The Hottest Summer on Record: Reckoning with the Devastating Effect of Heat Waves

Tornadoes, floods, and wildfires have a clear and visible impact on the planet, wildlife, and humans, earning them the label of natural disasters. However, there is another silent killer that has an even more severe impact: heat waves.

In 2022, tropical cyclones caused 182 deaths in America, floods caused 42 deaths, and winter storms caused 87 deaths. In contrast, heat-related illnesses took 1714 lives, a 439% increase from 2004.

With the summer of 2023 being the hottest on record and 2023 expected to be the hottest year, we believe it is crucial to classify heat waves as a distinct natural disaster.

Until now, they have been grouped with droughts, and that prevents them from getting the same level of attention and urgency as other catastrophes:

Heat waves impact human health

Extreme heat causes heat exhaustion and heat stroke in human bodies. The first phase is heat exhaustion which typically causes heavy sweat, nausea, and possible vomiting and fainting.

As our bodies sweat more, it leads to increased dehydration, which can decrease blood volume and place more strain on the cardiovascular system.

At a certain point, the body stops sweating and the skin becomes dry and flushed, indicating heat stroke. Body temperature can rise as high as 106 degrees F within 10 or 15 minutes, and the gut may begin to leak toxins into the body, triggering an inflammatory response.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and can cause cause permanent disability or death if the person does not receive emergency treatment.

Heat waves can strain public infrastructure

Electric grids operate at their peak during the summer months of June to September. With above-normal temperatures during heat waves, more people turn on their air conditioners, putting extra strain on the grid. In extreme heat, transformers can overheat and it becomes difficult for generators to stay cool.

This could result in grid failures and power blackouts. As a result, more people would experience the adverse effects of heat waves.

This would have a cascading effect and put additional pressure on other services like energy, transportation, and the emergency services sector, leading to their failure.

In 2023, a study estimated that a major heat wave blackout scenario in Phoenix, Arizona could cause close to 13,000 resident deaths and require nearly 800,000 people to seek emergency medical care.

Heat waves are endangering our freshwater systems

Higher temperatures have a negative impact on oxygen levels in water, resulting in the migration of cold-water fishes like trout and salmon to nearshore regions. However, these species still struggle to tolerate the higher temperatures in shallower waters.

In certain parts of Canada, invasive species like smallmouth bass are being introduced due to warmer temperatures. This has led to the displacement of native fishes such as walleye and lake trout.

Furthermore, warmer temperatures create favorable conditions for the frequent formation of floating surface blooms of blue-green algae. These blooms can be detrimental to fish, birds, cattle, pets, wildlife, and humans, posing a significant threat.

The climate crisis is intensifying heat waves, which is why we endorse the meteorologist's decision to name these heat waves after fossil fuel companies, the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

These companies need to take action otherwise we would keep breaking the hottest summer record every year.

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