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Northern Europe is bracing for unusually high temperatures this week


Have you heard? It is very hot in Europe.


Record highs are expected in the U.K. And authorities have declared a national emergency. They're warning of heat-related deaths even among fit and healthy people. Southern European countries face wildfires after a heat wave.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Esme, good morning.


MARTIN: What's it like in Berlin where you are?

NICHOLSON: Well, it's only just starting to warm up here, Rachel. It's - and we're expecting highs in the mid-90s here today, so not as hot as elsewhere. But I've already shut all the windows and drawn the blinds because, like many here in northern Europe, we have no air conditioning.

MARTIN: I mean, this is really it, right? I mean, everywhere is getting hotter, in the U.S., too. It's expected to reach 111 degrees in Phoenix, Ariz., today. But especially in northern Europe, this is really dangerous.

NICHOLSON: Yeah, of course. And lack of air conditioning is just part of it. Northern Europe wasn't built for this kind of heat. And while well-insulated houses can keep out some of the heat as well as they keep out the cold, cities here are not designed to provide the kind of shade you find built into southern European cities. Then there's the issue of behavior. Northern Europeans don't take siestas and don't know how to pace themselves, myself included. And this is why weather officials in the U.K., for instance, as you mentioned, have issued a national emergency alert, as hospitals there are already overrun with an uptick in COVID patients.

MARTIN: And it's not just the north, right? What's going on in the southern half of the continent?

NICHOLSON: That's right. First of all, both Spain and Portugal have seen hundreds of heat-related deaths. Spain's health authorities say at least 510 people have died from heat over the past week alone. And while temperatures are dropping in some parts of southern Europe, this is having no impact at all on the wildfires currently raging in Spain, in Portugal and France, parts of Greece, parts of northern Italy. Conditions are far drier than usual at this time of year, which means fires are spreading faster and burning for longer. And, Rachel, even here in Germany, firefighters as far north as Hamburg say dry conditions pose a major risk of wildfires.

MARTIN: So we can safely assume that these extreme conditions are just an example of what's to come, right? I mean, this is where the trend lines are moving. So how are authorities in Europe thinking about it in that long-term way?

NICHOLSON: Well, yeah, as you say, scientists say this is just the beginning. Global warming is driving up temperatures and changing the paths weather patterns, which is why we're seeing droughts and forest fires in northern Europe. And not to mention the flash flooding that destroyed entire villages in western Germany exactly a year ago. So - and just last week, the federal disaster agency here in Germany warned that some parts of the country are on the verge of becoming uninhabitable because of the risk of extreme weather conditions. Yet, at the same time, the German government, which is co-led by the Green Party, is scrambling to replace Russian gas. Now, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was here in Berlin yesterday. And he issued a stark warning, saying the world has a choice, collective action or collective suicide.

MARTIN: Reporter Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Esme, thank you. We appreciate it.

NICHOLSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.