Heatwaves

Hot as hell

Climate change is already killing people. Countries must learn to adapt to extreme heat

IN RECENT DAYS heatwaves have turned swathes of America and Europe into furnaces. Despite the accompanying blast of headlines, the implications of such extreme heat are often overlooked or underplayed. Spectacular images of hurricanes or floods grab attention more readily, yet heatwaves can cause more deaths. Heat is one of climate change’s deadliest manifestations. Sometimes its impact is unmistakable—a heatwave in Europe in 2003 is estimated to have claimed 70,000 lives. More often, though, heatwaves are treated like the two in the Netherlands in 2018. In just over three weeks, around 300 more people died than would normally be expected at that time of year. This was dismissed as a “minor rise” by officials. But had those people died in a flood, it would have been front-page news.

The havoc caused by extreme heat does not get the attention it merits for several reasons. The deaths tend to be more widely dispersed and do not involve the devastation of property as do the ravages of wind and water. Moreover, deaths are not usually directly attributable to heatstroke. Soaring temperatures just turn pre-existing conditions such as heart problems or lung disease lethal.

Heatwaves will inevitably attract more attention as they become more frequent. As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, not only will temperatures rise overall…