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The Burn of Climate Change

Posted by Sophie West on April 21, 2016

PSR's "Climate Change Makes Me Sick!" campaign continues to reveal the connections between climate change and health. This week we're focusing on the dangers of longer, hotter summers. Check out this week's postcards.

According to NASA, the world has already broken the record, set last year, for the hottest January-March three-month period. The recently released government report Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States predicts that all parts of the U.S. will experience increased average temperatures in the coming years. As a result, tens of thousands of premature deaths are likely to occur in the U.S. by the end of the century.

Heat waves already cause more than 1,300 U.S. deaths a year. Factors such as the absence of access to air conditioning; outdoor work, recreation, and commuting; and pre-existing chronic illness all increase the risk of death in extreme heat. Children and athletes are particularly vulnerable, as they spend most time outdoors and are more likely to experience dehydration.

Elderly people, especially those who suffer from respiratory illness, also have a greater mortality risk during extreme heat events. City dwellers are also at risk, as urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding communities since buildings and roads trap heat and wind currents are blocked by city infrastructure.

PSR's latest e-postcards highlight these climate-related threats to health. Download them, forward them or tweet them to share this vital, life-saving information!

Here's more on climate and health:

The body reacts to heat by working really hard to keep you cool. Blood vessels dilate, delivering greater amounts of water and salts to the skin's surface, causing you to sweat. In extreme temperatures this function is exacerbated, potentially resulting in dehydration and heat exhaustion. This can lead to heat stroke, which can produce delirium, convulsions, coma, and even death.

How will we ensure that people are safe and healthy?

  • Make sure you hydrate and keep cool. Reduce outdoor exposure and exercise when it's very hot, especially if ozone levels are elevated.
  • Local governments should provide cooling centers where people can find relief from extreme temperatures.
  • Cities are starting to incorporate more green spaces to keep temperatures down.

But these steps, while necessary, are not the solution. To truly ensure health, we need to take preventive actions to address the causes of climate change. That means reducing our use of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- to slash our emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. We need to switch as quickly as possible to clean, carbon-free (and methane-free) energy sources like solar and wind. Not only will we make a cooler world; we'll clean the air, reduce respiratory and cardiac diseases, and create new jobs that can't be offshored. Now, that's health-protective!

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