Extreme heat continues to blanket much of Europe and North America, with some 55 million people in the United States facing heat warnings or advisories as early as Friday morning and weekend temperatures are expected to reach triple digits in many regions.
“So far this week, 60 daily high temperature records have been set/broken as dangerous heat enveloped much of the country,” the National Weather Service Prediction Center said. tweeted Thursday. “More records are likely to be set over the next week.”
So far this week 60 daily high temperature records have been set/broken as dangerous heat enveloped much of the nation. Some notable records include tied all-time highs in Salt Lake City, UT and Abilene, TX. More records are expected to be set next week. pic.twitter.com/uI1JeHIwcW
– NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) July 21, 2022
This appears to fit with broader trends, as climate change is making heat waves (as well as droughts and floods) more frequent and intense. And many American adults say they have personally felt the effects of extreme heat — from health problems to higher electricity bills — in recent years.
It’s not too late for nations and industries to take action to stave off the climate crisis, as a UN report revealed earlier this year. In the meantime, on hot summer days, it’s especially important for people to take steps like these to stay cool, mitigate health risks, and know what symptoms to watch out for.
NPR morning edition and All things Considered spoke with experts in various fields about what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, from furry friends to young children.
Heat waves aren’t good weather for dog walking
You may not want to go outside when temperatures approach 100 degrees. Frankly, your dog may not want either. But they still have to take walks and bathroom breaks.
So what can dog and cat owners do to keep their pets safe during extreme heat events?
All things considered Juana Summers posed this question to Sy Woon, the Florida representative for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
Woon says it’s important to choose the right time of day to venture out and avoid doing it at midday when the sun is at its highest and hottest point (its rays are usually strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
She also recommends feeling the sidewalk with the back of your hand to see if it’s too hot for your dog’s paws to tolerate.
“We sometimes think they can walk on any surface and get away with it, but in reality they can be quite sensitive,” she adds.
And what if Fido likes to partake in that classic summer activity of lying in the sun?
Woon suggests bribing dogs inside the house with treats during those particularly hot times of the day, as they can be susceptible to sunburn and even skin cancer.
As for cats, Woon says the key is to make sure they have options. This means making sure there are different shaded areas they can retreat to as well as several sources of water available, as it can evaporate in extreme temperatures.
And while panting is a normal way for these animals to eliminate heat, Woon says to be careful if it starts to seem excessive.
“When you notice your dog panting excessively, you really want to take that as a warning sign that he may be overheating,” she says. “Even things like being somewhat disoriented or maybe their expression, their eyes are a little glassy, these can be signs that they just aren’t compensating for the hot conditions. And it’s always important to encourage them. to stay indoors during those really hot and sunny times.”
Heat can have lasting health effects, but time spent outdoors matters too
Extreme heat can affect the human body in several ways, says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, pediatrician and acting director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
This causes you to sweat more, which can lead to dehydration. In addition, the increase in body temperature can threaten the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys and other organs.
“And so what we see as a consequence of these things is definitely people who have heart issues, lung issues, kidney issues, even mental health issues, they get sicker,” Bernstein said. “And even for people who are generally healthy, the heat can be really dangerous if we’re not paying attention to it.”
Certain groups are disproportionately affected by extreme heat, including infants and children, adults over 65, outdoor workers, people with chronic conditions, athletes, and low-income people.
Communities of color, especially black and Hispanic Americans, tend to live in parts of cities that are hotter than surrounding areas because they lack green spaces, Bernstein says, calling it a “direct consequence” of government policies of redlining dating back nearly a century.
“It’s no longer legal, of course, to do that, but the consequences in terms of heat exposure are real,” he adds.
Bernstein also notes that all of these issues are exacerbated by the higher temperatures we’re seeing as the climate warms. A child born in the United States today is likely to experience four or five times more dangerous heat waves than a child born in 1960, he says.
Bernstein says parents should do their best to keep their children safe without keeping them indoors all summer.
“I think we have to balance the immense benefits, especially in the summer, of kids going out, exercising, doing all these things, with being careful of the temperatures which…as this current moment clearly shows, are much warmer. higher than they were,” he says.
Bernstein adds that measures to reduce greenhouse gases that warm the climate are necessary to protect the health of children. And he is optimistic about possible solutions.
“Because warming has been so much about how we’ve built our communities, it means we can reverse it,” he says. “This means we can make great strides in preventing harm and advancing health equity when we are strategic in how we think about transforming urban environments.”
Cities can (and must) adapt to climate change
Builders and architects can also take steps to help cities adapt to rising temperatures.
Brigitte Clements of the Architects Climate Action Network explains that the approach is two-pronged: reducing thermal absorption (or the rate at which something heats up) and incorporating natural cooling strategies.
She points to natural processes that have been used for ages, such as ensuring there is cross ventilation to move air through buildings or using only reflective or white roofs (since black absorbs more heat). For example, she says many buildings in Greece have white roofs and parts of Australia have banned dark roofs altogether.
But the biggest intervention advocated by Clements is also one of the simplest: evaporative cooling, i.e. plants.
Plants transpire, releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves, and this process has a cooling effect. So having more greenery in cities and on buildings – such as in the form of green roofs – can significantly reduce temperatures.
“Green roofs have the benefit of reducing indoor temperatures by up to 5 degrees Centigrade, or 9 degrees Fahrenheit, in the summer, she says.
Clements mentions Basel, Switzerland, where green roofs account for about 40% of roof surfaces as a result of a government initiative launched about two decades ago.
“They basically asked residents, how about having a 5% levy on our energy bills to help subsidize green roofs in Basel for all new construction and flat roof renovations?” she explains.
So what’s stopping governments in places like the UK – which had its hottest day this week, sparking dozens of fires and major infrastructure disruptions – from implementing measures? similar?
Clements says a cultural transformation and a shift in mentality is needed, and this week’s heat episode could inspire people to take the threat more seriously.
“But at the end of the day, we can’t rely on people’s goodwill,” she says. “We need the government to have strong leadership and create policy and legislation to guide us through this and with very, very clear and quantifiable goals and targets.”
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