September Book Review | 'The Heat Will Kill You First'
After one of the longest Park City winters in recent years, and a cooler than average spring, Parkites may be relishing late summer warmth. At what point, though, do appealing summer temperatures become menacing threats to survival?
Perhaps it is time to retire the term “global warming,” a term which conjures a soft blanket on a cool winter evening. In the summer of 2023, the unprecedented heat that gripped the central and southern United States for weeks on end was deadly, not comforting. Only one of many extreme heat waves this summer, it was directly responsible for human deaths, but also impacted food production, triggered unprecedented species migration and cost business productivity billions of dollars.
In his latest book, “The Heat Will Kill You First,” Jeff Goodell explores exactly how heat is impacting the planet today, how temperatures have departed from recorded averages, and the science of pinpointing the causes of these extreme heat events.
For example, Goodell lays out the impact of urban design on our experience of heat. Modern construction has allowed us to live where before the heat would have kept us away but it depends entirely on electricity. High density structures rely on air conditioning to enable us to live and work through heat waves – until a power outage transforms those structures into ovens.
Conversely, older cities like London, New York and Paris were constructed without concern for protection from heat, creating conditions ripe for catastrophe. The heat wave of 2003 trapped Parisians in 18th century buildings whose zinc roofs and stone walls amplified the heat; that heat wave resulted in 15,000 deaths across France.
Moreover, Goodell explores the inequity in access to shade, air conditioning, clean water, and breezes, without which life on a heating planet may not be sustainable.
As the mercury rises, how will we produce enough food to feed ourselves? How will we raise livestock and produce crops when the temperature is high enough to kill them? Goodell poses these questions to Dr. Racelis, an associate professor of agroecology at the University of Texas who responds: “People will shift crops around, try new varieties,”…“but in the end, there is no getting around the laws of physics and biology. When it gets too hot, things die. That’s just how it works.”
In the end, this book prompts us to think entirely differently about heat and to act now. In the words of Paris councilman Alexandre Florentin tells Goodell, there are three options: “We roast, we flee, or we act. “
“The Heat Will Kill You First” by Jeff Goodell is available now at your public libraries.