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The Impact Heat Has on Health

California is on record to have its hottest year on record. This news came at the same time of another heat-related event:

A recent report in Nature Communications found that heatwaves are becoming significantly longer (Perkins-Kirkpatrick & Lewis, 2020). Specifically, heatwaves have been on the rise in both length and frequency in nearly every part of the world since the 1950s. While assumed to be true, it was never fully realized in the scientific literature. Thus, this is another novel finding as it is the first study to look at the issue at a regional level.

True, humans have always experienced heatwaves. However, the frequency and intensity is what has changed; this nuanced difference has been at the center of controversy of the climate change debate. The reality is that climate change looks different depending on where you are on the map. Perkins-Kirkpatrick and Lewis (2020) found that heatwaves truly vary around the planet, with the Amazon, north-eastern Brazil, west Asia (including parts of the subcontinent and central Asia), and the Mediterranean all experiencing more rapid change than southern Australia and north Asia, for example. Ironically, the only inhabited region where there was not a trend was in the central United States (it’s unclear why there is an anomaly there).

Main takeaway: Climate change is not uniform. It’s chaotic, messy, and unpredictable. But there is a clear trend in the total number of heatwave days within and across regions. Heatwaves are now longer and more intense than ever before; a trend that’s been rising over the past 70 years at a markedly accelerated rate.

The amount of cumulative intensity across heatwave seasons has increased across the planet over the decades:  the average increase per decade was between 1°C and 4.5°C (an increase of between 1.8°F and 8.1°F), though in some locations, i.e. the Middle East, parts of Africa, and South America, the rise appears to be closer to 10°C a decade. This means it is getting hotter and staying hotter for longer periods. 

Climate change is as much about change as it is about rate change. They are two separated, but related, conversations.

These accelerating rates are consistent with what climate scientists have long forecasted: that a rise in heat waves is a clear sign of global heating; they are a “clarion call” to policymakers that immediate action is needed to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis on human health. 

“The time for inaction is over,” the lead author, Perkins-Kirkpatrick, of the report writes. “The dramatic region-by-region change in heat waves we have witnessed, and the rapid increase in the number of these events, are unequivocal indicators that global heating is with us and accelerating.”

The worst heat waves recorded in history almost always align with catastrophic events. In south-eastern Australia, the worst heatwave season was the summer of 2009, when an estimated 374 people died over three days due to extreme heat (Cooper, 2009) and, 2 weeks later, the Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people (Hooper, 2019). Similarly, the most severe heatwave to hit the Mediterranean was in the summer of 2003, when an estimated 70,000 people died across Europe, due, in part, to extreme heat (Fischer & Schär, 2010). This same weather pattern also caused more than 10 billion dollars in damage to agriculture and forests.

Nearly 200 countries, including the U.S., have committed to a collective global response to tackle the climate crisis called the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. They all had agreed that a worldwide response is necessary to safeguard the Earth for future generations.  However, that all changed with the current Trump administration when the office announced that the U.S. would walk away from its promise on November 4, 2020 and shirk responsibility. 

As a family physician, I can honestly write that the stakes could scarcely be higher. In the period since the Paris agreement was signed, we have seen the five hottest years on record. That’s not a coincidence! If carbon emissions rise any more, the substantial climate change will definitely impact our children and grandchildren’s future detrimentally.

We can each make a difference! The biggest impact a person can make is changing what they choose to place on their dinner plate.  Choose fresh wholesome plant-based real food like vegetables, beans, and ancient whole grains versus animal-derived protein such as meat, fish, and/or dairy products to drive the most effective way to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.  Animals in agriculture are the BIGGEST producers of methane (aka., carbon dioxide) -- the DRIVER for CAUSING CLIMATE CHANGE. Cutting down trees throughout our planet for cattle grazing and to grow crops such as wheat, corn, and soy (predominantly used for animal feed) at exponential rates has led to the forests no longer able to soak up the excess carbon emissions.  Decreasing our dependence on oil is critical to placate the fossil fuel and food industry while demanding renewable energy sources be of  utmost importance. 

With your help, we can take collective responsibility for the future of the planet, our home, and our children.




Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plans. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393. 



Reference

Cooper, M. (2009). “Death toll soared during Victoria's heatwave. The Sydney Morning Herald.”  Retrieved from: https://www.smh.com.au/national/death-toll-soared-during-victorias-heatwave-20141112-9ubd.html

Fischer, E. M., & Schär, C. (2010). Consistent geographical patterns of changes in high-impact European heatwaves. Nature Geoscience, 3(6), 398-403.

Hooper, C. (2019). “Black Saturday is an Australian tragedy that redefined the way we live with fire.” The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/feb/02/black-saturday-is-an-australian-tragedy-that-redefined-the-way-we-live-with-fire

Perkins-Kirkpatrick, S. E., & Lewis, S. C. (2020). Increasing trends in regional heatwaves. Nature communications, 11(1), 1-8.

Author
Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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