Europe’s first heat officer to help her city deal with rising temperatures due to climate change helping heat-destroyed British Columbia community

Heat-destroyed Lytton, B.C., features at TED conference seeking political will to solve climate change. Eleni Myrivili, chief heat officer of Athens said she hopes heat events, like those in B.C. and in her country, will be the catalyst needed for meaningful change. Chad Pawson discusses the issues in an article on the CBC News website.


‘Heat officer’ at TED conference outlines desperate need for cities to cope with rising temperatures

At the TED 2022 conference in Vancouver on Wednesday, Europe’s first ever official to be appointed to help her city deal with rising temperatures due to climate change outlined the steps needed to safeguard residents from what she calls the deadliest consequence of climate change.

“Heat destroys quietly, yet there is no escape from heat,” said Eleni Myrivili, chief heat officer of Athens. “These are temperatures our bodies aren’t made for.”

Myrivili, an assistant professor at the University of the Aegean, who was appointed Athens’ heat officer in 2021 said summer temperatures in the city reached 45 degrees, wildfires burned in the region and people died from the prolonged heat.

Her job is to find ways to redesign Athens that will promote greener spaces, building and landscape design that sheds heat instead of absorbing it, and coming up with coping strategies for residents.

“Cranking up the air conditioning is just not going to cut it,” she said about the existential threat her community is facing.

The TED 2022 conference is the first time the event has been back in person at Vancouver’s Convention Centre since 2019 due to the global pandemic.

It features more than 100 speakers who deliver short speeches about forward-thinking ideas, technologies, art and design.

This year’s conference, themed ‘A New Era,’ seeks to outline the changes needed to deal with the current pandemic, climate change, and violent conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine.

Myrivili participated in a session called ‘regeneration,’ which explores ways to accelerate and act over climate change.

Two recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have outlined dire consequences from a lack of action to keep global warming below 2 degrees this century.

The TED regeneration session mentioned Lytton, B.C. several times, a village about 150 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, which was entirely consumed by fire after recording the hottest ever temperature in Canada at 49.6 C in 2021.

Nearly 600 people died due to extreme temperatures in British Columbia that summer, mostly due to a heat dome which created temperatures around 40 C from late June to early July in normally mild cities like Vancouver.

‘Still shocks me to the bone’

“It still shocks me to the bone, the fact that you guys had these temperatures over here,” said Myrivili after her presentation.

She said temperatures recorded as part of Greece’s heat wave weeks later were actually lower than those recorded in parts of British Columbia.

“We were watching you breathlessly when this was happening last year,” she said. “But it hit us and it was shocking.”

She said she hopes heat events, like those in B.C. and in her country, will be the catalyst needed for meaningful change.

One pilot project she is part of is developing a way to categorize heat waves similarly to how it’s done for hurricanes, so there is better awareness over the danger of impending heat and how residents can prepare to face it.

‘Build resilience’

Myrivili outlined several initiatives being used in cities around the world, such as a type of buddy system being used in New York City to enable neighbours to check-in on one another during heat waves, and an app in Athens that provides real-time risk assessment in relation to heat.

Mostly, she advocated for a paradigm shift away from how cities are currently designed and populated by roads and buildings made of concrete and steel that absorb heat.

She described old technologies in Greece as being needed now, such as white-washing buildings each year to reflect light, window placements that enhance airflow and aqueducts that bring water to areas to cool them, and support for green space.

“We really, really need to build resilience.”

On Wednesday, also at TED, former U.S. vice president and climate activist Al Gore kicked off the regeneration session with an impassioned speech about the desperate need for leaders in government and financial institutions to stop investing in fossil fuel projects and turn their attention instead to deploying a myriad of technological advances, such as solar and wind power, to meet climate targets.

“We have the ability to stop this progressive destruction of humanity,” he said before apologizing to the crowd about getting, “all hot and worked up about this.

“This is real.”

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