The temperatures in New York hit a relatively modest high of 35.5C (96F) this week, as everyone looked across the Atlantic towards Britain. For Americans, almost 90% of whom have some form of air conditioning, heatwave Britain appears a mystifying place, where the trains stop running and the runways melt. In the US, the idea of schools shutting for the hot weather equivalent of a snow day is absurd. On the east coast, in a normal year the biggest threat during extreme heat is from blackouts, as everyone cranks up their AC. In New York, the first thing you do when temperatures drift up towards 40C is check the batteries in your torch.
Those are the day-to-day issues of global heating in the city. The long-term impact, as Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Don’t Look Up put it, turning to shout directly into the camera, is, obviously, “we’re all going to die”. It won’t happen tomorrow, or the day after that, but as we have known for a while now, in some indeterminate middle distance we face the strong possibility of extinction.
The nature of our collective response suggests that what’s needed in public life isn’t scientists but psychologists. Seamlessly over the last few years, one form of denial (end times aren’t coming, so there’s no point trying to change) has become a different form of denial (end times are definitely coming, so there’s no point trying to change). Like the failed execution of overambitious new year resolutions, we can’t do everything and so choose to do nothing.
Meanwhile, the culture offers up easy targets for the displacement of blame. Kylie Jenner takes a 17-minute flight on a private jet, and it feels good to put the catastrophe on her. It’s getting uncomfortably hot in here, but if the Kardashians did this, and we agree to hate the Kardashians, we are absolved of all further engagement. Right?
In the last moments of life before the flood waters take us, we may spare a moment to thank Ben Affleck for his service. We first met Affleck back in the 1990s, when he was as cheerful and boisterous as a labrador. Since then he has been through numerous incarnations, none of which have ever quite hit standard-issue movie star. Juggling his order from Dunkin’ Donuts, struggling to stay in shape, looking as exhausted and burnt out as the rest of us, the appeal of Affleck – unlike that of his buddy, Matt Damon, who has the charisma of a hedge fund manager – is built on chaotic foundations.
Famously, a few years ago he regretted getting a back tattoo and pretended it was fake. A happier recent reversal has been his reunion with his old flame Jennifer Lopez. Affleck and JLo first dated in 2002 after they met filming Gigli (a movie described by the New York Times on its release as a “hopelessly misconceived exercise in celebrity self-worship, which opens to national ridicule today”).
This week, multiple divorces later, the couple revealed they had married at the Little White Wedding chapel in Las Vegas last weekend, and that JLo is changing her name to Jennifer Affleck. Anyone wanting to unpack this information further is invited to subscribe to her newsletter, On the JLo, and to offset the guilt with a donation to the climate crisis charity of their choice.
To avoid the heat, we join a fanatically temperature-controlled climbing gym. I went indoor climbing a handful of times 20 years ago and figure it’s like riding a bike. Halfway up the 40ft wall, attached to the top by an auto-belay device, I realise I have made a terrible mistake. The sensation is like the one you had as a child when you climbed to the top of the high diving board and understood, too late, you couldn’t jump.
A young instructor squints up at me from the ground. “Just lean back and let go,” he says.
Eight or nine people, waiting for ropes to become free, shift their attention to the unfolding drama.
“You can,” he says.
My children, who five minutes earlier raced to the top of the wall and jumped off without incident, stand agape in their harnesses.
“Let go of the wall,” says the instructor.
“Just do it. You have to trust.” This makes me laugh, loudly.
“I have significant trust issues,” I shout, over my shoulder. Shit shit shit. If seven-year-olds can do it, I can, too. Still, no dice. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m English and, after a few more seconds of panic, the fear of embarrassment outstrips that of death, I’d still be up there. I let go and tip back off the wall.
Incredibly, a prospect worse than Boris Johnson rises from the Tory leadership contest in the form of Liz Truss, the current frontrunner. Technically, of course, there’s not much Truss could do to upstage her predecessor for awfulness, short of some sort of Mr Bean pratfall triggering nuclear annihilation. Somehow, however, after all the lies, the deaths from Covid, and the chaos of Brexit, the idea that it may fall to a person as disoriented as Truss to clean up is more depressing than the original outrage.
There is, however, one cheerful political moment of the week, when cameras pick up Theresa May standing, arms glued to her side, failing to clap Johnson’s last PMQs. By the standards of Tory party rebellion, it’s practically the French Revolution.
The huge open-air pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is at capacity, testing the patience of the parks department staff. A woman built like Miss Trunchbull, in regulation Bermuda shorts and brandishing a very powerful megaphone, patrols the perimeter of the pool, shouting at swimmers for infractions. (No hats, no bags, no coloured T-shirts to preserve against gang livery). After our swim, we have trouble getting back into our locker and she materialises, genie-like, at one end of the changing room. “Who needs the bolt cutters?” she yells, holding aloft some industrial-size machinery and looking with relish in our general direction. Summer in the city is tough, I feel her rage.