Monday, March 04, 2013

Hot Heads

In the typically deadpan drone, so muted and clotted with quantitative analysis that it comes close to stupidly missing the point way of some scientific research findings, this report on "it's the humidity as well as the heat" study of the effects of global heating dances around what to me is a primary dread about it all, even in the present and very near future.

So these scientists studied people who work outside, and conclude that with more very hot summer days, it will become more dangerous to spend as much time out there as they normally do now.  Well, duh. But at least they factor in the effects of humidity.

My own ahah moment came in a couple of summers at the end of the 1980s in Pittsburgh.  I had experienced searing heat growing up in western Pennsylvania, though it was not as bad as summers in downstate Illinois.  But those weeks of horrendous heat waves changed my life.  They were one big reason I fled at the first opportunity to this strip of very northern California coast, where a heat wave would be more than a few successive afternoons of 75F.  And I haven't experienced one of those yet.

But I'm not talking about the physical effects of being outside.  I'm talking about the effects of heat and humidity on my ability to think straight and feel like myself.  The physical effects as they translate to the band of heat around my head and the humidity taking over my sinuses.

Not everyone is affected to the same degree I suppose, but I'll bet a lot of people are meaningfully affected, and this is something seldom discussed when contemplating the climate crisis and its future. Longer, more frequent and more intense heat waves are already here, and every feature of them will only increase.  So at a time when cooler heads should prevail, we will have more hot heads.  At a time when innovative and systematic thinking will be needed, we will have sloggy brains flailing around in the humid murk.  Not to mention heat prostration, heat exhaustion.

One of those summers I didn't have air conditioning, so I spent as much time as possible in the cold of Eat & Park and other eating and drinking establishments, and movie theatres.  The next summer I had a room air conditioner that I carried from bedroom in the morning to office and back again at night.  That kind of heat and humidity that does not really relent at night cannot be completely blotted out with air conditioning.

These thoughts may seem strange when for example the Midwest is being smashed with another snowstorm.  But that's part of the point.  When it's actually hot you can't actually think straight. I worry about the effects of recurrent persistent high heat and humidity not only on health (something that is itself not taken seriously enough) but on mental health, on the ability to think clearly and make smart decisions.  Especially if we wait until the heat is merciless.

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