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What does Taylor Swift owe the planet?
A concertgoer's death amid extreme heat fueled by the climate crisis is sparking new questions about the superstar's responsibility to protect her fans.
It’s been widely reported that the day 23-year-old Ana Clara Benevides collapsed and died at a sold-out sweltering Taylor Swift concert in Rio de Janeiro was a historic and dangerously hot day for Brazil, with the local heat index exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48ºC).
What has been less discussed, at least thus far, is the fact that the day Benevides died was also a historic and dangerously hot day for the whole world.
On Friday, November 17, scientists saw Earth’s average surface temperature momentarily rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time since humans began keeping temperature records, marking a brief entry into a deadly phase of climate change that scientists have been frantically warning about for decades.
That following day, the heat index in Brazil reached up to 138 degrees Fahrenheit (58ºC). This time, Swift announced she would postpone the second night of her Eras tour in Brazil. "The safety and well-being of my fans, fellow performers and crew has to and will always come first,” she wrote.
And on that same day—Saturday, November 18—scientists announced that Earth’s average surface temperature had once again crossed the 2 degree Celsius warming threshold, now for the second time in modern recorded history.
It’s not a coincidence that these news events happened simultaneously. The climate crisis made Brazil’s extreme temperatures five times more likely to occur, according to Climate Central’s Climate Shift Index.
And though the two stories may be treated separately by the news media, extreme heat experts say Taylor Swift’s deadly concert and the Earth’s grim temperature milestone are in fact part of the same narrative: They each illustrate the consequences of ignoring scientists’ warnings about the deadly risks of climate change.
“This summer, whether in the U.S. or Brazil, is likely one of the coolest summers of the rest of our lives,” said Bharat Venkat, an associate professor at UCLA and director of the UCLA Heat Lab. “It's not even that what we're experiencing now is the new normal; it’s probably the best it's going to be.”
So if megastars like Taylor Swift want to keep touring the ever-warming planet to bring tens of thousands of people in close outdoor quarters together, without deadly consequences, experts say they not only have to take more seriously the dangers of extreme heat—they have to be more vocal about the reason it’s so hot in the first place.
“I of course understand that for someone like [Taylor], the climate crisis is a political quagmire,” said Jeff Goodell, author of The New York Times bestseller The Heat Will Kill You First, in an email. “But fuck, she has the power to wake up millions of people to the risks of the climate crisis. Why doesn’t she use it?”
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The unharnessed climate potential of Taylor Swift
As a journalist who’s spent years reporting on deadly extreme heat, Goodell has a lot of thoughts about what went wrong at Swift’s Brazil concert on Friday, and what could be done by venues and entertainment companies to better protect fans.
But as a bonafide Swiftie, who’s been to three of Taylor’s tours—Red, Reputation and 1989—Goodell also believes the superstar has not only a responsibility, but a unique opportunity to protect her fans by speaking up about the climate crisis.
First and foremost, though, Goodell said that people in charge of large events like stadium shows must start taking the threat of extreme heat far more seriously. “It’s outrageous the show went forward at all,” he said.
Not only did organizers know the heat was coming, Goodell said, they should have known how deadly extreme heat can be at events like these. After all, during the 2022 World Cup, 400 to 500 workers died while building the stadium in Qatar’s extreme summer heat. And over the past 25 years, 68 American football players have died from heat stroke, which is also one of the leading causes of sudden death in sports overall.
“To me, what this demonstrates is just how stupid and/or unserious people are about the risks of extreme heat,” Goodell said. “Concerts and other outdoor events are routinely cancelled because of hurricane or tropical storm threats, or even reports [of] lightning in the vicinity. But heat gets little or no consideration. Why?”
His concerns echo those of Madeleine Orr, an assistant professor of sport ecology at the University of Toronto, who said that most venues’ weather cancellation policies do not mention extreme heat, and that this must change in the era of climate change. She also noted that, at Swift’s Friday show in Rio, the venue didn’t allow concertgoers to bring in water or water bottles, which led to reportedly thousands of people being treated for dehydration by emergency services, and Swift herself stopping the show to urge fans to get water. In the aftermath of the concert, Brazil’s Justice Minister Flávio Dino tweeted that water bottles would be allowed at concerts and festivals, and that venues must provide free drinking water.
“So far, the strategy around managing heat at big sport events and big festivals is to make sure the medical team is ready to hand out water,” Orr said.
But even if the venue adequately supplied water, Goodell noted, it may not have been enough. “All water does is allow you to sweat. It doesn’t actually cool you off,” he said. “In my book, I cite lots of research and evidence that people can die of heat stroke even though they have plenty of water.”
This is why he goes back to the untapped potential of Swift herself: Because the main problem he sees right now is not with a lack of ideas of how to protect people from climate change and extreme heat. It’s a lack of collective will to implement those ideas, which Swift has the unique power to create.
Swift has said she was left “devastated” by Benevides’ death; at her Sunday show in Brazil, she performed a deep album cut about grief, “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” which fans speculated was in honor of Benevides.
But as time goes on, Goodell hopes Swift will say more on the deadly threat of extreme heat, which her fans will only face more frequently as the climate crisis worsens.
“She doesn’t have to trash-talk ExxonMobil,” Goodell said. “Just acknowledge in some very Taylor way that our world is heating up and we need to pay attention and get smart about the risks we face.“
“She obviously has a deep emotional connection with her fans,” he added. “And when one of her fans dies at her concert because we’re cooking the planet with fossil fuels, doesn’t she have some responsibility to acknowledge that, or at least talk about it?”
Goodell also said he hopes that, given Swift’s immense power and privilege, she would feel some responsibility to speak out—just as he feels a responsibility to do the same.
“I think Taylor is an incredible performer, and she seems like a morally astute human being,” he said. “But at some point, if she wants to be a force for good in the world, she needs to use her voice at moments like this.”
(FYI: We sent Goodell’s full comments to Swift’s press team and asked if they would like to respond, but we haven’t heard back as of press time. We’ll update if we hear anything back).
Catch of the Day: Eight-year-old white German Shepherd Brody hates extreme heat, but he really hates thunderstorms. According to reader Julie, even the slightest rumble sends him in search of somewhere safe—even if his big, 100-pound body doesn’t quite fit.
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