In the last decade, the term “heatwave” has been increasingly prevalent in headlines across the globe. The sweltering weather has swept country after country, showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Despite the alarming nature of broiling days, many of us have accepted them as a part of daily life. But what will these drastic changes mean for our future? Unfortunately, scientists aren’t exactly sure. However, one thing is evident: the effects certainly will not be positive.
Extreme heat can poison a person. About 356,000 deaths in 2019 were linked to high temperatures (New Scientist). The human body responds to heat in two ways: dilating blood vessels and producing sweat. These mechanisms help maintain homeostasis in a person. Unfortunately, they can also cause harm. For example, dilated blood vessels cause the heart to pump harder to circulate blood, which may result in a heart attack for people with certain conditions. Salt is lost through sweat being secreted from glands. In certain instances, loss of sodium in large amounts can lead to nausea and headaches (New Scientist).
So what are some other consequences linked to heat? Roughly 25,000 children in the US are born early due to exposure to extreme heat (New Scientist). Heat damages many systems such as our organs and cells, even DNA. It also impairs motor functions and critical thinking abilities. Extreme heat can even be linked to higher rates of crime and mental health issues (New York Times).
The heatwave crisis not only results in harm to the human body but also adversely affects agriculture. The secretary of WMO (World Meteorological Organization), Petteri Taalas noted in a statement, “In the previous heatwaves in Europe, we lost big parts of harvest, and under the current situation we are already having a global food crisis” (voanews). If a plant is in early development, severe heat can result in the plant’s inability to create energy through photosynthetic reactions (GreenDiary). This causes farms to have significantly lower crop yields during soaring temperatures.
During these blistering weeks, it is important to prioritize safety. Make sure to drink high quantities of fluids and stay indoors for the majority of the day. Ensure you always apply a layer of sunscreen before heading outdoors and try to wear loose-fitting clothing (New Scientist). Although the future is unclear, across the world we are in this together, fans, ice cream, lukewarm water bottles, and all.