Friday, September 14, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg and Temperature Related Death

A good article in last month's Discover magazine on the effects of high summer temperatures on death rates. They also make the very important point that the European death rates associated with winter cold is seven times the death rate associated with heat. They quote 200,000 for summer heat and 1,500,000 for winter cold. This is all part of a review of economist Bjorn Lomborg's new book. Since he is one of my favorite writers, I will have to break down and get the book and perhaps do a review.

The truly disturbing thought is that we still have such deaths. This is a problem that we can fix and we choose not to. Perhaps it is time to pass a law whereby our elected officials pick up the tax shortfall created by this unnecessary loss of taxpayers. I certainly do not think that the voters condone such negligence.

It has always been painfully clear that human beings function safely between the temperatures of around freezing (a little exercise helps) and perhaps 80 to 85 degrees F. Go much beyond those temperatures and the individual must take proactive steps to preserve himself.

The solutions were actually not easy to implement. We now have an extensive legacy of systems to protect ourselves that have taken time and product evolution to perfect. Were we fail is in an organized response to the extremes. This task should be put on to the fire departments who are well situated to deal with the problem of rescue.

And it is rescue. We need to know always, who will need help. Remember Katrina? This data is very easy to organize and it is simple for rescue services to establish response drills. It is easy to have other forces modestly trained and drilled in the needed procedures. Does anyone remember the training established when the nuclear scare was on in the late fifties and early sixties? Our fathers could prepare our civilization for Armageddon and we cannot prevent a little old lady from dying of hypothermia?

We do not lack warm sufficient housing or food or warm clothing. Nor do we lack ways of getting in the shade and away from overheated houses in the summer.

There is actually a sound argument for the growing of a large tree next to every building in a city. Make it part of the building code. I used to have a couple of hundred foot Doug firs on the city right of way. These are hardly shade trees like an elm. Yet the temperature drop under them on a very hot day was awesome. Is this really so hard to implement?

Another simple trick would be to design a governor on all heating systems that prevents the household temperature from dropping below 35 degrees F. That way if the bill is unpaid, there is still an operating threshold for the building below which the temperature cannot go.

It is not pleasant but it is possible to bundle up and still be comfortable and certainly survivable. It also prevents major damage from freezing.

If we then educate the public to the importance of both techniques, everyone will be prepared to survive a temperature crisis.

On a personal note, I have never had heat stroke, yet I worked long summers in open fields with the thermometer at 100 degrees F and very high humidity. What saved me was a straw hat and the steady fifteen mile an hour wind that never let up. Working in a city under an heat inversion and no wind, I literally had to carefully measure my exposure and make a serious effort to cool down. I ended that nonsense by moving to Vancouver thirty five years ago.

1 comment:

arclein said...

this comment was made on sustainability forum



I wanted to reply to your blog, Global Warming: Bjorn Lomborg and Temperature Related Death, but it requires me to join so I thought I would post here.

In UK/Europe we call this Excess Winter Death.

The highest EWD rate in Europe is in Portugal. England is not far from the top of the list. Eastern Europe and Scandinavia are near the bottom.

In the UK, the Government gives old people around £200 so that they can afford to keep their heating on (aka fuel poverty). Many older people would prefer to spend that money on presents for their grandchildren than keeping themselves warm.

I believe CHP and community heating - used in many eastern European and Scandinavian countries - is a good way to deal with this issue.

Lomborg is a statistician not an economist?

Also in the UK, insurance companies are currently requiring trees near houses to be cut down, due to subsidence issues.

All the best