NASHVILLE, TN – Climate change is happening because greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere prevent heat from escaping into outer space.
This heat trapping acts like a giant blanket surrounding the planet. And it’s happening faster than scientists expected it would. Besides drought and longer hotter fire seasons out West, Southern states are also experiencing more droughts, more hurricanes, and more heat waves. In fact, all parts of the country are experiencing heat waves and high temperatures.
“Higher temperatures kill but almost all of those deaths are preventable. We know from heat waves, for example, in Europe in 2003 when there were 70,000 excess deaths, that large numbers of people can die in heat waves,” said Dr. Kristie L. Ebi. Ebi is a professor at the University of Washington who has studied the health risks of climate variability and change all over the world for nearly 25 years. Ebi said that official figures put the number of deaths from heat in the U.S. around 300. But an analysis of heat-related deaths last year concluded more than 5,000 people die in the U.S. each year from it.
“It’s the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.,” Ebi said.
Ebi has assessed the health vulnerability in Central America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. She has helped implement adaptive measures in many countries to reduce mortality from rising temperatures.
“We know from the climate science that heat waves are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration… ….so unless action is taken mortality is going to increase during the summer,” she said.
Ebi said that a lot could be done to reduce that mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a number of safety tips here: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.html
When a heat wave hits, your body’s core temperature starts to rise. If you are old, have a chronic illness, or take certain drugs, you do not sweat easily and that’s how the body naturally cools down.
Sweating works like a swamp cooler. When it evaporates, it cools the skin, and reduces body temperature. If you don’t sweat you are at a higher risk from heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Dying from the heat is not like getting run over by a truck.
“Heat doesn’t kill Instantaneously. When you see a heat wave mortality starts within 24 hours. So heat accumulates in our body damaging the basic function of our organ systems. Once that temperature gets too high, we start having heat stress and we can go on to heat stroke and we can die from heat stroke or we can die because we have underlying heart disease and the strain on our heart was so high that it leads to a heart attack,” Ebi said.
When people think about global warming they don’t often think about how that affects their health. Ebi said that everybody needs higher awareness that heat is a killer and that it’s especially true for poor and marginalized communities.
“Many of these communities are structured such that they are hotter than other parts of the city,” she said. Poor urban neighborhoods tend to have more asphalt and fewer trees. That can raise air temperatures as much as 15 degrees.
“So people need to make sure they stay hydrated. They need to make sure that they’ve got the doors and windows open, they’ve got fans on, that they don’t wear heavy clothing, and they take actions to reduce their core body temperature.
If they can’t do that sufficiently within their living environment, many cities have not only heat wave early warning and response systems but they have cooling centers. Go to a cooling center and spend a few hours getting that core temperature down again,” she said.
When it comes to beating the heat this summer in Nashville, you could go for a swim at one of Metro’s pools. Four are located outside neighborhood community centers and four indoor pools are in regional centers. There is one at Hadley Regional Center in North Nashville.
You can also swim at the Centennial Sportsplex next to the Parthenon or Wave Country on Two Rivers Parkway. The YMCA has pools, too. You could go for a picnic at the Anderson Road Recreation Area on Percy Priest Lake or Old Hickory Beach on Old Hickory Lake.
If swimming isn’t for you, you could visit a neighbor who has air conditioning if you don’t. If neither of you do, a visit to the Opryland mall to stroll around or see a movie—anything to spend a couple of hours in an air-conditioned space.
The Bicentennial State Park downtown with its spurting fountains is a really popular place to cool off and have some fun. It’s closed for maintenance but should be operating again sometime in July.