Athens Is Solely Getting Hotter. Its New ‘Chief Warmth Officer’ Hopes to Cool It Down.

2021-08-21 14:30:18

ATHENS — On the most well liked day of Greece’s record-breaking warmth wave, when temperatures in Athens rose to 111 levels Fahrenheit and wildfires choked the air, Eleni Myrivili stopped hanging laundry on her rooftop behind the Acropolis as a result of she may hardly breathe from the warmth.

“I may solely take brief, type of burning breaths,” she mentioned, recalling that ash from the fires additionally turned her black garments white. “It was scary.”

The warmth’s depth (as excessive as 44 levels on the Celsius scale) solely elevated the urgency that Ms. Myrivili brings to her new job as Athens’ — and Europe’s — first “chief warmth officer,” tasked with giving one of many world’s most historic cities an inhabitable future.

As warmth waves have been scorching Athens, the continent’s most sweltering capital, new wildfires broke out this previous week within the metropolis, including to the greater than 200,000 acres of forest consumed by wildfires across the nation.

It isn’t simply Greece. In current days, a warmth wave on the Italian island of Sicily seems to have resulted within the hottest recorded temperature in European historical past, and fires have damaged out throughout the Italian south. Europe’s summer time of pure disasters has included more and more frequent excessive climate occasions which have brought on deadly flooding in Germany and Belgium, in addition to in Turkey. Each week there’s a new nightmare.

Ms. Myrivili’s appointment is a recognition of that new actuality. However additionally it is a foreboding signal that having somebody to grapple with suffocating temperatures could also be a mainstay of the municipal cityscape, as essential and unremarkable as a transportation, sanitation or police commissioner.

“Warmth is an invisible and insidious killer,” Ms. Myrivili mentioned. “Warmth is a kind of local weather hazards that you just don’t actually see. It’s onerous for folks to speak about it. You don’t see flying roofs and vehicles flooded. It’s actually essential to get folks to know why it’s harmful.”

She predicted that with out motion, the long run for Athens could be bleak and airless. The capital would turn out to be an “city warmth island,” she mentioned, with empty squares and cafes, fewer vacationers and an exodus of residents who’ve the means and alternatives to dwell elsewhere.

Athens, a vibrant, chaotic place, would wilt within the solar.

However Ms. Myrivili mentioned the situations that made town so difficult additionally made it an “attention-grabbing pilot program” for the area. Athens straddles the cultures of Europe and the Center East, East and West, and is neither extraordinarily wealthy nor poor. “It’s an excellent metropolis to attempt issues out and see what works,” she mentioned.

Athens, the second most densely populated metropolis in Europe after Paris, usually heats up like an oven.

Residence buildings often called polykatoikies have been erected within the capital in an anarchic explosion of garden-swallowing improvement after Greece’s civil battle to accommodate a terrific migration from the countryside. However the buildings’ cement and tar-blackened rooftops take in the warmth. And as Athens sprawled into the encompassing mountains, and the automotive grew to become king, town added miles of asphalt that attain searing temperatures. The shortage of inexperienced areas in Athens deprives residents of respite, and even when temperatures fall at evening, streets and buildings ooze warmth.

“At evening, town will get very popular and you may’t cope, and the newborn wakes up in the midst of the evening from the warmth,” Carene Kengne, 25, mentioned as she pushed a stroller, shading herself and her child boy beneath a kiosk. She mentioned she didn’t have air-conditioning in her condominium, and that the encompassing fires and intense warmth, a lot increased than in her native Cameroon, scared her.

Even the college the place she learns Greek canceled her language classes as a result of it was too scorching. “They instructed us to remain at residence,” she mentioned.

With no probability to chill down, Athens residents risked severe well being points. As did those that needed to toil within the solar.

“It’s very tough,” mentioned Panagiotis Nasos, 48, as he took a break at 1 p.m. from placing up indicators and scaffolding in Syntagma Sq., in central Athens. He sat in a sliver of shade, his blue shirt stained with sweat. “The temperature will get hotter and warmer yearly,” he mentioned, including that his shifts had began more and more earlier to keep away from the warmth. Work, he mentioned, “was once simpler.”

Changing Athens right into a metropolis that may mitigate the warmth has been Ms. Myrivili’s obsession since 2007, when she watched TV footage of Greek wildfires from her mom’s Athens condominium.

“It actually upset me that we simply watched the fires,” she mentioned. “This complete powerlessness of simply sitting there watching, day after day, fires.”

So Ms. Myrivili, the granddaughter of Stratis Myrivilis, a novelist thought to be considered one of Greece’s most essential Twentieth-century writers, determined to get into politics.

A social anthropology professor, Ms. Myrivili was elected to the Athens Metropolis Council in 2014 and served as a deputy mayor from 2017 to 2019, specializing in town’s resilience amid local weather change. Out of presidency, she ultimately grew to become a pacesetter on warmth points for a joint program on city resilience run by the Atlantic Council and the Rockefeller Basis that has drawn tens of tens of millions of {dollars} from philanthropists. The group has engineered putting warmth officers on each continent. This yr, Miami-Dade County in Florida appointed North America’s first warmth officer, and Freetown in Sierra Leone is anticipated to make Africa’s first such appointment quickly.

The mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, appointed Ms. Myrivili in July and gave her directions to carve out a job with actual affect for herself and her successors, and to assist advise different baking European cities.

As quickly as she began, fires began burning once more. This time, Ms. Myrivili hoped they’d at the least unfold consciousness concerning the risk town confronted.

She mentioned scientists and officers have been discussing methods to make the threats clearer, like giving warmth waves human names, as is completed with hurricanes. Others argue that it might be higher to model them with the names of the cities. In any case, the purpose is to develop normal classes to make it simpler for policymakers to place emergency measures in place and for TV meteorologists to boost the alarm.

However warning bells usually are not sufficient. Ms. Myrivili mentioned she additionally needed to outfit extra houses with air-conditioning, persuade electrical firms to reroute power from industrial to residential areas throughout warmth waves, and make air-conditionedcenters — the place folks can settle down — extra reachable and fascinating. Asphalt must be extra reflective, and the tops of buildings have to be lined in photo voltaic panels and roof gardens. Within the subsequent 5 to 10 years, Athens additionally wants hundreds of latest bushes to chill the air and to supply shade.

With out inexperienced areas, many Athenians have discovered town unlivable.

“I’m comfortable I’m not right here,” Maria Tsani, 30, initially from Athens however now a Ph.D. candidate in biophysics within the Netherlands, mentioned on a current go to residence. “There aren’t any bushes and parks, and it may be tough to stroll round with no shade.”

She had introduced her boyfriend, Selim Sami, 30, a scientific researcher, to Athens for the primary time. The couple and a pal descended from the Acropolis, the place Ms. Myrivili mentioned the floor of the stones reached 60 levels Celsius. “It’s fairly painful,” Mr. Sami mentioned.

Dimitra Gasparis, 83, agreed as she leaned on her cane within the shade of an area church. “Too scorching,” she mentioned, including that she didn’t bear in mind such sustained warmth throughout her childhood. “I don’t like this.”

Neither did folks within the metropolis’s far western areas, which burn flame pink on a map of the most well liked neighborhoods in Athens. On a current afternoon there, in a mixture of business and residential neighborhoods, employees loaded power drinks onto vans and households rode round with the again hatches of their vehicles open for air flow.

Dimitra Founta, 49, mentioned that throughout the current warmth wave, to attempt to keep away from its wrath, she needed to run to her air-conditioned automotive from her workplace at an importing firm.

“We don’t shield the environment,” she mentioned. “It’s going to worsen.”

It’s Ms. Myrivili’s job to maintain that from taking place, however the fires raging throughout Greece will probably decrease her odds as they decimate the bushes that decrease temperatures.

And even when the temperatures subside, the shortage of bushes means there can be fewer roots to soak up water when rains lastly come. Athens a long time in the past cemented over its rivers, leaving no place for water to go, Ms. Myrivili mentioned: “We’re going to have unimaginable flooding.”

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