This month’s scorching heat wave broke records around the world. The Algerian city of Ouargla, with a population of half a million, had a temperature of 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit on July 6, the hottest reliably measured temperature on record in Africa. In Ireland and Wales, the unusually hot weather revealed ancient structures normally hidden by grass or crops. In Chino, California, the mercury soared to 120 degrees. Another round of hazardous summer heat is expected this week, with record high temperatures possible in the southern United States.
The prolonged heat wave has been a staple of television news for weeks. However, most of the coverage has been sorely lacking in context: Humans are warming the planet, and scientists have already linked some heat waves to climate change. A recent analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change concludes that human-driven climate change, rather than natural variability, will be the leading cause of heat waves over the western United States and Great Lakes region as early as the 2020s and 2030s, respectively.
Like the heat itself, much of the media coverage was stupefying. “Major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat,” according to a Media Matters survey. “Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.”
TV coverage would undoubtedly improve if weather forecasters were better informed about climate science. But four Republican senators with close ties to the fossil fuel industry are trying to eliminate government funding for a National Science Foundation designed to help forecasters (and by extension, the general public) “become more familiar with the science behind how their local weather and its trends are related to the dynamics of the climate.”