SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's hot - historically, treacherously hot - this week in surprising places - 109 degrees in Paris Thursday, the highest temperature ever recorded there. People plunged into the Trocadero fountains to cool down while officials worried some of the charred walls of Notre Dame Cathedral that didn't fall in last 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 Wagner opera 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 1/2-hour German opera, it's sitting through it in a hundred-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 struck there in recent years. More than 70,000 people died in the 2003 European heat wave. At least 650 more people died during the extreme summer heat in Britain 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 a hundred 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?
(SOUNDBITE OF CYESM'S "A PLACE IN YOUR MIND")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.