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 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.