A Well-Adapted Cambridge

Climate Change is kicking in: In July 2022 Cambridge reached 39.9C and September 2023 peaked at an astonishing 32.8C. Experts think that peak temperatures in Cambridge could well reach around 45C by 2050. The impacts are stunning scientists, with wildfires, cracking buildings, power failures and melting roads all combining with unbearable heat. When this sort of polycrisis hits, it’s very difficult to respond.

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It’s clear that we need to tackle the root causes of climate change by dramatically reducing our fossil fuel use, but also that we need to take action now to improve our resilience. This is why the Committee on Climate Change has been calling for the government to develop a vision for a “Well Adapted UK” together with the targets, metrics and policy measures to achieve it.

A Well-Adapted Cambridge

So what would a “Well-Adapted Cambridge” be like?  

Thinking just about resilience against heatwaves, we would have LOTS of tree-lined streets and greenery, because they provide shade and the transpiration helps cool the city.  One estimate has suggested that one mature tree provides as much cooling as 10 air conditioners. Should we replace a proportion of car parking spaces with greenery, aiming to have a mature tree within 50m of every home?

Water is good for keeping people cool, so the Cam and its streams are a precious resource. The river would be safe and clean for swimmers.  There would be lots of safe places for small children to paddle in the water, or for elderly people to sit beside the water and enjoy the shade and coolness.  There would be lots of pools, flowing water and public drinking fountains.

The city might look a little different. Just as in traditional architecture in southern Europe, all windows, particularly south and west facing ones, would have external shading to keep out the summer sun: shutters, external blinds, ‘brise soleil’ and awnings would be common.

White painted walls and roofs would be common.

There would be grants and advice to help people protect themselves and those they loved.

Currently there is no legal maximum indoor temperature, but the TUC is calling for one, and suggesting its set at 30C.

In a Well-Adapted Cambridge, employers, schools, colleges, care-homes and hospitals would all have agreed to install passive measures to try and keep below this limit.  They’d have agreed to avoid using air conditioning wherever possible, because this just exports the heat to the rest of the city.

This would help protect vulnerable occupants. No longer would kids and teachers be baking in school classrooms with large areas of unshaded, south facing windows.  No longer would elderly people suffer heart attacks in unbearably hot, unshaded, south facing rooms.

Today, children are frightened: A Unicef survey showed that 90% are worried about climate change.  By visibly working towards a “Well Adapted Cambridge” we would show that there’s hope. That we’re trying to put things right.

That, if nothing else, should be a reason to get on with it.

 See our video of Baroness Brown discussing Cambridgeshire’s Climate Risks: https://carbonneutralcambridge.org/agm-2023/