Extreme heat continues to blanket much of Europe and North America, with some 55 million people in the US facing heat warnings or advisories beginning early Friday and weekend temperatures forecast to reach triple digits in many regions.
“So far this week, 60 daily high temperature records have been tied/broken as dangerous heat engulfed much of the nation,” the National Weather Service Prediction Center said. he tweeted on Thursday. “More records are likely to be set over the next week.”
That seems to fit in with larger trends, as climate change is making heat waves (as well as droughts and floods) more frequent and intense. And many American adults report that they have personally felt the effects of extreme heat, from health problems to higher electricity bills, in recent years.
It is not too late for nations and industries to take action to avert the climate crisis, a UN report earlier this year found. Meanwhile, 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 for.
NPR morning edition Y 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 younger children.
Heat waves are not good weather to walk dogs
You may not want to go outside when temperatures are on the verge of 100 degrees. Frankly, your dog may not want to either. But they still have to go for walks and take bathroom breaks.
So what can dog and cat owners do to keep their pets safe during extreme heat episodes?
all things considered Juana Summers posed that 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 so in the midday hours when the sun is at its highest and hottest (its rays are usually strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
She also recommends feeling the pavement with the back of your hand to see if it’s too hot for your dog’s paws to tolerate.
“Sometimes we think they can walk on any surface and do fine, but in reality, they can be quite sensitive,” he adds.
What if Fido loves to partake in that classic summer heatwave activity of basking in the sun?
Woon suggests bribing dogs indoors with treats during those especially hot times of day, as they can be susceptible to sunburn and even skin cancer.
As for the cats, Woon says the key is to make sure they have options. That means making sure there are different shaded areas they can retreat to, as well as multiple sources of water available, as it can evaporate in extreme temperatures.
And while panting is a normal way for these animals to get rid of heat, Woon says to pay attention if it starts to seem excessive.
“When you notice that your dog is panting excessively, you really want to take it as a warning sign that he may be overheating,” she says. “Even things like being a little disoriented or maybe their expression, their eyes are a little glazed over, can be signs that they’re just not compensating for the hot conditions. And it’s always important to encourage them to stay inside during those really hot days and sunny”.
Heat can have lasting effects on health, but time outdoors is important, too
Extreme heat can affect the human body in a variety of ways, explains Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
It makes people sweat more, which can lead to dehydration. Also, increased body temperature can threaten the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and other organs.
“So what we see as a consequence of those things is that people who have heart problems, lung problems, kidney problems, even mental health problems, get sicker,” says Bernstein. “And even for people who are in generally good health, the heat can be really dangerous if we’re not paying attention.”
Certain groups are disproportionately affected by extreme heat, including infants and children, adults over 65, outdoor workers, people with chronic conditions, athletes, and people with low incomes.
Communities of color, particularly African Americans and Hispanic Americans, tend to live in parts of cities that are warmer than surrounding areas because they lack green space, Bernstein says, calling it a “direct consequence” of government policies. overhaul 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 points out that all of these problems are exacerbated by the higher temperatures we see as the climate warms. A child born in the US today is likely to experience four to five times more dangerous heat waves than one born in 1960, she says.
Bernstein says that parents should do everything they can to keep their children safe without keeping them indoors all summer.
“I think we need to balance the huge benefits, particularly in the summer, of kids getting outside, exercising, doing all of those things, with being careful about temperatures that…as this current moment makes very clear, are much higher than they have been,” he says.
Bernstein adds that action is needed to reduce greenhouse gases that are warming the climate to protect children’s health. And he is optimistic about possible solutions.
“Because warming has been due in large part to the way we’ve built our communities, that means we can reverse it,” he says. “That means we can make great strides in preventing harm and promoting health equity when we are strategic in how we think about transforming urban environments.”
Cities can (and should) adapt to climate change
There are also steps builders and architects can take to help cities adapt to rising temperatures.
Brigitte Clements of Architects Climate Action Network says there are two parts to the approach: reducing thermal absorption (or the rate at which something heats up) and integrating natural cooling strategies.
She points to natural processes that have been used for a long time, like making sure 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 Clements champions is also one of the simplest: evaporative cooling, also known as plants.
Plants transpire, releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves, and that process has a cooling effect. Therefore, having more vegetation in cities and on buildings, such as in the form of green roofs, can significantly lower temperatures.
“Green roofs have, in the summers, the benefit of lowering indoor temperatures by as much as 5 degrees Celsius,” or 9 degrees Fahrenheit, she says.
Clements points to Basel, Switzerland, where green roofs account for around 40% of roof surfaces as a result of a government initiative started some two decades ago.
“They basically asked the residents, how would you like to have a 5% tax on our energy bills to help subsidize green roofs in Basel for all new construction and flat roof retrofits?” she explains.
So what is stopping governments in places like the UK, which experienced its hottest day this week, sparking dozens of fires and major infrastructure disruptions, from implementing similar measures?
Clements says a cultural transformation and mindset change is needed, and this week’s heat event could make people take the threat more seriously.
“But ultimately, we can’t rely on the goodwill of people,” she says. “We need the government to have strong leadership and create policies and legislation to help guide us through this and with very, very clear and measurable goals and targets.”
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.