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Activism

Hot Fun in the City?

It’s not even summer on the calendar yet, and the temperature has already topped 100 degrees on several occasions in New York City. According to the Centers for Disease Control, global warming leads to more heat emergency days. In addition to the discomfort, increased need for air conditioning that strains the electrical grid in any region (remember the blackout of 2003?) and generalized lassitude that a lot of really hot days strung together brings, why are excess heat emergency days a big deal? For one simple public health reason: more people die.

Chicago may be famous for its 1871 fire, but my city took heat more recently for how it mishandled the 1995 heat wave, in which more than 500 excess heat deaths occurred. So many elderly, isolated, low-income people, afraid to open their apartment windows because they lived in high-crime neighborhoods perished that the city morgue was filled to capacity. Refrigerated trucks filled with corpses lined up outside of Cook County Hospital. The stench only made the morbid scene more grotesque. Even the revered New England Journal of Medicine researched the heat wave, the excess deaths, and the lack of local government response. The result: cities need to get ready for more heat waves, or heat emergency days and help protect their most vulnerable citizens when it gets really hot. So the next time it the thermometer hits 95 or 100 degrees for a few days, drink a lot of water, stay cool, and look in on your elderly and infirm neighbors. You may keep someone out of a refrigerated morgue truck.

Photo courtesy of Reverend Sam at flickr.com.




3 comments
  1. Sophie Lovinger

    It is a good idea to look in on elderly neighbors and express your caring for their welfare. However, how to we motivate people to do just that? I am reminded of the 75 year old man who was hit by a car in Philadelphia and was laying in the street while a crowd gathered but no one went over to him.

  2. Sara

    I recall some research out of the UIC School of Public Health — the same vulnerable people you describe inadvertantly turned their apartments into “convection ovens” by using fans to blow around the same hot air.

    Sarah’s admonition to be good — if nosy — neighbors is an important one.

  3. Robert Lovinger

    I’ve read suggestions that were it not for human activity, the planet might have gone into an ice age before humanity really appeared on the scene. But what seems hard to avoid is the high likelihood that we are going into a noticeable warming trend–absent intervening events such as a major volcanic eruption. If so, a lot of storms are likely to be stronger, a lot of tropical diseases will make themselves comfortable in extra-tropical areas, there will be increased deaths, increased energy usage, etc. Efforts to stop or even reverse this trend may indeed affect economic growth & activity for the next few quarters. The spread of the Ebola & Margrave viruses will likely have a major impact on human survival. Incurable diseases for which there is no treatment, widely spread, will affect the next few quarters when the population mortality approaches 90 %. Which choice makes better sense?

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