It’s an ill wind that blows no good and all that. The warming trend will allow for longer growing seasons in some locations, reduced snow removal budgets elsewhere, and the sale of parkas will go down, one assumes. But there will also be ill effects and that’s my specialty.
We forget some of the accommodations we’ll have to make, but the writers of Boston’s emergency plan don’t miss much. For example they may be planning to modify work schedules for employees and contractors. Good idea. The 7-3 shift would miss the hottest part of the day—about mid-afternoon. A lunch break at the end of the shift might be attractive to many workers who could leave for home at 2 PM.
Boston’s also thinking about more spray mists at outdoor events. This will cool off concert goers and others, but not soak their clothes. More water stations can be hooked up to fire hydrants too.
Boston note that they have 11 days per year with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a long, hot week, and we’ve all experienced one. We stay in the air conditioning, curtail shopping, and don’t jog. But Boston estimates that this could triple to 30 days a year by the end of the century. It’s much harder to modify a schedule to get through a whole month of heat days.
Many of us also forget that heat in cities also means poor air quality. Bad air is really bad for people with asthma, the elderly, people with COPD, and those with other respiratory ailments. Boston estimates that poor air quality could quadruple.
Heat is more trouble than you might think. More people die in Florida because of the heat than because of hurricanes and tornadoes combined. Louisville’s plan notes that excessive heat claims an average of 162 lives per year. Hurricanes kills 117, floods 65, tornadoes 62, and lightening 48. Imagine when thousands are dying per year because of heat.
Boston notes how heat affects crime. Crime in the streets and in retail shops goes down, perhaps because people are staying home. But domestic violence goes up and we have to prepare for this. Even if those people at home don’t engage in violence, there’s still trouble. A more sedentary lifestyle can lead to more diabetes and heart disease. More heat is more trouble. Then there will be the increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile.
Mists and shift work are good, but what about the most vulnerable—the elderly in non-air-conditioned housing? If there isn’t a shopping mall nearby, it would be nice of neighbourhood theatre owners to hand out free movie tickets. This could even be automatic when the temperature goes above 90 degrees. For those with mobility challenges, the city could deploy air conditioned transit busses or highway coaches. These could be parked in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and used to cool 60 or so passengers comfortably. If the coach had movies—even better.
And while we’re thinking creatively about how both the public and private sectors can address the heat issue, let’s also think of spreading around the cost of helping our fellow citizens. Residential building developers and existing landlords could be required to have one common room, perhaps the party room, air-conditioned to 75 degrees when outside temperatures rise to 90. A bylaw could require existing buildings to be retrofitted if they have suitable party rooms.
Schools with air conditioning could be required to let in grand-parents for the day—probably a welcome visit for the kids too.
There are already millions of people who live safely in the kind of climate that may be coming our way. We can too.