A three-year-old boy died in a car. Cause of death? Extreme heat. It happened a few days ago, very near my house in Miami.
They found him at 4 in the afternoon, when the heat index stood at 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38C). The father apparently forgot him in the car, according to CNN. This is a real tragedy. Police will not press charges against the father.
The boy was the 10th child to die in a vehicle this year due to extreme heat. On average, 38 children die in the United States in similar circumstances.
Heat is a silent killer.
Recently, I had to go to San Antonio in Texas to cover the deaths of 53 immigrants in a truck trailer. The driver, according to his testimony, did not realize the trailer’s air conditioning was not working. Unofficial estimates show the heat index inside the trailer that Monday could have hit 125 degrees (51C). It’s almost impossible to survive those conditions.
Deaths from heat are increasingly frequent. The planet is overheated this summer, and record high temperatures are hitting everywhere. Social networks these days are a collection of high heat: Cold London is one of the hottest ovens in the world, and this week recorded the highest temperature in its history. Hundreds have died because of heat waves in Spain and Portugal, and forest fires are out of control. China has northern cities with 104 degrees (40C) and floods in the south. Monterrey in Mexico is suffering through a harsh drought, and its dams hold barely 5 percent of capacity. And Phoenix in Arizona, which in June of 1990 recorded a temperature of 120 degrees (48C) at 2pm, has now experienced several days with dangerous temperatures that force people to stay home. No one is safe.
With ocean waters so hot, I fear an active hurricane season. What I want these days is to go south of the equator, to the winter in Chile, Argentina or Australia.
Heat waves can’t be seen, like tornadoes, tsunamis or hurricanes. But they have become so intense and dangerous that the city of Sevilla in Spain and some scientific organizations have decided to give them names. Heat waves that reach Category 3 – based on temperature, humidity, frequency, winds and other factors – will get these names: Zoe, Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega.
There are other cities – Los Angeles, Melbourne, Athens – that are considering similar measures. And Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Miami-Dade County, where I have lived for 30 years, established the first Heat Season this year to raise awareness about the dangers of high temperatures from May to October. From four seasons here, we have gone to two – hot and hotter.
Sometimes, I am shamed to admit it, I use Miami’s humid heat to get the edge in sports. My friend Borja Echeverría always beats me at tennis. In Madrid he destroys me. But when he comes to Miami, he suffers each point, and the longer I can draw out the match, under a blazing sun, the more chances I have to win a set.
I admit that air conditioning bothers me a lot. I can’t stand it. I prefer to sweat at night, and open the car windows. Its noise is as bothersome as a mosquito buzzing near my ear, and there’s nothing more uncomfortable than to enter a freezing space in the summer. Stores, movies, restaurants, those are my frozen hells. My biggest family fights, I confess, are over the air conditioning. When I pass a thermostat I turn it up or off, and the rest of the family turns it on again or down. And in the office, where it feels like Alaska, you will see me wearing a sweater almost the whole day. I grew up without air conditioning in Mexico City, where heat and cold are regulated like in any other high altitude city: putting on and taking off layers of clothes.
But these last few days, in Europe as well as in the United States, not even a radical anti-ACer like me can enjoy life under the havoc of climate change.
We are killing the planet. To deny that climate change is our fault is as absurd and ignorant as saying that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential elections. “We are experiencing unprecedented rapid warming from human activities, primarily due to burning fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gas emissions,” a United Nations report concluded. The 10 years from 2010 to 2019 was the hottest decade in history. And we’re not on the path to meeting the Paris Accords promises designed to avoid a temperature rise more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial era levels. If we pass that level, the consequences will be disastrous.
We are already seeing it. More heat waves, more storms and hurricanes, more extreme climates, more droughts and floods, more melting glaciers and rising sea levels. More of everything, and more intense.
“Now or never” is the conclusion of the latest U.N. report on climate change. The lack of action by many government seems to say that we have collectively opted for “never.” The alternative is clear, according to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “We can chose action or collective suicide,” he declared.
There is heat that kills. Deaths from high temperatures have gone from the anecdotal to world news. If this continues, the Atlantic Council has forecast, 59,000 people will die in the United States alone from extreme temperatures in 2050. And it will disproportionately affect the poorest and the minorities.
That wonderful post-pandemic summer we all wanted so much has never arrived. The pandemic is still here, the heat is literally killing us, and autumn is still two months away.