Yesterday, we learned that Ana Clara Benevides died as a result of extreme heat while attending a Taylor Swift concert in Rio De Janeiro last month. The incident happened November 18, and the investigation by the coroner concluded yesterday that the cause of death was the insane heat that blanketed much of Brazil that week. And when I say insane heat, I mean a heat index of ~60 degrees C, ~139°F. (Heat index is a blended measure of temperature and humidity — basically how it affects the human body.)
Benevides was found to have no pre-existing conditions that contributed to her death, according to Rio’s Forensic Medical Institute.
The concert venue did not help the situation, doing a poor job of heat management. They could/should have built more shade structures, provided water refill stations, and allowed people to bring their water bottles. But those are “normal” concert venue management practices these days. What’s not normal is a heat index of 60°C/139°F.
And now, I wonder how will Taylor Swift respond to this announcement? Swift has something special — a charisma that few others have. She has a legendary following. I honestly had to google it to find out why she is so popular. (Hey, I’m a middle aged man without kids … Swift might as well be some ancient Russian author without an English translation — I would know similar amounts about both of them. The only reason she’s even on my radar is that she’s dating Travis Kelce, one of pro football’s best players.) Among the things I found in my curiosity journey was an NPR podcast where one of the co-hosts explained, oftentimes through tears, Swift’s lyrics, the history, and Swift’s personal journey. The TLDR version is that Swift is an incredible songwriter who has managed to capture every essence of the experience of being female in the modern age.
My thought, though, is that Swift has a power that few others have. Will she use that power to help us solve climate change?
Swift connects with millenials like few others do. She’s got over half a billion followers on a variety of socials, and likely most of them are under 40 and female. This represents a lot of political, consumer, and echo chamber power. She can encourage her followers to dive into climate change as the existential threat of our time, to learn everything they can, and to do what they can do, whether it’s biking, gardening, or buying an EV. I hope that she finds true and accurate sources of information to spread, as we all know there’s a lot of purposeful misinformation out there that benefits big oil and other big polluters who benefit by the spread of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about climate solutions. (Madam Swift, please just go talk to Bill McKibben … he’ll guide you in the right direction, just as he did to prompt Joe Biden to make a push for heat pumps to take away financial power from petrostate Russia, and just as he’s doing now to stop giant natural gas disasters in the making).
I would then hope Swift will use her platform to promote local food, organic farms, solar, EVs, energy efficiency, wind, and all the things we know we need to do to solve the climate crisis. Pushing consumers to vote with their dollars would be the most powerful thing she can do.
She can also help politically by aligning her followers with many great groups — 350.org, and the like. The year-end wrap on Planet Money suggested that the US presidential election next year may very well be determined not by the economy, but by how people “feel” about the economy. And many in Swift’s fanbase demographic are feeling down about the economy despite economists almost universally describing the current economy as doing really well in the US. All indicators show that it looks like we managed to pull off a “soft landing” after COVID. But that’s not how young people feel — mainly because of misinformation spread on TikTok? And many in that same demographic only know one thing about Joe Biden’s handling of the climate — and that’s the approval of the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, a project that was cleared of all legal hurdles by the previous administration and would have just wasted tax dollars to fight. Meanwhile, Biden has arguably been the best climate president we’ve ever seen (politicians just follow political winds — and right now, climate is in the public awareness like never before, so I’m not going so far as to say Biden was a leader on this, but I’d argue he has stepped up to the challenge of the day admirably). I have many 20 and 30 somethings in my life, and have been asking them what they think of the greatest piece of climate legislation ever signed in the US — the Inflation Reduction Act — and guess what … none of them so far have even heard of it. Biden will need younger voters to beat a climate denialist in 2024, and Swift holds huge sway in that group.
And last, I’d love for Swift to come on CleanTech Talk, CleanTechnica’s podcast, to talk about her climate action plan. Madam Swift, have your people talk to my people — we’ll make it happen.