Remember when summer was fun?
Not that enervating heat and humidity are new to Japan, but before global warming, before the urban heat island effect, it was (more or less) tolerable because at least it was natural. In 2010, Tokyo had 71 days of temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius; in 2011 and 2012, more than 60 days each. It’s been 1,000 years since Japan knew such extended heat waves, meteorologist Masamitsu Morita tells Shukan Gendai (July 6). “We have entered a new meteorological era,” he says. This summer, he warns, looks to be even worse.
Here and there, it already is. Nationwide, the week of June 10-16 saw ambulances responding to nearly 1,500 calls from people suffering heatstroke. The nation’s first “tropical nights,” meaning low temperatures of 25 degrees or more, were recorded in Hiroshima and Okayama on June 13 – 30 days earlier than last year (which, as noted above, was bad enough). Okayama’s low that night of 25.4 degrees was 6.4 degrees above average for this time of year.
For the Kanto region this summer, Morita predicts an average temperature 0.5 degrees higher than normal. Half a degree doesn’t sound like much. Any comfort you draw from that is misleading, Morita explains. What it means in layman’s terms is more days than ever before of temperatures near, at or over 40 degrees – at a time when, with 50 of Japan’s 52 nuclear reactors shut down following 2011’s triple nuclear meltdown, pressure is high to conserve energy by turning air conditioners down. “Cool biz” – office dress deregulation designed to make air conditioning less necessary – is the harried company employee’s only workaday defense against the intensified swelter.
It’s not just Japan, of course. “World temperatures could well be setting records this year,” Shukan Gendai quotes the eminent American climatologist James Hansen as forecasting back in January.
Of all forms of suffering, summer heat is probably the one that best brings out the stoic in us. The typical response, Shukan Gendai says, is, “Don’t complain about the heat. Summer’s hot and that’s that!” That reflects well on our character but poorly on our common sense. Temperatures are soaring high enough to turn a discomfort into a danger. Over the past few summers, 40,000-50,000 people being hospitalized for heatstroke has become normal. In 2010, 1,731 people died from it. And in 2010, nuclear reactors, and therefore air conditioners, were still functioning at full capacity.
Worse yet, summer is not only intensifying but lengthening. Once upon a time you could look forward to relief in mid-September. No longer. A worst-case scenario includes water shortages. “The chances that this will be just such a summer,” Shukan Gendai says, “are, unfortunately, extremely high.”