Eleni Myrivili likes the heat and sunny days. At the same time, he finds it exhausting having to walk through very hot streets, without trees, without shadows. Myrivili’s job is more or less this, to make the city of Athens cooler and more pleasant.
She is the heat secretary of the capital of Greece, one of the first people in the world, since impacted by climate change, to occupy a position like this. After all, even if you like the heat, everything has a limit.
Or rather, there should be a limit: 1.5°C increase, in relation to the pre-industrial period, according to the nations of the world woke up (on paper, considering that successive alerts do not seem to wake governments to action) in the Paris Agreement.
Heat waves around the world, including in Myrivili’s Athens, are longer and stronger now. “And it will get worse” as we approach the 1.5°C that seems inevitable to be surpassed, says the secretary of Heat. “It’s one of the reasons I was nominated.”
At the end of November, she opened the Green Nation Worldwide event, focused on sustainability, with a lecture entitled “As forests, cities they also burn.”
Myrivili is on a mission to make Athens more resilient to heat waves. One of the concerns is the elderly, who are more vulnerable to high temperatures. The way is to build actions to ensure the greatest possible freshness in the homes of the elderly, with the possibility of even moving house.
The biggest difficulty of her work, says Myrivili, is to make the heat central to the discussions, not just an “extra” in the city’s issues.
“It will not be easy to change people’s minds and how things are done quickly, in time, and in time”, he says. “We have to start preparing for the heat. Heat waves and fires will be a big part of our future.”
Read the following interview with the secretary.
You are the heat secretary , one of the first people in the world with such a position. What do you do in your day to day work? A heat secretary wakes up every morning and tries to think about how to make the city better prepared for heat waves and how to protect the most vulnerable.
But she also thinks about how to make cities more livable and more beautiful, more interesting for locals and tourists. Bring more nature to her, make her more sustainable and egalitarian.
You have been in office for a few months . What has already been put in place and what are the plans to control the heat of Athens in the next years old? A team of scientists is working on a specific methodology to determine the best way to categorize heat waves. Our plan is for this to be the first summer in Athens where there will be names and categorization for heat waves.
This is going to be really fantastic and makes a huge difference. Each category will have a higher or lower risk rating for people in the city. I think it will help with media communication and will also help legislators decide and standardize how to react to different types of heat waves.
We are also involved in a big project to cool the city. We are joining ten municipalities in the Athens metropolitan area to redesign green areas using water from an ancient Roman aqueduct that we have not been using for a long time.
It is an amazing monument built in the year
. I hope this becomes a pilot project to create guidelines on how to build nature-based solutions to lower temperatures.
A few weeks after you took office, big fires started in the country. Did you participate, in any way, in combat actions? Was not involved. I was in my apartment working, doing a lot of interviews.
The fire was about 20 km or 40 km from the city. It was extremely hot and raining ash on everything. We couldn’t breathe. The city was empty and the sky red. It was horrible.
Heat waves are not such a recent phenomenon in Europe. Why has a position like yours been thought of only now, and why in Athens? The last decade was the hottest in history. The fact that we’ve had hot flashes before is true, but the ones we have now are much longer and much hotter. And this is a consequence of climate change.
And it will get worse. It’s one of the reasons I was nominated. The forecasts, according to the IPCC report August, are that we will not be able to stay below 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, as was signed in the Paris Agreement.
In Athens , for example, we believe that by the middle of the century we will have hotter and longer heat waves, up to 15 or 12 days in summer. We have to start preparing for the heat.
We’ve been talking about global warming for decades, but we haven’t talked about how to protect cities, which are getting hotter and hotter, the way they’ve been. built and the number of people who live in them. Cities are vulnerable. Heat waves and fires will be a big part of our future and we have to prepare for them.
Greece has a large number of older people, something worrisome for hot flashes. How are you preparing to deal with this problem for this population? You’re totally right, that’s right. We have to protect the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to the heat. We’ve already put in place a program called Help At Home Plus.
We’re training people to make sure there can be help with the heat. That means checking out the seniors’ apartment and trying to see ways to make the place cooler. Many of these elderly people suffer from energy poverty, are pensioners, and, even those who have air conditioning, sometimes do not have the financial means to turn on the device.
We have to make sure that we are building the right skills in the homes or finding ways to help these people move. Women who live alone with young children also need support.
What is the biggest challenge for a Heat Department? My main challenge is to transform these policies that I mentioned into something mainstream, not an “extra”. Making everything we do in the city take into account temperatures and climate change.
It’s going to be hard to teach old dogs new tricks. It will not be easy to change people’s minds and how things are done quickly, in time. Because we only have a decade to prevent the very destructive results of the option to let climate change run free.
Any friend of yours or family member, or yourself, have you ever had a problem with hot flashes? What are your memories of heat? I have known people who have died from the heat in Greece and Canada.
What comes to my mind is how unbearable it is to walk under a very hot summer sun. And I like the heat. I prefer summer to winter, I love sunny days. But it’s paralyzing to walk on a very hot street, without shadows, without trees.
Making the city’s open spaces more attractive to people is part of my role. Many people cannot leave the cities. When heat waves start, poorer people are trapped.
Rich people can go elsewhere, but not people who live in poor neighborhoods, which are the most exposed to heat, with fewer trees and infrastructure. We need to ensure that these people are protected.
Professor at the University of Aegean, is a senior advisor for resilience and sustainability in Athens. She began, in 2015, her time as secretary of Resilience of the Greek city and, in 2017, launched the Athens resilience strategy for
. In the area of sustainability and adaptation, he has been working within the Athenian administration since 2014.