Temperature Variability and Chronic Disease

April 11, 2012 0 Comments

Here is a story that would have upped the total on the Big List of bad things that are predicted to happen because of anthropogenic global warming (AGW): More variability in Summer-time temperatures is linked with a small increase in mortality risk among older people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, lung problems, etc… It has been predicted that not only will temperatures be warmer in coming decades but also that temps will become more variable.

I used to keep the Big List because I was amazed at all the things that were being blamed on “global warming”. Some of the predictions were rather extreme and others were contradictory. This newest study about chronic disease and temperature variability is interesting but I don’t think it gets to the heart of the matter, or the root cause. Yes, temperature variability could lead to some health problems, and it is something to keep an eye on in the future, but the bigger problem – in the U.S. anyway – is the obesity epidemic, the general decrease in health metrics overall, and the aging population. Because of these factors, we will likely have more health related mortality in the near future regardless of temperature variability. If our goal is to reduce mortality risk in the near future (by the most possible), we should focus on aging and disease specifically, instead of modulating the climate. Chronic diseases can be conquered and health can be improved by just small investments or changes in lifestyle. I work closely (part-time) with a couple of different organizations who are at the leading edge of promoting health and even rejuvenation: SENS & Longecity.

Smog in Los Angeles

We would likely also get more bang for our buck by reducing air pollution which has a much higher known correlation with increased mortality. Most of the things we would do to decrease urban air pollution (using cleaner or alternative fuels) would also be good long-term for the environment and possibly blunt some theoretical future warming from AGW.

And finally, I wonder how much of this apparent increased mortality risk associated with increased variability in temperature is due to our adaptation to indoor climate control. In contrast to the past, many people spend much more time indoors where the temperature does not change much. Most people, even poor people, have air conditioning for the Summer and central heating for the winter. The typical working stiff leaves their climate controlled home in the morning, drives to work in a climate controlled vehicle, work in a climate controlled office building and then returns home in the evening to more climate control. There are a lot of people who do not spend much more than a minute or two outdoors on a cold winter day or a hot and humid Summer day. A couple years ago when I was in Phoenix, I asked some of the people how they survive during the Summer when the temperature is 110 or 115 degrees for days on end. They said they just stay indoors all Summer. Could some of our late life susceptibility to temperature variability (small as it is) be due to our lack of encounters with temperature variation earlier in life?

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By now, you have probably heard about the major earthquake near Sumatra that occurred overnight. Thankfully, no major tsunamis have been spawned thus far. Another large earthquake (about 8.6) might again leave people wondering about what can be done to protect against them. They seem so sudden and unpredictable. A while back I discussed the possibility of using weather satellites to see changes in the air above a earthquake zone in order to predict when a big one might strike. A more promising technique might be to set-up ozone measuring stations near major fault zones. At least one researcher is studying the effect of ozone being created from fractured rock in order to see if this could help detect earthquakes. Even if there was an ozone build-up only seconds or minutes before an earthquake it would prove very valuable for warnings.

Another method for detecting the magnitude of an earth very quickly after it has occured might be to use GPS. GPS units placed near active fault zones would shift during an earthquake and it could be known within a minute or two how strong the quake was, and then appropriate actions could be taken. Tsunami warnings might be improved with this method as well.

Have a nice Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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