Extreme Heat Sends Chills Through the World

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“2010 is becoming the year of the heatwave, with record temperatures set in 17 countries,” The Guardian newspaper reported today.

For those following the deadly heatwave that has hit eastern Europe in the last 6 weeks, it should comes as no surprise that record highs have been recorded in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. But also Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Niger, Pakistan and Sudan have recorded temperatures of more than 47C (115F) since June. The number of record highs is itself a record – the previous record was for 14 new high temperatures in 2007.

Yesterday, TIME’s Bryan Walsh explained in detail the science linking climate change and heat waves, and how heatwaves will impact food production. It’s certainly worth remembering that it’s more than just the elderly and sick at risk in times of extreme heat. It’s also the poor. AFP reported yesterday that “the price of Russian bread is rising sharply in Moscow as repercussions from the country’s months-long record drought start to have an impact on the cost of food supplies.” The price rise is a result of Russia losing around 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of land in drought and from fire. Bloomberg reported that Russia’s record heat wave may already have taken 15,000 lives and cost the economy $15 billion.

But even if it’s impossible to say whether current heatwaves would have occured without climate change, there’s nothing like feeling extreme heat in the bones to change people’s minds about whether climate change will pose a serious threat in the future.  As TIME reported earlier this month, even Russian president Dmitri Medvedev was inspired to finally make bold public statements about the need to tackle the causes of global warming.