Climate Change Could Turn the Tokyo Olympics Into a Disaster The world will be watching.
People could die. SLATE
Between July 24 and Aug. 9 of this year, the temperature in Tokyo reached an average high of 92 degrees Fahrenheit, 6 degrees above the 30-year average. The average humidity reached higher than 80 percent, and the average heat index approached 120 degrees Fahrenheit. More than 20,000 people across Japan were hospitalized because of the heat, and nearly 70 people died.
The Tokyo Olympics are taking place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020. Do competitive sports and about 500,000 tourists under similar conditions sound like a good idea?
“Fundamentally, we should not be having the Tokyo Olympics in midsummer,” said Makoto Yokohari, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Tokyo. “Considering climate change, now it should be held in November.”
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first games ever held in Asia, were also the first to be telecast live around the world, uniting the globe around sports. They were also held in a cold and rainy October. As reported Thursday by the New York Times, the biggest reason the Olympics are being held in the summer this year is the outsize influence of American television and NBC on the scheduling.
That means that next summer, the world could unite instead around the shock and horror of the first Olympics marred by climate-related deaths. As countries lag far behind their Paris agreement commitments to mitigating the crisis—and after a recent round of U.N. climate negotiations that made very little progress—the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be the first climate disaster broadcast and streamed live for all to see.
“No one should be in the open air unless in an emergency situation.” — Makoto Yokohari, University of Tokyo professor of environmental studies
As global temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial average, Japan and its aging population have suffered brutal, long-lasting heat waves that would have been scientifically impossible if not for human-induced global warming. Climate change has already caused increased deaths from heat stroke and is expected to degrade the country’s rice supply, intensify Japan’s frequent natural disasters, and threaten key ecosystems—all by 2100.
According to data that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government provided to me, the heat island effect—a phenomenon where urban areas build up additional heat—has caused the average temperature in Tokyo to rise by more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 100 years. Yokohari expects that during the games, there could be days where temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit with more than 80 percent humidity. “That means that no one should be in the open air unless in an emergency situation,” he said.
But hundreds of thousands of tourists will swarm Tokyo’s streets next summer, turning the city’s famously crowded—but functional—intersections and subways into a boiling tourist bath. Companies are already telling Tokyo locals to just stay away from it all and work from home for their own safety.