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Experts brand heatwaves as dangerous as wildfires

Heat exposure is a silent killer that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. As global temperatures rise, awareness is key.

During recent heatwave seasons, wildfires have dominated the news. Videos of large flames engulfing landscapes around the world are a reminder of the danger that fast-spreading fires pose to nature, wildlife, homes, and communities.

However, the prolonged heat exposure that causes these fires remains a silent threat to humans, one that lurks when temperatures soar past normal levels.

Heat-induced health problems haven’t received enough attention in media coverage, as they aren’t as apparent or immediate as potential physical injuries caused by other weather events like flash floods or storms.

Long-term health consequences like kidney failure, brain damage, and heart damage have been linked to those who don’t have the means to adequately protect themselves during vicious heatwaves.

Evidently, it is a worthy topic of discussion, as human exposure to extreme heat is only being amplified further each year by the climate crisis. It’s also a timely one, as scorching temperatures are now the leading cause of annual deaths in the US over any other natural disaster.

Regardless of whether we meet the deadline of our current carbon reduction targets, global temperatures will continue to climb over the next couple decades.

Let’s take the positive stance and say the best-case scenario happens. It’s the year 2035, we’ve made the widespread global switch to sustainable, green technologies, and intense temperatures are finally plateauing.

We still need to wait until they fall to normal levels, as our climate ecosystem slowly repairs itself over time. So how can we best manage this?

In places where temperatures are already soaring 5-10 degrees beyond the norm during each summer season, experts are advising governments to set up warning systems, close schools, and discourage outdoor activities during especially warmer weeks.

The use of digital media is being encouraged as a useful avenue to raise public awareness of the dangers of extreme heatwaves, as well as to provide advice on safety measures and coping mechanisms.

Drinking lots of water, wearing light coloured clothing, choosing breathable fabrics, and simply staying inside are amongst some of the easiest guidelines to follow.

Credit: WHO

Some major infrastructural changes for avoiding heat will need building, especially in urban areas which are proven to have warmer air, surface, and soil temperatures.

Water-misting stations could be dotted along corners of city streets to help people stay cool. We’ll all be nice and dewy like the vegetable section at a supermarket.

Shaded areas in parks and on city streets will need constructing, sun-reflecting white paint on skyscraper rooves, and efforts to plant more trees will need to be ramped up.

One botanist is encouraging the transformation of heat-absorbing concrete cities into green jungles, which could see new trees act as dual-powered ‘air-conditioning’, cooling urban air while treating atmospheric pollution.

On the most basic level, remembering to check on family and friends – especially the elderly and most vulnerable – is important as we deal with the effects of our warming Earth.

We already highlighted here at Thred how 5 million people were displaced last year due to extreme weather events linked to climate change.

Unfairly, those bearing the brunt of devastating natural disasters are mainly those living in countries with the least emission levels.

I’m no meteorologist, but a look at the weather trends indicates that the gap of climate disparity could be starting to close, with richer nations enduring their highest recorded temperatures yet.

As we make strides to take better care of the planet, we sometimes need a reminder to care for one another.  That sentiment goes for high carbon-emitting companies and nations, too.

Could this turning of the temperature dial be a catalyst for change? The answer is still pending – but there’s no doubt policy makers will be starting to feel the heat.