Updated: Sep 25
One of the consequences of climate change that will affect many of us is an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Many regions are not used to these extreme events and are not equipped with air conditioning or cool zones. How can you improve your life to better live these events in the near future, even without air conditioning?
TLDR: For many living beings, the risk of heat waves and droughts represents a real danger to their lives. Climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of these extreme events, and we must be prepared for this. This does not necessarily mean migrating, even if it is sometimes the only solution left.
For starters, what are heat waves?
Heat waves are not triggered in the same way everywhere, but it is important to know that there are common points to all these alerts: temperature. In order for a heat wave to be triggered, three criteria must be taken into account:
a daytime temperature higher than 30/35°C
a temperature at night that is not low enough to dissipate the heat of the day (usually over 20°C)
both of the above criteria lasting more than three days.
What are the risks of heat waves, beyond sweating and a general discomfort ?
The heat wave, presents several dangers. The first that comes to mind is sunburn. And yes, when you say heat wave, you often say big sun! That's why if you have to go out in the middle of a heat wave (which is particularly not recommended) you should protect yourself against the sun with a suitable cream.
Another risk is heatstroke, which occurs when the body temperature rises significantly and ends up above 40°C. This means that the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature, either because the outside temperature is too high or because of a defect in perspiration. It manifests itself as severe fatigue and headaches, which can be very intense. The worst development is loss of consciousness, which can be life-threatening. If not treated in time, it can cause multiple sequelae.
Last but not least, dehydration is probably the biggest risk the heat wave poses to the body. And yes, water is an essential element for our body since it is the main way to fight against the increase in body temperature! This is done through perspiration, which is why when we are very hot, or have a fever, the body sweats. Indeed, the body, by releasing water on the surface of the skin, allows the skin to evaporate and thus consume heat, leaving the body a little cooler. During episodes of very high heat, up to several litres of water can be lost per day! And it is precisely when the body does not have enough water left that this can lead to potentially serious situations, such as the heat stroke mentioned above.
It is important to know that the population is unequal in the face of dehydration, hence the need to pay close attention to those around them.
So, How can you prepare for and better cope with recurring heat waves?
The first thing to do is to drink a lot and at room temperature. Drinking too cold will raise your body temperature. Drinking hot is not discouraged, but drinking too much tea will have a diuretic effect and cause the body to lose water. Drunk without abuse, however, tea allows you to drink more without realising it. Beware of alcohol that dehydrates.
Lower the temperature inside
At home, lower the blinds and close the curtains during the day. Open the windows at night, when the temperature is lowest. The best thing to do is to invest in a fan, or ultimately in an air conditioner. Although air conditioning consumes a lot of energy, and is therefore not very good for the planet, it is sometimes necessary for the most fragile people. A balance has to be found between environmental and health concerns.to really bring the temperature down. There are also a few tricks that can help you lose 2-3°C in small rooms: wet the floor often (tile, stone or terracotta tiles), put a bath sheet hanging from a dryer whose bottom is soaking in a basin of water in front of a fan or an open window. Whichever humidification method you choose, remember to renew the air in the room regularly.
Choose the right clothes
To help the body to regulate itself, it is advised to avoid black colours, which captures heat. Instead, favour natural materials such as cotton or linen. Dressing in loose-fitting clothing allows air to circulate and allows perspiration to be better evacuated. In the sun, remember to cover your head even on short trips, as being exposed to direct sunlight promotes insolation.
If sunscreen is a matter of survival on the beach, be careful not to forget it in town. To make it easier, choose a face cream containing an SPF and spread sunscreen on your shoulders, arms and legs before going out. Remember to put your sunscreen in your bag to reapply during the day.
Adjust your diet
No more rich dishes that make digestion difficult and raise the body temperature. To better cope with the heat, it is advisable to eat water-rich foods such as melon, watermelon or tomatoes. However, do not hesitate to eat salty food to compensate for the loss of salt caused by perspiration.
Air-conditioned offices, cinemas, libraries, shopping malls... There are plenty of options to avoid suffering during the hottest hours. Remember to put a mister in your bag to moisten your face, neck and forearms and cool down in the blink of an eye.
At the beach, think of the parasol
Contrary to popular belief, being under an umbrella does not prevent you from tanning. With the reverberation of the soil, water and surrounding elements, UV rays still reach the skin, but less violently. A good way to tan gently and coolly.
The solution is not very ecological, but to cool down quickly, nothing beats a good shower. However, be careful not to take it too cold, as it can raise the body temperature and make the body heat up. Prefer a lukewarm shower, which is less aggressive and just as effective.
Get close to forests
During a heat wave, the surrounding forests remain significantly cooler under their canopies than open, paved cities. If you are lucky enough to live in a wooded area, or have access to forest parks, why not go for a walk outside the hottest areas?
If you have a garden of your own that provides shade and freshness, you can probably help it to cope with these heat waves as well.
These climatic events are not going to dissipate in the next few years, on the contrary. If your city is not prepared for these climatic events, perhaps you can induce a change by asking the local government to provide cooling zones, increase tree cover by planting mini forests with the Miyawaki method, and decrease the concrete surface.
Hopefully, by applying some of these tips you will be able to live through the next heat waves better, and inspire your community to do the same.