Heat waves and climate change have been occurring since our planet was young. It just wasn’t on the scale that it’s on now. The earth is getting warmer because the heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHG) are being trapped. The more we use fossil fuels, the more greenhouse gases are produced, making our planet hotter and hotter every single year. That fact coupled with the amount of natural disasters we experience doesn’t bode well for us. Hotter temperatures seem to be the norm now a days and extreme heat can increase the likelihood of other types of natural disasters. It brings on heat that could potentially lead to droughts, and certain hot and dry conditions can in turn create wildfires. In major cities, buildings, roads and infrastructure can be heated to exceedingly higher temperatures than normal, while natural surfaces remain closer to regular air temperatures. This is felt most intensely during the day. However, the slow release of heat from infrastructures overnight is keeping cities and towns much hotter than surrounding areas. Rising temperatures across the country pose a great threat to not only people, but also to ecosystems and the economy of the country.
Not only is it bad for our planet, extreme heat is bad for us humans as well. Heatwaves lead to heat stress in a lot of individuals. Heat stress is when body heat builds up due to either internal muscle use or externally by the environment. Under normal conditions, the body can cool itself through sweating, but when the humidity is high, sweat will sit on our skin and not evaporate as quickly. Which is what potentially leads to heat stroke. High humidity and elevated evening and nighttime temperatures are likely key ingredients in causing heat-related illness and mortality. When there’s no break from the heat at night, it can cause discomfort and lead to health problems, especially for persons who have low income and can’t afford cooling devices or the elderly who may not be able to take care of themselves, if access to cooling is limited. I myself suffer from asthma and can say that without a doubt, I feel symptoms much worse during the summer time, regardless of the time of day. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes hacking and coughing covered in sweat.
Changes must be made, and we must protect our health from rising temperature and extreme heat. According to the World Health Organization, “rapid rises in heat gain due to exposure to hotter than average conditions compromises the body’s ability to regulate temperature and can result in a cascade of illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia.” These can all lead to death. They go on to talk about how, “heat conditions can alter human behavior, the transmission of diseases, health service delivery, air quality, and critical social infrastructure such as energy, transport, and water.” The scale and nature of the health impacts of heat depend on a few factors such as the timing, intensity and duration of a temperature event. They way adjustments are made, and the adaptability of the local population, infrastructure and institutions all contribute towards the prevailing climate.
Things need to change, and they look like they will, but in the meantime, there are steps people can take to protect themselves from things like heatwaves. Simple things like staying out of the heat, or just moving to coolest room in your home could make a difference. The World Health Organization recommends you, “aim to keep your living space cool. Check the room temperature between 08:00 and 10:00, at 13:00 and at night after 22:00. Ideally, the room temperature should be kept below 32 °C during the day and 24 °C during the night. This is especially important for infants or people who are over 60 years of age or have chronic health conditions.” A practical thing to do for those in air-conditioned houses is to ensure that their windows and doors are closed in order to keep cooler air in. Heat waves are extremely dangerous and are becoming less rare the more time goes on, but ultimately, if we do just enough to ensure our bodies stay cool during them, we have a pretty good chance of surviving.