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Opinion: It's too hot in here

A sign warning of extreme heat danger in Death Valley National Park on July 15, 2023
David McNew
Getty Images
A sign warning of extreme heat danger in Death Valley National Park on July 15, 2023

This may be the most scorching month in the most scalding summer of what may become the hottest year in recorded history.

From Arizona, where it's been above 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day for a month, to Sardinia which hit 118 F this week, to Xinjiang, China, where the temperature soared to 126 F.

It felt a little mournful, then, to turn on summer playlists and hear lyrics like, "Summer breeze makes me feel fine." And, "Summer's here and the time is right / For dancing in the street."

This summer — these past few summers, really — has meant weeks of swelter, smoke, wildfires, and peril, across much of the hemisphere.

It was 107 degrees Fahrenheit in Rome last week. The Italian health ministry put 23 cities under a red alert, and cautioned people not to walk outside, and to avoid wine and coffee.

Too hot in Italy to stroll, enjoy a glass of soave, or sip an espresso. Next they'll say stop boiling pasta.

170 million people in America were under heat alerts this week. The National Weather Service warns, "Take the heat seriously and avoid time outdoors."

Isn't being outdoors the beauty of summer?

For most of my life, summer has been a time to shuck off all the layers of winter cold and gloom, to feel warmth and sunlight. School is out. Vacations are planned. We can go coatless, feel carefree, dawdle, travel, and play.

But this summer in America many outdoor shows, concerts, and festivals have been canceled, and sporting events postponed because of unsafe heat, and wildfire smoke in the skies. How many families have avoided picnics, camping trips, or games of catch in the yard, because it's just too darn hot?

The temperature of the water in Manatee Bay at Everglades National Park in Florida has been 101.1 F. The heat of ocean water — water — may be too dangerous for fish to survive.

This excruciating heat, driven by human activity, can be dangerous for every living creature, as well as the plants that bear the fruits and vegetables we need to survive. For humans, the heat is especially hazardous for seniors, children, and people who are unsheltered.

Will red alerts, heat emergencies, wildfires and temperatures in the triple digits become the new signs of summer? And will that make summer, as my friends and I used to dream about through frigid and forbidding Chicago winters, now seem a season to fear?

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.