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More extreme heat is expected this week in the South and Southwest

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back here in the U.S., more extreme heat is expected this week in the South and Southwest. We're talking temperatures well above 100 degrees for several days in some areas. We're going to turn now to journalist Jeff Goodell, who's been covering climate change for decades. And he says these temperatures are both predictable and surprising. His latest book is "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet," and he's with us now from Austin, Texas. Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF GOODELL: Good morning.

MARTIN: So I understand predictable, because scientists have been warning about climate change for decades now. But why do you say it's surprising?

GOODELL: Well, what's surprising is the extremity of the temperatures that we're seeing and the places where they're showing up. Obviously, places like Phoenix, which are hot this week, have been hot for a long time. But, you know, think back about the heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in 2021 where we had temperatures of 120 degrees or so in Washington and British Columbia, and nobody predicted that kind of thing. That was, you know, as likely as sort of snow in the Sahara. And so we're seeing these extreme temperatures pop up in places that we didn't expect, lasting longer and getting hotter than even the most sort of sophisticated climate scientists thought about a decade or so ago.

MARTIN: Can you say a bit more about what we might expect in years to come in terms of extreme heat?

GOODELL: That is a big and important question, and there's no simple answer to that. But we know that as we continue to burn fossil fuels, our planet is getting hotter. And as it gets hotter, it changes the dynamics of the atmosphere, which can lead to these kinds of extreme events. And heat waves are the clearest manifestation of that.

And one of the questions I explored in my book is - I talked to climate scientists about, like, how hot can it get? You know, I live in Austin, Texas, and it was 115 degrees here just last week for a week. It was - and it was really brutal. And, you know, I asked scientists, can it get to be 120, 125? And, you know, they can't give a clear answer because we don't know. We're living in a new climate, and the rules are different and we don't know where that exactly is going to take us.

MARTIN: And so to that end, are we taking extreme heat seriously enough? And I'm not talking about, you know, climate scientists here. I'm talking about all of us, the rest of us. I'm talking about, you know, people who are just trying to go about their day as also officials and public health officials and people who, you know, help us stay safe.

GOODELL: No, we're not taking heat seriously enough. And that includes me. You know, I've been writing for climate change for 20 years. And seven or eight years ago, I almost died of heatstroke on a climb up a mountain, and I had no idea what was happening to me. I had no idea of the risks of heat to our bodies and what it does to our bodies and how heat is like a lightning bolt. It can kill you very quickly in the wrong kinds of situations.

And, you know, certain people are more vulnerable than other people. If you have heart conditions, if you have hypertension, if you're on certain medications, you're much more vulnerable to heat than other people are.

MARTIN: And you also talk about in your book about how it's not just the immediate health risks, which are considerable, but other dangers to crops and livestock and this food supply - so, you know, very comprehensive reporting in your book. That's Jeff Goodell. His latest book is "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet." It comes out tomorrow. Jeff Goodell, thanks so much for joining us.

GOODELL: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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