There have been two, maybe three, landmark heat waves in the history of man-made global warming. The first was in 1988. Then as now, the eastern two-thirds of the United States was broiling while relentless drought parched soil and withered crops across the Midwest. But in Washington, the underlying problem was being named for the first time. On June 23, NASA scientist James Hansen testified to the Senate that man-made global warming had begun. The New York Times reported his remarks on Page 1, and the rest of the media at home and abroad followed suit. By year’s end, “global warming” had become a common phrase in news bureaus, government ministries and living rooms around the world.
The second landmark heat wave occurred in 2003. It escaped many Americans’ notice because it took place in Europe, which suffered the hottest summer on record. By August, corpses were piling up outside morgues in Paris. Initial estimates suggested a death toll of 15,000. But a comprehensive study by the European Union later concluded that, in fact, there had been 71,449 excess deaths.