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A Heat Wave Is Not a Holiday in the Sun

Images of crowded beaches and swimsuit-clad sunbathers don’t convey the true dangers of extreme temperatures. So how should the media illustrate heat waves?

Scenes from the 2019 European heat wave. 

Scenes from the 2019 European heat wave. 

Photo-collage courtesy Saffron O’Neill

Some of the images that emerged from the record-setting heat wave that recently engulfed parts of the UK and Europe have become iconic: a fully uniformed member of the Queen’s Guard, sweating beneath an enormous bearskin hat, sipping water outside Buckingham Palace; firefighters battling enormous wildfires in parts of Spain and France as smoke blankets the sky. Temperatures reached above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time in several northern European cities, and more than 2,000 people have died from heat-related stresses in Spain and Portugal alone. 

But many of the photos that accompanied international headlines about the disaster sent a less-dire message: They often showed people having fun in the sun.