Heatwaves are an increasingly common and deadly climate event. According to the WHO, from 1998-2017 over 166,000 people died due to heatwaves, 70,000 of those lost their lives due to a single heatwave in Europe in 2003.1
As the number of heatwaves and the related death toll continue to rise, it begs the question: why we don’t name heatwaves like other extreme weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes? Can naming heatwaves increase public awareness and help people understand the severity of their risk?
These questions inspired the development of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. The new organization has declared naming and ranking heatwaves its “number one priority.”
Unlike other newsworthy weather events, heatwaves are silent and invisible. They lack imagery to drive home the danger and inspire action. Often, news reports show children playing in a fire hydrant during a heatwave, a far cry from aerial footage panning over a path of destruction. The devastation remains unseen.
To help illustrate the importance of naming heatwaves, the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance enlisted Cartoon Collections to host a Cartoonathon.
How it worked:
New Yorker cartoonists Emily Flake, Peter Kuper, and Pat Byrnes were provided a briefing and materials on the topic from the alliance. They each developed 7-8 rough sketches based on their interpretation of the problem and surrounding issues. The alliance zeroed in on six cartoons and provided feedback to the artists. Working together, the team and artists created a final set of six visually powerful, press-ready images.
Six full-color cartoons were featured in an online press event called Code Red announcing the new alliance and its missions. The cartoons were made available to the press for use in their subsequent articles.
- The Atlantic Council hosted an online event called Code Red to announce the alliance, followed by an interactive dialogue – using the power of visual storytelling and humor with cartoonists from The New Yorker – to reveal the impacts of this growing public health crisis. View the video discussion of resulting cartoons here (at 1:04:00)
- Heat wave ‘Hugo?’ New coalition seeks to name hot weather like hurricanes. (Washington Post)
- See all six cartoons here
1. WHO health topics: Heatwaves