Warming temperatures are increasing the frequency and severity of future extreme heat events. Without adaptation, this means we may see an increase in heat-related illnesses, hospital visits, and deaths. Rising temperatures can cause heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, and heart-related illnesses; heat can also be fatal. Our decisions and actions can influence the degree to which our community will experience these impacts to our health. Being proactive and making decisions now to safeguard health will help us to be more resilient.
Urban areas are often most at risk of high heat since high concentrations of buildings cause the heat island effect. We may think of only cities as “urban”, but all buildings generate, absorb, and release heat in a way that makes areas with multiple buildings warmer than surrounding areas without buildings.
Cities in cooler regions often see more heat-related deaths because people are less acclimatized to hot temperatures and are less likely to have air conditioning. For example, in August 2003, a heat wave killed 15,000 people in France. Many of the people who died were elderly, isolated, and living in buildings without air conditioning or cross-ventilation. France has since enacted more protective policies, with awareness of the need to protect at-risk groups of people when extreme heat is predicted.
Scientists predict that climate change will increase temperatures in Northern Montana, which can cause negative health impacts. Indirectly, a warming climate may decrease physical fitness levels by discouraging people from walking, horseback riding, cycling, or engaging in other familiar outdoor activities that boost fitness levels. As climate change is predicted to increase plant-based allergens, people with allergies may be less inclined to engage in rigorous outdoor activity.
People without air conditioning are most at risk, as are older adults, children, people working outside, people who are socially isolated, people who are socio-economically disadvantaged, and people with chronic illnesses. For example, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes increase a person’s sensitivity to heat. Some medications make it more difficult for a person’s body to regulate temperature.
It’s important to note that power outages are a possibility on extremely hot days, since many people using air conditioning at once can stress energy infrastructure. Having a strategy for keeping people cool if the power goes out is an important part of planning for extreme heat.
We can encourage people to use air conditioning and to decrease their time outdoors on extremely hot days. Wear lighter clothing and take cool showers or baths. It’s also important to watch for signs of dehydration and overheating. Check on people who are most at risk, especially elderly folks, people living in isolation, and people who may need assistance getting to a cooler location. Find more information about actions for extremely hot weather here.
Next, read about Human Development and Climate Change.
Or, learn about climate change as a health opportunity.
Some of the content found on this page is summarized from the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s report, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States“, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change“, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “When Every Drop Counts” to briefly describe some of the possible health outcomes that are most relevant to Blackfeet Country. This page does not include all possible health impacts and outcomes, nor does it include all possible risks and responses.