The death of a Taylor Swift fan amid a heat wave in Brazil is another sign that we’re not doing enough to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. For years, scientific models have accurately predicted that global warming leads to more extreme and frequent heat waves, says Paulo Artaxo, a Brazilian atmospheric physicist and member of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His team just published a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that examines how much more dangerous it will be for people to attend concerts and other large gatherings in future hot and humid days.
They found that the 17 most popular models – including one famous 1988 model overseen by former NASA climatologist James Hansen, who testified before Congress about the dangers of anthropogenic climate change – were indistinguishable from observations after they adjusted for a critical factor: how much planet-warming pollution humans have emitted over the years.
Artaxo’s paper also shows that if we continue to increase carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas levels, the risks of extreme temperatures will keep growing. The researchers project that by the end of this century, a day in the same temperature range as the fatal Brazil heat wave will be five times more likely to kill someone than it is today.
And while the deaths of fans like Ana Clara Benevides, 23, who died after suffering two cardiac arrests at a Swift show in Rio on Friday, are tragic, the overall trend is even more worrying. A recent study comparing death rates in cities across the US over time found that a warming climate has led to more deadly heat waves.
The findings also point to the need for venues and other event organizers to take such hazards more seriously. For example, during last summer’s extreme heat in Phoenix, some concerts were canceled, and attendees suffered heat strokes and other illnesses. At Swift’s show in Brazil, a video posted to Twitter showed the singer pausing her set to urge her staff to hand out water bottles to fans.
In addition, a researcher who has studied the effect of weather on outdoor sports and music festivals notes that most venue policies do not mention extreme heat. That needs to change, she says.
As a bona fide Swiftie who has attended three of her concerts, Goodell believes that the singer has a unique responsibility to speak up about the climate crisis. “As a viral and influential pop star, she can lead by example,” she says. “She should start speaking out about the importance of climate action.” That starts with telling her fans about the impact of climate change on their safety. It’s a message that needs to be heard loud and clear.