.
The truth is that it may well be the time for us to consider switching to a more Mediterranean approach to working hours and working environments to ensure that we can properly function during the hot summer months.
Workplace design will become increasingly important with more trees and shaded spaces to keep people cool and hybrid indoor/outdoor spaces such as courtyards, verandas and colonnades that are a key aspect of continental office design.
Office air-conditioning is an absolute pre-requisite but with their high energy consumption, the argument for investing in renewable energy such as solar panels really has never been stronger.
And when it comes to the working day itself, perhaps the time has come for us to consider the siesta model where people start work earlier, and often work later, but engage in restful activities during the hottest hours of the afternoon.
It may seem a little extreme to be thinking in these terms after just two days of extreme heat and considering the strength of the debate around working from home, the likelihood of employers buying into a work pattern where staff disappear for three hours for a lie down does currently seem a little fanciful.
However, if the next heatwave comes along and lasts for a week or two at temperatures even greater than we experienced this week, the wake-up call could be the ones we are giving our colleagues in the late afternoon to come back to work.