“We are in uncharted territory.”
Christopher Hewitt, Director of Climate Services at the World Meteorological Organization
No matter where you live in the world, you’ve probably noticed that this summer has been abnormally hot.
We are in an El Niño year, a warming pattern in the Pacific Ocean that is fueling higher temperatures and more weather disasters. The Atlantic Ocean is also experiencing abnormally high surface temperatures, and an undersea volcanic eruption in the South Pacific last year threw vaporized seawater into the stratosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. It’s “random bad luck,” according to Daniel Swain, a climatologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
But Swain and other scientists also agree that it is now undeniable that our changing climate is making extreme heat more severe and more common. And while some of those other drivers of this year’s record-breaking heatwaves are temporary, dangerously hot weather is a reality we’re likely to face for the rest of our lives.
Although in many ways it is less visible than other climate impacts like storms and wildfires, heat causes more deaths in the United States than any other type of extreme weather conditions. In Europe, heat waves last summer killed at least 61,000 people, and likely many more.
With the world poised to continue to warm, how we prepare for and adapt to extreme heat is of growing concern and urgency. And communities around the world are beginning to test and implement all sorts of solutions to beat the heat. In today’s newsletter, we highlight three places that have launched innovative measures to protect residents from scorching temperatures.
By the way, if you want more heat coverage in your inbox, Grist just launched a special series and pop-up newsletter called Record High, which will cover this record-breaking heat season from every angle. Subscribe right here.
In the famous warm city of Seville, Spain, the government adopted a variety of infrastructure improvements, plant trees, build public fountains and look to historic architecture to increase shade coverage. And after last year’s deadly European heatwaves, the city is also testing a new strategy to raise awareness.
Last summer, Seville launched the world’s first heatwave rating and naming system. It’s akin to the one the World Meteorological Organization has used for hurricanes since the 1950s, which researchers have praised for helping “a culture of preparedness and prevention» which they hope to imitate for the heat waves. Naming an extreme weather event makes it easier to remember, easier to report and communicate, and research has suggested it makes people more likely to take precautions.
The Seville system ranks heat waves on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being the most severe. Category 3 heat waves are then named in reverse alphabetical order – the month after the launch of the Seville effort, Zoe became the world’s first named heatwave.
Different levels of heat waves also trigger particular public services and emergency responses, such as information campaigns and cooling centers.
The current heat wave in Europe has been popularly nicknamed Cerberus, from the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell — a worrying fact for some scientists, who fear that sensationalizing the heat wave with a name like that will lead to more panic than to preparation. But in Seville, it has the official name of Xenia and is part of the pilot heat awareness effort.
Five other cities also launched similar pilot programs last year, with rating systems tailored to each city’s unique climate.
Learn more here.
Phoenix is one of the hottest cities in the United States, and this year it has already suffered 19 consecutive days of temperatures above 110 degreeswith no end in sight – breaking a record the city set in 1974. This kind of heat is dangerous for anyone, but in Phoenix it is also evident that the risks of oppressive heat are not borne in the same way. Annual death reports reveal that those most likely to die from heat exposure are unhoused or live in mobile homes, and low-income communities are often heat islands.
In 2017, Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, released a 120-page heat action planning guide as part of a community-led effort to identify solutions for the most historic neighborhoods. deprived of their rights. But, as freelancer Emma Loewe told us, it took another five years to start implementing the solutions described.
Residents wanted to see more decisive action, so last year the city government earmarked $2.8 million to create a brand new Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.
A government office dedicated solely to heating solutions was a first in the United States. The goal is to accelerate the deployment of heat mitigation measures and ultimately save lives in a city that can see hundreds of heat-related deaths each year.
Last summer, the office distributed cooling supplies like hats and umbrellas, and also expanded the network of public cooling centers and hydration stations in the area. Longer-term plans include doubling the city’s tree cover, deploying heat-reflecting pavement, and creating “cool corridors” with a combination of shade, sprinklers and vegetation.
It remains to be seen whether the bureau can help Phoenix stay ahead of rapidly rising temperatures — heat-related deaths in 2022 are up 25% from the previous year, according to a report released by the county. This summer, the office is fighting again, and trying to get information and resources to those who need them most.
Learn more here.
A particularly vulnerable group in the face of heat are the elderly. As our body ages, it loses some of its ability to regulate temperatures, for a variety of reasons. And older people are also more likely to live in isolation. As Sofie Kodner reported for Grist last year, around half a million elderly people in France live without any social ties, some going for months without even speaking to another person.
In 2003, a devastating European heat wave killed at least 15,000 elderly people in France. After this shock, a community organization called Petits Frères des Pauvres launched a new approach to protect the elderly from both the heat and the loneliness – by coordinating volunteers and municipal workers to monitor the elderly during periods of heat.
In coordination with local town halls, the organization has developed a register of older people who live alone, and during a heat wave, volunteers call and visit everyone on their town’s list.
Several organizations have gone even further by initiating an intergenerational housing movement that associates elderly people living alone with young roommates looking for reduced rent.
Kodner spoke with one such pair. Last summer, 84-year-old Josette Paoni and university student Javier Garcia were paired up and spent the summer at Paoni’s non-air-conditioned house in the south of France. Not only was Garcia there to ask for help if Paoni suffered heat stress, but he also looked after her, closing the blinds against the sun, bringing her water and wet towels, and creating a significant source of connection. “I ask Javier for a kiss every morningsaid Paoni – I ask Javier for a kiss every morning.
Learn more here.
For more immediate DIY measures you can use to stay cool at home, check out this roundup for tips on strategic fan placement, how to get your windows to work to their fullest, and even a video tutorial on how to create a “swamp cooler”. The roundup also recommends investing in social infrastructure which is often one of the most important resources in times of crisis – check your neighbours! Especially if you know they might be particularly vulnerable to heat.
—Claire Elise Thompson
See for yourself
What is the weather like at home ? (No…seriously!) In a climate-changing world, discussing the weather is no longer the lame conversation it once was – it’s an important part of dealing with our changing environment and checking in on each other. with the others.
SO, reply to this email to tell me how the forecast awaits you in July and how you stay cool.
Here’s my weather update: I moved to Seattle earlier this summer and, folks, the lack of air conditioning here has me merger. Every night I turn on the fan and put this cooling pad in the freezer to create a cozy place for my dog. He appreciates it, I think.