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Will Climate Change Make the Next World Cup Too Hot to Handle?

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Will Climate Change Make the Next World Cup Too Hot to Handle?
Doha, Qatar. Pixabay

By Aimee Sison

After four weeks of fanfare, the 2018 World Cup has come to a close. France's victory in Sunday's final marked the end of a summer filled with thrilling victories, surprise defeats, national pride (and disappointment), penalty kick-induced panic and many other emotions associated with soccer.


Fans, unfortunately, will have to wait longer than usual to experience it all over again. That's because the next FIFA World Cup in 2022 will be held in winter, not summer, due to the sweltering climate of the next host country, Qatar.

Located on the Persian Gulf, Qatar sees an average high temperature of 108 degrees F in the summer, and temperatures close to 123 degrees F have been recorded in the capital Doha. For a sport that requires players to run continually for 90 minutes, this poses a huge health hazard. And even without the physical strain of playing soccer at the highest level, extreme heat threatens significant health problems, including dehydration, exhaustion and stroke.

Qatar lies on the Persian Gulf, one of the warmest regions on Earth. Google Maps

Past sporting events demonstrate the danger of extreme heat. The 2014 Australian Open continued play through temperatures of 108 degrees F, which caused the Canada's Frank Dancevic to grow faint and hallucinate, seeing the cartoon character Snoopy. Dancevic later said that it was "inhumane" to make competitors play tennis in that heat.

Due to the dangers associated with extreme heat, FIFA's executive committee decided to move the 2022 World Cup from its typical June to July timeframe to late November and December, when high temperatures reach above 80 degrees F. This forces soccer fans to wait an additional six months to see their team on the world stage, but it will be significantly safer for players who take part in the tournament.

A winter tournament is particularly important given the effect of climate change. Qatar is likely to be warmer in 2022 than it is today, and research has shown that in the Middle East, unlike the rest of the world, temperatures are rising faster in the summer than in the winter. Each year, the region sees a new heat record broken. On June 26, Quriyat, Oman set a stunning record for highest low temperature. That day, the mercury did not fall below 108.7 degrees F. If global warming continues at its current pace, scientists project that, by 2100, the Arabian peninsula and surrounding areas could be too hot and humid for humans to survive outdoors.

Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

Qatar organizers are fully aware of the heat concerns, not just for the players but for millions of expected visiting fans as well. In May 2017, the country finished construction of Khalifa International Stadium, its first World Cup stadium and the world's largest air-conditioned open-air arena. The advanced cooling technology will keep the field and stands around 79 degrees F.

While prioritizing the health of players and fans, organizers have neglected to safeguard construction workers, who are building stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure ahead of 2022. Following reports of hundreds of migrant laborers in Qatar dying as result of working long hours in extreme heat, including many working on World Cup buildings, critics called on organizers to instate better labor protections. Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said that "as Qatar scales up its FIFA World Cup construction projects, authorities need to scale up transparency about worker deaths that could be heat related, and take urgent steps to end risks to workers from heat."

Organizers' apparent disregard for hot, humid working conditions fits a pattern of systematic abuse and exploitation, according to Amnesty International. "My life here is like a prison," a worker from Nepal told the organization. "The work is difficult, we worked for many hours in the hot sun."

Unfortunately, the sweltering temperatures making life difficult in Qatar today will only get worse in the years ahead. Climate change is making the world hotter by the day, with consequences for athletes, fans and, in particular, workers, who have to contend with extreme heat.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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