Ana Clara Benevides was aged 23, studying psychology and fulfilling her dream of attending Taylor Swift’s concert in Rio de Janeiro. Last Friday, during the eighth heat wave of this year in Brazil, Ana only saw the first song of the show. During the second, she fainted. She would die shortly afterward from a suspected cardiorespiratory arrest caused by the extreme heat. When Ana was taken ill, the apparent temperature — a combination of temperature and humidity — in the stadium was close to 60ºC. Swift canceled the next day’s concert because of the high temperatures, under angry protest from fans.
If the death of a young girl from the heat during an evening concert is frightening, so is the ensuing debate in the press and on social media. The big controversy revolved around water bottles: it was prohibited to bring liquids into the venue. Inside the Nilton Santos Olympic stadium, buying water, in addition to being expensive, became an almost impossible mission due to the size of the crowd. Firefighters reported that about a thousand people fainted the night Ana died. The Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino, subsequently issued an ordinance authorizing entry to multitudinous events with water bottles and requiring organizers to install easily accessible “hydration islands” with drinking water at venues.
The tone of the discussion — like the frustration of fans over the postponement of the second concert — highlights the total mental disconnect of the human species in the face of climate collapse. While it is important to ensure access to water at any event, this truism is far from the central issue. If extreme heat may have killed Ana, it is global warming we need to talk about. How to stop the fires that are currently burning the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, how to reduce deforestation in all biomes, how to prevent the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from opening a new front of oil exploitation in the Amazon, how to stop the fossil fuel corporations, how to ensure that COP28 makes real and urgent progress.
It is shocking how difficult it is to understand that, if immediate action is not taken to curb global warming, we will reach a point where it will be useless to have money to buy water because there will be no water to buy. It is shocking to note that young people have not yet understood that missing a concert is nothing compared to what they have already lost and how much they will still lose, not in the distant future, but tomorrow. It is as if most have erected a mental barrier that prevents them from perceiving the obvious: that life is going to get much worse and faster in any scenario, and even more so if a majority continue to alienate themselves from the political disputes that determine no longer the future, but the present.
Swift wrote on social media that she was unable to talk about what happened because she had “a shattered heart.” The singer has an ethical obligation to use her enormous visibility to talk about global warming, which will kill more and more. And which has now killed at her concert. For the young Ana there is no more time, but perhaps there is for most of us, if we stop being inhibited by the greatest challenge we have ever faced.
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