Europe Suffered Record Number of 'Extreme Heat Stress' Days in 2023

In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File
In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File
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Europe Suffered Record Number of 'Extreme Heat Stress' Days in 2023

In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File
In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File

Europe endured a record number of "extreme heat stress" days in 2023, two leading climate monitors said Monday, underscoring the threat of increasingly deadly summers across the continent.
In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire, said AFP.
These disasters inflicted billions of dollars in damages and impacted more than two million people, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service and the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a new joint report.
The consequences for health were particularly acute, with heat singled out by these agencies as the biggest climate-related threat as global warming drives ever-hotter European summers.
"We're seeing an increasing trend in the number of days with heat stress across Europe and 2023 was no exception, with Europe seeing a record number of days with extreme heat stress," said Rebecca Emerton, a climate scientist at Copernicus.
For this study, Copernicus and WMO used the Universal Thermal Climate Index, which measures the effect of the environment on the human body.
It takes into account not just high temperatures but also humidity, wind speed, sunshine, and heat emitted by the surroundings.
The index has 10 different categories of heat and cold stress, with units of degrees Celsius representing a 'feels-like' temperature.
Extreme heat stress "is equivalent to a feels-like temperature of more than 46 degrees Celsius, at which point it's imperative to take actions to avoid health risks such as heat stroke", said Emerton.
- 'Extended summer' -
Prolonged exposure to heat stress is particularly dangerous for vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.
The effect of heat is stronger in cities, the report said.

Twenty three of the 30 worst heatwaves on record in Europe have occurred this century and heat-related deaths have soared around 30 percent in the past 20 years, the report said.
2023 was not the hottest summer in Europe -- in fact, it was the fifth -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't blazing.
Much of Europe sweltered from heatwaves during an "extended summer" between June and September, Emerton said.
September was the warmest on record for Europe as a whole, she added.
On July 23, an unprecedented 13 percent of Europe was experiencing high levels of heat stress, with southern Europe the worst affected.
The data on deaths in Europe from extreme heat in 2023 is not available yet.
But tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died due to heatwaves during equally sweltering European summers in 2003, 2010 and 2022, the report said.
"We see that there is excess mortality when we see such extreme heatwaves like was the case in 2023," said Alvaro Silva, a climatologist from WMO.
"This increase in mortality... is affecting (the) big majority of European regions. This is a big concern."
Serious consequences
Scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet, causing more intense and frequent extreme weather events.
Europe is warming twice as fast as the global average and heatwaves will become longer and more powerful in future, the report said.
This -- coupled with aging populations and more people moving to cities -- will have "serious consequences for public health", it added.
"Current heatwave interventions will soon be insufficient to deal with the expected heat-related health burden."
2023 was the hottest year globally on record and oceans, which absorb 90 percent of excess heat produced by carbon dioxide emissions, also warmed to new highs.
Average sea surface temperatures in Europe were the warmest on record, the report said, with a severe marine heatwave in part of the Atlantic Ocean described as "beyond extreme".
Glaciers in all parts of Europe saw a loss of ice, while Greece suffered the largest wildfire in the history of the EU.
2023 was also one of Europe's wettest years, with major flooding affecting 1.6 million people, and storms another 550,000.
Emerton said that the economic cost of these extreme events was 13.4 billion euros ($14.3 billion) -- about 80 percent attributed to flooding.



Hollywood Movies Rarely Reflect Climate Change Crisis. These Researchers Want to Change That

This image released by Netflix shows Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky in a scene from "Don't Look Up." (Niko Tavernise/Netflix via AP)
This image released by Netflix shows Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky in a scene from "Don't Look Up." (Niko Tavernise/Netflix via AP)
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Hollywood Movies Rarely Reflect Climate Change Crisis. These Researchers Want to Change That

This image released by Netflix shows Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky in a scene from "Don't Look Up." (Niko Tavernise/Netflix via AP)
This image released by Netflix shows Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky in a scene from "Don't Look Up." (Niko Tavernise/Netflix via AP)

Aquaman might not mind if the oceans rise, but moviegoers might.

That's one of the takeaways from a new study conducted by researchers who set out to determine if today's Hollywood blockbusters are reflective of the current climate crisis. The vast majority of movies failed the “climate reality check” proposed by the authors, who surveyed 250 movies from 2013 to 2022.

The test is simple — the authors looked to see if a movie presented a story in which climate change exists, and whether a character knows it does. One film that passed the test was the 2017 superhero movie Justice League, in which Jason Momoa's Aquaman character says, “Hey, I don't mind if the oceans rise” to Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne, The AP reported.

But most movies fell short — fewer than 10% of the 250 films passed, and climate change was mentioned in two or more scenes of fewer than 4% of the films. That's out of touch with a moviegoing public that wants “to see their reality reflected on screen,” said Colby College English professor Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, lead researcher on the study.

“The top line is just that the vast majority of films, popular films produced over the last 10 years in the United States, are not portraying the world as it is,” Schneider-Mayerson said. “They are portraying a world that is now history or fantasy — a world in which climate change is not happening.”

Researchers at Maine's Colby College published the study in April along with Good Energy, a Los Angeles-based environmental consultancy. The results were peer reviewed, and the authors are seeking publication in scientific journals. The researchers view the test as a way for audience members, writers and filmmakers to evaluate the representation of climate change on screen.

Some results were surprising. Movies that at first glance appear to have little overlap with climate or the environment passed the test. Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach's emotive 2019 drama about the collapse of a relationship, passed the test in part because Adam Driver's character is described as “energy conscious,” Schneider-Mayerson said.

The 2022 whodunnit Glass Onion and the 2019 folk horror movie Midsommar were others to pass the test. Some that were more explicitly about climate change, such as the 2021 satire Don't Look Up, also passed. But San Andreas, a 2015 movie about a West Coast earthquake disaster, and The Meg, a 2018 action movie set in the ocean, did not.

The authors narrowed the selection of movies by excluding films not set on Earth or set before 2006 or after 2100. They found streaming services had a higher percentage of movies that included climate change than the major studios did.

The study is “valuable for marketing purposes, informational purposes, data accumulation,” said Harry Winer, director of sustainability at the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Winer, who was not involved in the study, said it could also help serve as an incentive to connect audiences with climate stories.

“The audience will be more open to hearing a dialogue about what is right and what is wrong,” Winer said. “It's a conversation starter.”

The study authors said they see the climate reality check as a kind of Bechdel-Wallace test for climate change. Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist, is credited with popularizing that test in the 1980s by incorporating her friend Liz Wallace's test about gender representation in film into a comic strip. The test asks if a movie includes at least two female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man.

Bechdel herself spoke highly of the study's climate test, which she described as “long overdue” in a social media post during this year's Academy Awards season. Bechdel said in an e-mail to The AP that “for a movie set in the present to ignore this existential threat just doesn't make sense anymore" in the age of climate change.

“I do worry that screenwriters might do it in a kind of rote way, which could be counterproductive, just like rote ‘strong female characters’ are," Bechdel said. "But injecting an awareness of our communal plight into the stories we ingest seems like a no-brainer.”