What you don’t know can kill you…how our bodies react in heatwaves. New science from Camilo Mora, University of Hawaii. Second warning from 15,000 scientists: Dr. William Ripple, the man who started it. Adapting to extreme rains: “sponge cities” with futurist Chelsea Gohd. Radio Ecoshock 171122
Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (57 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)
All channels are stuffed up with Trumpist distractions and sex scandals. In all our lives in the so-called information society, we do not know how our bodies react to heat. And planet Earth is erupting in heat waves, with tens of thousands dead at a time, with more to come as warming rules. In this program you will learn how heat kills and your own risk. We’ll also hear a warning from 15,000 scientists. That crested the serious newspapers for a few seconds: a second warning to humanity. We’ll hear from the man who started it. It all wraps up with a short chat with a young futurist, about sponge cities.
I’m Alex Smith. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. Good luck.
FATAL HEAT WITH CAMILO MORA
If you have a body, and believe more heat waves will come, you need to hear this interview. We are going to explore new science with a title that is starkly clear: “Twenty-Seven Ways a Heat Wave Can Kill You: Deadly Heat in the Era of Climate Change”.
Dr. Camilo Mora, University of Hawaii
Listen to or download this 28 minute interview with Camilo Mora in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
In April 2017, I interviewed Dr. Camilo Mora. He led a team of 14 scientists from the University of Hawaii. They concluded that somewhere between 2033 and 2070, nothing will be the same in a hotter world. That is when Earth will get a whole new climate.
That work is titled “The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability“, published in the journal Nature. Be sure to check out the maps in the Appendix to this paper. They are pretty clear even for the non-scientist.
You can listen to that earlier Radio Ecoshock interview with Camilo Mora, April 12, 2017 in CD Quality.
Humans are already dying by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, in deadly heat waves. We don’t know when that may become millions of deaths in a hotter world. In fact, until a work just published by Camilo Mora’s team, nobody had studied all the ways our bodies react to excess heat.
Camilo Mora is from the Department of Geography at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he heads the Mora Lab.
In school, we learned the basic organs and maybe a little on circulation. If we get a disease or disorder, maybe we find out about that. But isn’t it amazing that most of us don’t know why heat is dangerous for our bodies?
In 2008, I broadcast a recorded a briefing for Congressional staffers about how smog kills. Dr. Joel Schwartz, Harvard’s top pollution expert, suggested we don’t know how many deaths are caused by smog, because the death certificates never say that. Often it’s listed as heart failure. There the same lack of statistics, and underestimation of the number of heat deaths.
Part of the problem: Dr. Mora tells us heat may not kill right away. In fact, there is a well-known “harvest effect” where the deaths come in days or weeks AFTER the heat wave. The organs, he says, can be damaged by excess heat, almost like an internal sunburn. That damage may lead to death some time later, maybe even after a year has passed.
We get a great description of how this all works, starting with the rush of blood toward the skin to cool it off. But that steals blood from important organs. If it’s too hot, and the blood can’t cool, then those organs can be damaged by lack of blood, lack of oxygen, and toxic biproducts that form. It’s a great description from Dr. Mora, I hope you heard it.
Now it’s time for a confession. I love the heat. During the summer we often get up to 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees in the shade Fahrenheit. I like to go out for a slow walk in the heat. But now, reading this paper about the further impacts of exercise in hot weather, I’m not so sure.
Even in electrified countries, tens of thousands have already died during heat waves in Europe and Russia. Most Americans have forgotten about the Chicago heat wave of 1995. Over 700 people died of heat in five days. They parked refrigerator trucks beside the overflowing morgues. One factor in Chicago: fear of crime. Seniors died inside because they were afraid to leave a window open.
This is another important result of this new study by Mora et al.: we used to think that heat waves were only a concern for seniors, the sick, and toddlers. Now we now that no one is immune, even healthy middle-aged adults can die from heat.
Camilo Mora is the lead author of a new paper published in the American Heart Association journal “Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes”. The title is “Twenty-Seven Ways a Heat Wave Can Kill You: Deadly Heat in the Era of Climate Change.” It is an open-access paper.
See also this article from Vice.com. Also, see this new study on climate deaths, just out.
WORLD SCIENTISTS’ WARNING WITH WILLIAM RIPPLE
Twenty five years ago, the scientists warned us: humans were heading on a trajectory toward environmental disaster. 1700 of them, including most of the Nobel prize winners, issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. It was 1992, the time of the famous Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. (I was there.)
Now our situation is much worse. More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice“. It was just published November 13th in the journal Bioscience, and it’s being echoed around world media.
William J. Ripple is the lead author. Dr. Ripple is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology at Oregon State University in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. He’s also a pretty well known expert in biology and ecology generally, especially for his work revealing the important role of predators, like the wolves of Yellowstone Park. We reached Bill Ripple in Corvallis Oregon.
Dr. William Ripple
Find the actual warning here.
Listen to or download this 15 minute interview with Bill Ripple in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
According to Wikipedia, “Ripple heads the Trophic Cascades Program at Oregon State University, which carries out several research initiatives such as the Aspen Project, the Wolves in Nature Project, and the Range Contractions Project.”
As summarized by a press release from Australian National University, this warning contains these stark facts:
“Among the negative 25-year global trends noted in today’s article are:
A 26 percent reduction in the amount of fresh water available per capita
A loss of nearly 300 million acres of forestland
A collective 29 percent reduction in the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish
A 75 percent increase in the number of ocean dead zones.”
As I understand it, this big declaration by over 15,000 world scientists is not predicting that humans will become extinct. It’s phrased in terms of preventing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” But if we can’t contain all these negative trends, I think a lot of humans are going to die, maybe mass deaths during this century. Of course, we could make a determined try to do all we can to avoid it.
SPONGE CITIES WITH CHELSEA GOHD
In the summer of 2017, the heaviest rainfall in a century hit the German capital of Berlin. It was another of the extreme rainfall events striking around the world. In Berlin, streets and buildings flooded but it could have been worse. Berlin is working to make itself into a “sponge city”. As climate disruption becomes real, China is planning on building 30 of them. I found that out from Chelsea Gohd.
Watch a You tube video of Berlin as a sponge city here.
If Bill Gates is building a new smart city, or technology is emerging to move you ten times faster, that is Chelsea Gohd’s beat. She is a science journalist and associate Editor at futurism.com. You can find a web site of Chelsea’s work here. Or follow her on Twitter.
Listen to or download this 13 minute interview and song clip with Chelsea Gohd in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
Just like Berlin, China was drenched with extreme rains last summer. Landslides and floods killed more people. According to The Economist magazine, the number of floods in Chinese cities has at least doubled since 2008. China has an ambitious project to create a lot of sponge cities. They are not building new cities, but reworking all the water flows in existing cities, including Shanghai. So this is a world-wide movement to adapt to the extreme rainfall events becoming more common as the globe warms.
Read Chelsea’s article “China is Building 30 ‘Sponge Cities’ to Soften the Blow of Climate Change” here. Or check out this more detailed article in Business Insider by Leanna Garfield.
China is Building 30 “Sponge Cities” to Soften the Blow of Climate Change
But Chelsea has another persona: she is also a developing song writer, under the name FoxAnne. Her newest release is called “Queen of the Lost Boys“. The clip featured on Radio Ecoshock is the radio premier.
Check that out new song from Chelsea Gohd here.
That’s it for me, after another busy week. In our next program, I’ll have two top experts on the ways climate change can threaten your health. Don’t miss that.
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Thank you for listening, and caring about our world!
The effort to turn Berlin into a “Sponge City” really is more about the cooling evaporation effect than about trying to manage the rare flood event. Berlin is lucky enough to be in one of the few areas of Germany that aren’t normally affected by the severe spring floods caused once a decade or so by heavy rains coinciding with snow melting in Europe’s mountain areas (because the rivers Berlin is situated at aren’t mountain-fed, but originate in lowland springs). Also, the whole northeastern area of Germany, while blessed with the most surface water in the country (rivers and lakes; originally there were a lot of swamps here), gets the least annual rainfall of all Germany’s states overall, and is predicted to turn into a steppe due to climate change. Though Berlin specifically has the somewhat unusual problem of a rising groundwater table flooding cellars even during dry weather, due to the destruction of industry in the area after the Reunification and due to people taking blanket admonissions to conserve water for ecological reasons a bit too much to heart over the last 20 years. The result is too little pumping of water out of the ground and ultimately into the rivers, or at least less than what was normal at the time when the older houses were built.
The problem this summer was not so much the amount of rainfall (about 200 litres per square meter in 2 days, which pales in comparison to flood events in other countries, or even just to what a lot of towns in mountainous southern Germany get sometimes), but rather the fact that it poured down so fast at times that even open, unsealed ground couldn’t absorb it at the same rate. Our house is in a Berlin suburb; north of the city, so we generally don’t get the full fury of any storm, which in Europe tend to come from the southwest, because the local warmer microclimate over the city blocks storm systems like a boulder in a river. Our suburban area is heavily wooded, drains into a bunch of small rivers and canals which are not encased in concrete but rather flanked by “sacrifice zones” (wide grassy strips and then plots that are used – or at least supposed to be used – only for allotment gardens and cellar-less weekend bungalows owned by people living in Berlin; because sometimes those areas do flood or get swampy), and aside from houses and major streets (the minor ones are often still cobbles or just bare, potholed soil) there isn’t much concrete-sealed surface. And the ground below a bare hand-with of topsoil is literally just yellow sand, deposited here by the glaciers in the last ice age. No loam or clay whatsoever – the most well-drained soil you can imagine. (Unfortunately, for my gardening efforts.) And yet, on that day of the massive rainfall, we suddenly had about 5 to 10 cm of rain standing in our backyard – which is covered in oldfashioned granite cobblestones with mossy gaps precisely to keep rain from running off (sealed surfaces cost extra taxes here), and there’s even an old, long-unused sewage tank with a manhole cover like a giant bathtub drain in the middle of the backyard. And yet, there was so much rain at once that it couldn’t flow down that drain fast enough, or infiltrate through the gaps between the stones, or run off to the nearby grass areas, even though they lie lower than the cobblestones. I’d never seen water standing there before. And over the few hours of the heaviest rainfall, apparently the soil became temporarily so waterlogged (I’m sure it wasn’t the watertable rising, since we’re living on a hill and had to sink our water well pump 15 meters deep), that a pipe that had been layed about 1 meter underground through our nearly century old house foundations to let through the cable connection to the electrical grid, ran with water like a faucet and flooded the cellar.
Also, having watched that Bloomberg video before listening to the podcast, I had the same thought as you, Alex: Oh dear lord, the mosquito breeding!
But, thinking about it some more, I don’t think that’ll be much of an issue in Berlin’s case. First off, as your interview partner said, mosquitos are just a nuissance in Central Europe, they don’t carry any dangerous diseases (yet). Secondly, Berlin has always been a city with quite a lot of natural open waterways and lakes (nearly 7% of the city area), as well as ponds in the numerous parks and private gardens (which make up 13% of the city, plus 18% city forests, 5% agricultural space; and all the self-regreening “wild spaces” left by the tearing down of the Wall, the industrial collapse, and the closure of a large airport) and of course water features in plazas. (Though personally I’ve never consciously noticed mosquitos in the city, not even when the suburbs are swarming with them in rainy summers like this year’s. Maybe Berlin’s large sparrow population eats them?)
And lastly, swales (not a German invention – the idea and term comes from Australian permaculture as a way to store rainwater in the landscape for agricultural use) aren’t really places where water is meant to stand for more than the duration of the rainstorm. It’s more like a rain garden or a roadside ditch – the area is supposed to absorb the water into the soil. So with regards to insect plagues that’s actually better than having a lot of puddles on concrete surfaces that take several days to evaporate, or water accumulating in open storm drains as if they were makeshift water cisterns, which gives mosquitos much more time to complete the egg-to-larvae stage of their life cycle.
Honestly, I’d be more concerned about the weight of those rooftop gardens and if they are structurally safe. I mean, I hear about such flat roofs caving in just because of unusual amounts of snow, so what will all that water weight do to them once the soil is good and soaked? But I suppose that’s a problem for the architects to solve. (Though it likely means you can’t add those rooftop features to most of the old, existing building stock, making this method of city greening of very limited use.)
By the way, some tips to cool off from a country that doesn’t do air conditioning, but occasionally does get 35+ °C heat waves:
– Don’t drink icy-cold drinks. It might make you think you feel better, but in reality, your body actually produces extra heat to bring the liquid up to body heat so your core doesn’t cool too much too fast. (Icecream is fine, since you warm it up in the mouth and don’t gulp down large amounts of it at once.) Conversely, hot drinks can help you sweat – but that’s only sensible if it’s not too muggy to evaporate the sweat. There’s a reason people in desert countries have traditions of drinking hot tea or coffee.
– If you can’t bear taking a cold shower or have to conserve water, a cat wash with a wet cloth already helps some – just don’t dry off. Let the water evaporate. Running cold water over the inside of your wrist for a few minutes helps cool down your blood relatively quickly if evaporation doesn’t work because the air is already laden with moisture. If you want to conserve water, use a bucket and put some ice cubes in to keep it cool for a little while. Don’t put the ice cubes directly against your skin. (Causes cell damage.)
– If it’s an emergency, like if someone has a sun stroke or is shivering uncontrollably due to a messed up internal thermostat (happened to me once after sleeping through the day in a 30+°C room and then the night didn’t get cool enough), do what our grandmothers did to control a fever: cold compresses. That is, wet (not just moist) towels layed on large parts of the body, like the thighs and the back. Cover as much body surface as reasonably possible. Ideally switch the towels out as they warm up and/or try to get some air circulation (open windows or a fan). The moving air helps to evaporate the water in the towels, which cools them and thus your skin. Doing this for an hour or more might make your skin feel a bit icky as it absorbs some of the water, but it can be a life-saver!
– If you’re lucky enough to live in a house designed before the advent of air conditioning, learn to use that house as intended: Keep the windows closed during the day (not even a crack!) and the blinds / blackout curtains shut, to keep out as much sunlight as possible. (If you want some natural light, open the blinds on the side of the house that doesn’t get direct sun exposure, i.e. the north windows in the northern hemisphere, or parts of the house shaded by trees.) Then, at night (ideally in the wee hours of morning) open all windows wide and try to circulate the air out. Though only if it really is cooler outside than inside, of course. In my country, we usually can keep the main parts of the house that have stone or brick walls (much better heat insulation than the wood frame + 1 foot glass wool insulation of the attic rooms; in both summer and winter) below 25°C in this way, at least as long as the 30+°C heat wave doesn’t last more than a week.
– If you’re building your own home: I once stayed in an old house in Italy that had a few extra beds in the cellar, which looked like it had been carved from the bedrock. I was there in february (my family doesn’t believe in beach vacations and thus used the off-season for educational trips to the mediterranean area), so I can’t swear that cellar would always stay cool, but the arrangement seemed very sensible to me. We have a bedroom that’s half below ground level in our own house as well, and that stays liveable all year round, even though the large windows don’t even have any blinds and can’t be left open at night for safety reasons. The soil 1 meter down just doesn’t heat up all that much, even during a heat wave.
– As my parents told me when I went off to college: Never get an appartment with south-facing windows. (Though of course, in winter that would save you some heating costs.) Or north-facing, if you’re in Australia.
– If you can install some sort of blinds to your windows, outside installation models are always better than inside blinds or curtains. Not only are metal or wood outside blinds an additional safety feature against burglars, and the air pocket trapped between window glass and the blinds makes an additional insulation layer to keep the heat indoors during winter nights, but more importantly, heat still gets trapped behind the blinds during the day, especially if they’re painted some dark color and thus absorb sunlight energy. Therefore it’s better to have that hot air pocket outside of the window glass than inside. I have blackout curtains in an attic room that couldn’t have outside blinds due to the slanted and small-sized roof windows, and even though those curtains are painted silver on the outside-facing side and thus should reflect most of the sunlight instead of turning it into heat, that room still heats up terribly every summer – it gets even hotter inside than outside sometimes. (That’s the room where I got that severe case of heat exhaustion. The rest of the house never gets that hot.)
After googling around for a bit, I’d like to add that what we call “outside window blinds” here in Germany appears to be largely unknown outside of Central Europe. What I mean can be compared most closely to security roll-up shutters or hurricane shutters on tracks in North America.