Hottest Summer Global Crisis Our Earth is in the middle of what may be the hottest summer on record. Scorching new records were set all over Europe this week. What could be more urgent news than the temperature of our planet?
NPR logo

Opinion: Is Anything More Urgent Than The Temperature Of Our Planet?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/745765634/745883048" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Opinion: Is Anything More Urgent Than The Temperature Of Our Planet?

Opinion: Is Anything More Urgent Than The Temperature Of Our Planet?

Opinion: Is Anything More Urgent Than The Temperature Of Our Planet?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/745765634/745883048" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

For the second time in a month, an intense heat wave has hit Western Europe, particularly France. In Toulouse, temperatures reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit by 10 p.m. This heat wave is characterized by unusually high temperatures at night. Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For the second time in a month, an intense heat wave has hit Western Europe, particularly France. In Toulouse, temperatures reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit by 10 p.m. This heat wave is characterized by unusually high temperatures at night.

Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It's hot: historically, treacherously hot this week, in surprising places.

It was 109 degrees in Paris, the highest temperature ever recorded there. People plunged into the Jardins du Trocadéro fountains to cool down, while officials worried some of the charred walls of Notre Dame Cathedral that didn't fall in April's fire might now dry out and collapse in the furnace of summer heat.

Scorching new records were also set in Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and Germany, where the Richard Wagner Festival opened in Bayreuth in the un-air-conditioned swelter of a 19th-century opera house.

If there's anything more intimidating than a 3 ½-hour German opera, it's sitting through it in 100-degree heat.

Northern Europe is not Dallas or Miami. The great cities on the continent have not been built to function in the kind of heat and humidity that has struck there in recent years.

More than 70,000 people died in the 2003 European heat wave. At least 650 more people died during extreme summer heat in the United Kingdom last year. The hottest summers in Europe for the past 500 years have all occurred in just the past 17 years. What do all those new heat records show if not that the climate is changing?

The heat is especially dangerous for young children and older people, and onerous for everyone. Bob Ward of Britain's Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment says scientists should name heat waves, as they do hurricanes, because they're public health emergencies.

Thousands of miles from Europe's summer heat, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service has followed more than 100 wildfires that have erupted in the Arctic since June. Scientists say the number of wildfires in Siberia, Greenland and Alaska is "unprecedented." And the cinders from those fires drift down on ice and snow, which then absorb sunlight, causing even more warming in the Arctic.

Our Earth is in the middle of what may be the hottest summer on record. We've already lived through the hottest June. This may turn out to be the hottest July.

A number of years from now, how many other important news stories we speak about this week will be as urgent as the temperature of our planet?