The heat is deadly. This is a fact that seems self-evident on the one hand, as everyone has heard of heat stroke. On the other hand, we should be aware of it today. As the average temperature of the planet rises due to greenhouse gases, periods of extremely high temperatures become longer, more frequent and more intense.
Summer heat can sometimes only be associated with vacation, rest and cooling off in the water. This is only part of the truth. The heat can be dangerous, especially if we are not adapted to it. We must adapt to the conditions of the climate change era.
Canada experienced a record heat wave in 2021. Hundreds of heat-related deaths have been reported in the province of British Columbia. Victims are mostly seniors living alone and are found in ‘oven-like’ houses without proper insulation and ventilation. During this period, the services recorded 486 sudden deaths – twice the average number of deaths in a five-day period. These heat waves would be “practically impossible” without climate change.
One of the worst heatwaves in Europe to date occurred in 2003. More than 70,000 people in 12 countries have died.
The last heat wave was brought in mid-June – before the start of the calendar summer. In Poland we experienced the heat that plagued Western Europe for days. People in parts of the US, North Africa and the Middle East are very hot.
In France, temperatures over the weekend were above 40 degrees Celsius and records were set in some cities. A record 39.2 degrees Celsius was set in Cottbus, Germany. In western Poland, the temperature was above 38 degrees, which corresponds to the previous record – from 2019.
Scientists directly emphasize the link between heat wave and climate change. Of course, weather and climate are not the same, and short-term conditions – hot or cold, rain or dry – are weather phenomena and depend on many factors. However, climate change is making extreme weather events, including heat waves, more intense and frequent. And exceptionally strong phenomena would be impossible or practically impossible (for example, their probability is one event in several thousand years) if the climate does not warm.
This can be clearly seen in the graph below. When we calculate the average temperature for a given area, the days above and below the average are equally warmer and colder. Most are with a temperature slightly different from the average, and the least – with extreme anomaly (exceptionally warm or hot).
As the climate warms, this base or average temperature is shifted upward (or, as in this graph, to the right). This doesn’t mean it will never get colder – there are still cold spells, so those below the new average. But if we compare it with the old average, and thus the “normal” climate as we know it, it turns out that there are fewer colder days and more warmer days. In addition, what we thought of as extreme heat is now a regular occurrence, with new extremes higher than anything we’ve ever seen.
Unequal to the climate crisis
It may seem that something like a heat wave affects everyone in the same way. However, this is not true. People who work in air-conditioned offices, have air-conditioning in their homes and move between them in an air-conditioned car – they are largely protected from the effects of heat (as long as it doesn’t lead to power outages).
Many other people don’t have that option: High temperatures are dangerous for people in a homeless crisis, for workers or for athletes – people who spend more time outdoors. Children, seniors and people with certain chronic diseases are particularly vulnerable.
Rising temperatures are strongly felt by residents of urbanized areas. A large number of artificial surfaces (concrete, asphalt, etc.) accumulate in cities and form the so-called heat islands. A smaller proportion of plant areas, lower humidity and limited ventilation options cause an even greater temperature rise, increasing the effects and risks of heat.
In hot weather, in the absence of wind and rain, the concentration of allergens and pollen in the air also increases. This results in the malaise and health status of allergy sufferers and asthmatics, the number of which is estimated to be over 300 million.
How to behave in hot weather
– In hot weather, it is worth going as little as possible from home in the afternoon, especially in the city. Try to do your shopping in the morning and early evening. Second, whether we stay at home or not, we should drink at least 2.5 liters of non-carbonated water – explains Marzena Rudnicka, president of the National Institute of Silver Economy.
When the temperature rises above 30 degrees, the heat can be dangerous not only in the sun, but also at home. Air conditioning is not standard in Polish homes, but we can mitigate the effects of heat in other ways.
– Also consider solutions such as windmills, which do not cool the air, but set it in motion. It is also worth covering the windows during the day and not letting the apartments heat up. Cold baths and showers are beneficial, Rudnicka explains. It is good practice to eat light meals and avoid alcohol.
Dangerous for animals and the environment
Dangerous heat waves contribute to wildfires, wildfires, peat swamps and pastures. This causes massive emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants into the atmosphere, while increasing warming. The pollutants emitted into the atmosphere have a negative impact on the health of local residents.
Just as heat can be deadly to humans, they pose a deadly threat to animals — both in the wild and in agriculture. They can’t use the air conditioning, and the drought that can come with heat keeps them from having access to water.