Heatwaves and Preventing Heat Deaths

There were hundreds of heatwave deaths in the Pacific Northwest of North America this year.

Many of the dead were found alone, in homes without air conditioning or fans. Some were elderly — one as old as 97. In Canada, British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between Friday and Wednesday afternoon. Normally, she said about 165 people would die in the province over a five-day period.

Heat above 32 degrees celsius (90F) celsius can start becoming quite dangerous. France had huge numbers of deaths at 110F. A few more degrees do not matter. Things become very dangerous and heatwave plans, reliable power and air conditioning are needed.

France reduced heatwave deaths from 15000 in a 2003 heat wave to 1462 in 2019. France did better than two decades ago but did worse than the Pacific Northwest of North America. France has less air conditioning in homes and buildings.

France created the 2004 National Heat Wave Plan. It is a top to bottom nationwide action plan setting out who should do what when temperatures reach certain levels. There were multimedia warnings to people about the heat wave and advising them how to cope with its effects.

The plan sets four levels of preparedness, from keeping a special eye out between June 1 and Sept. 15 up to “maximum mobilization” declared by the prime minister. At each stage the apparatus of the state, ranging from the national government to local pharmacies and mayors, swings into action.

A major thrust concerns publicity. 2019 marked the first time the authorities declared a top-level “red alert” and the first priority.

They remind people of the simple commonsense steps that they might not always follow” such as drinking at least a liter of water a day, eating normally, and avoiding outdoor exercise.

Homes for older people were required to provide a “cool room” for their residents – either air conditioned or shaded and facing north. School outings and sporting events were canceled.

In 2003, the death toll was especially high among isolated old people; every town hall in the country is now obliged to keep a register of its senior citizens so that health workers or volunteers can check up on them by phone or in person.

Japan used a similar media campaign after it had reduced power without nuclear plants from 2010-2012.

Air conditioning around the world consumes 1 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity yearly, and the use of air conditioning could increase 10 times by 2050.

A mass media and online public information campaign in Japan urged people to set their air conditioners to 28°C (82°F), to run them less, and to switch to electric fans. People also were advised to drink more water, dress in cool clothing, wear hats outdoors, and use blinds and curtains to block sunlight. Businesses allowed far more casual work attire than usual and shifted hours of operation to cooler times. Lights were dimmed in public areas, workplaces, and stores.

About two-thirds of households changed their energy use habits, whereas only 4% of households bought and installed newer energy-efficient air conditioners.

SOURCES- CS Monitor, Environmental Health Perspectives, Epidemiology
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com