Effect of climate change: meet the agents whose job it is to fight the heat

As the era of “global cooking” spawns increasingly deadly heat waves, a handful of heat czars are teaming up with officials in cities from Miami to Melbourne in a race against time to cool urban heat traps and prevent tens of thousands of deaths. – all of whom are women – are working in Miami, Melbourne, Dhaka, Freetown and Athens to plant trees, create ‘pocket parks’, install water fountains and educate people about the effects of extreme heat on the human body.

The role of Chief Heat Officer (CHO) was created three years ago through an initiative by the US-based Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock), which says heat waves will kill more than 3.5 billion people worldwide by 2050 will meet. – half of them in urban centres. But even in the short time since their creation, the CHOs’ task has become more urgent as global warming emissions – largely due to the use of coal, oil and gas – push temperatures into “uncharted territory,” according to scientists.

This year, heat waves have already hit several countries in Asia, costing lives, disrupting education and damaging livelihoods. Despite this increased frequency, many people don’t fully understand how dangerous extreme heat can be, says Krista Milne, Melbourne’s co-chief heat officer. Extreme heat can cause heatstroke or kidney failure and worsen heart or respiratory conditions.

Children, the elderly, pregnant women, farmers and handymen are among the most vulnerable, especially in poorer countries. Nearly 19,000 people die every year from workplace injuries attributed to excessive heat, according to an April report from the UN’s International Labor Organization. “The simple fact is that there is a point at which the body cannot cool down,” says Milne. “Heat is the deadliest climate hazard. It is a silent killer,” said Elissavet Bargianni, who was appointed Chief Heat Officer for Athens. in May 2023.

Cities are often several degrees warmer than nearby rural areas because the heat trapped by dense clusters of concrete and dark-colored roads and buildings creates a ‘heat island effect’, meaning nighttime temperatures also remain high. Nearly half of schools and hospitals in European cities are located on urban “heat islands” – areas that are at least 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the regional average, according to the European Union Environment Agency. The Chief Heat Officers want to raise awareness of the risks of this extreme heat and coordinate actions to limit them.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, a busy city with little greenery and little shade, people are used to hot and humid summers, but this means it is even harder to raise awareness, said Bushra Afreen, the city’s heat official. “There are still people who don’t understand the deadly consequences of extreme heat,” Afreen said. “So now we have to convince people that to survive the heat, they need to slow down and rest, drink water and seek shade. and even stop working if they feel unwell. This is a very difficult choice for people living in poverty.”

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