In a world in turmoil, heating bosses fight the “silent killer”

As the era of “global boil” spawns increasingly deadly heat waves, a handful of heat kings are working with authorities in cities from Miami to Melbourne in a race against time to cool the traps urban heat and avoid tens of thousands of deaths.

Seven heating managers – all of whom are women – are working in Miami, Melbourne, Dhaka, Freetown and Athens to plant trees, create “pocket parks”, install water fountains and raise awareness about the effects of extreme heat on the human body. .

The role of chief heating officer was created three years ago by a US-based think tank, but even in such a short time the task has become more urgent as emissions from heating the planet – – driven largely by the use of coal, oil and gas – are increasing temperatures into “uncharted territory”, scientists say.

Last year was already the hottest on record, and new research suggests that intense summer heat in the northern hemisphere made it the hottest summer in some 2,000 years – further evidence of what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “the era of global turmoil.”

This year, heat waves have already ravaged several countries in Asia, costing lives, disrupting education and destroying livelihoods. In Europe, where up to 61,000 people could have died in 2022 heatwaves, people are bracing for new record temperatures in the coming summer months.

Despite this increased frequency, many people don’t fully understand how dangerous extreme heat can be, said Melbourne heating co-director Krista Milne.

“In Australia, like everywhere in the world, heat kills more people than any other natural hazard, but people don’t understand it’s a problem and so don’t prepare for it.”

Extreme heat can cause heat stroke or kidney failure and worsen heart or respiratory disease. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, farmers and gig workers are among the most vulnerable, especially in the poorest countries.

An April report from the U.N. International Labor Organization said nearly 19,000 people die each year from workplace accidents attributed to excessive heat.

“The simple fact is that there is a point where the body can no longer cool itself,” Milne said.


The heat director positions were created through an initiative by the US-based Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation (Arsht-Rock) Resilience Center, which says that by 2050, heat waves will affect more than 3.5 billion people worldwide, half of whom live in urban centers. .

“Heat is the deadliest climate danger. It is a silent killer,” said Elissavet Bargianni, appointed director of heating in Athens in May 2023.

The city was the first in Europe to classify heatwaves from Category 1 to Category 3, helping residents decide whether to stay indoors or cancel outdoor sporting events. The ranking also helps officials assess whether they should temporarily close tourist sites, such as the ancient Acropolis, Bargianni said.

Cities are often several degrees warmer than nearby rural areas because heat trapped by dense clusters of dark-colored, concrete roads and buildings creates a “heat island” effect, meaning that temperatures nighttime also remain high.

Nearly half of schools and hospitals in European cities are located in urban “heat islands,” areas that are at least 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the regional average, according to the agency environmental protection of the European Union.

Heat leaders aim to raise awareness of the risks of extreme heat and coordinate actions to mitigate them.

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, heating manager Eugenia Kargbo and Arsht-Rock constructed shade covers for three of the largest open-air street markets, providing shelter for around 2,300 women traders and guaranteeing the life of their products longer.

These low-cost covers also come with solar panels that provide light at night, allowing people to shop for longer.

In Melbourne, where a heatwave sent temperatures soaring to around 39C (102.2F) in March, the city council aims to plant 3,000 trees a year to boost the resilience of its forest areas and cool the city. 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit). .