It’s getting hot in here, but we can’t take off all our clothes.
In the poetic (and somewhat censored for appropriateness) words of the great Nelly, this Portland heat wave makes me be all like:
“I was like, good gracious…
It’s gettin’ hot in here (so hot)
So take off all your clothes
I am gettin’ so hot, I wanna take my clothes off.”
But alas, as responsible adults we cannot do that—no matter how much this relentless heat makes us want to do crazy things. And craziness in the heat is no joke—some studies have linked the rise in violent crime to increases in hot weather. There are about 2.6% more murders and assaults in the US during the summer than other seasons of the year, and violence rates are higher in hotter years than in cooler years—even when various statistical controls are used. Just another reason we must act on climate now.
In the more immediate term, what can we do to stay cool in the heat? We sourced a few helpful tips from our friends at the Daily Mail in the UK, who are experiencing record-breaking heat—heat that scientists have recently linked to climate change:
- “Run your wrists under a cold tap for five seconds each every couple of hours. Because a main vein passes through this area, it helps cool the blood.
- Eat spicy food. Although this may be the last thing you fancy in hot weather, curries and chilies can stimulate heat receptors in the mouth, enhance circulation and cause sweating, which cools the body down.
- Take a tepid bath or shower just below body temperature, especially before bedtime. Although a cold shower might sound more tempting, your body generates heat afterward to compensate for the heat loss.
- Slow down and avoid strenuous activity which will stimulate your body and raise its core temperature. If you must go jogging, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually before 7 AM.
- The night before you go out for the day in the sun, roll some damp washcloths up and pop them in the freezer. Take them with you in a plastic bag. Then, when you start to feel hot, unwrap them and place them over your face.
- Ditch your duvet and sleep under a sheet instead. Even better, put your sheets in a plastic bag and stick them in the fridge a couple of hours before going to bed. As we fall asleep our body temperature lowers, which is why it’s difficult to sleep in hot weather. Cold sheets straight from the fridge should help you sleep better.”
These tips can be helpful for what we’re experiencing now in Oregon, but we must concede that this isn’t some fluke heatwave: Oregon’s climate is changing, and changing quickly. I remember as a child, growing up here, that you never needed air conditioning in the summer. One only made minor lifestyle adjustments, like taking a cooler shower, kicking the blankets off the bed, or closing the shades during the day. But such tips no longer cut it. This recent heat has been quite unbearable—particularly because many Oregonians have not yet made (or cannot afford to make) the investment in central air.
The reality is this: we’re on the brink of having county “cooling centers” become the norm as they already are in much warmer cities. Heat can be that deadly for our state’s most vulnerable populations—the elderly, children and those with existing health conditions. Cooling centers, similar to the “warming centers” opened by aid organizations for homeless people who may otherwise freeze outside during cold winter nights, offer similar reprieve from the heat. These are air conditioned public places like libraries and community centers where folks can go to stay cool and stave off heatstroke or exacerbation of existing health conditions. A list of Portland-area cooling centers can be found here.
When I think about the effects of climate change, like this heatwave, I know I’m lucky that I have resources. Especially this summer because I’m pregnant, and my body already cannot regulate its temperature as easily. Excess heat can lead to swelling in pregnant women (because our bodies produce extra blood for the baby—it’s super fun let me tell ya), which decreases circulation and increases blood pressure risk – posing a threat to both baby and me. In my case, I’ll probably get central air soon—something I never thought I’d need living in a home nestled amongst old growth trees that shade the house all day. Once I get central air, I’ll increase my comfort, but also my carbon footprint by using more electricity (1/4 of which comes from out of state coal.) It’s not an ideal scenario, but when health is at risk, the not-so-ideal can become the necessary.
I often think of those who don’t have these resources. There are other pregnant women suffering through this heat— as well as the elderly, children, those with asthma or other health conditions worsened by rising temperatures. What will they do? How will they survive this changing climate? This Portland heat wave is a reminder that those least responsible for climate change will suffer most from its effects, and we’re seeing that in Portland now.
Stay safe and cool. Use the tips above, hang out at out a cooling center, make your own air conditioner, or just sing the Nelly song for some comic relief. And once you’ve regulated your body temperature to where you can function again, head on over to Renew Oregon and sign the climate pledge. It’s a new kind of climate movement, welcoming partners from business, faith, health, agriculture, communities of color and environmental advocacy. They are working to transition our state off of polluting energy to a clean energy economy. They’ll alert you when there are opportunities to lend a hand and raise your voice. Together we can act on climate. But we better do it fast—before we melt!
-Devon Downeysmith, Climate Communications & Outreach Manager, OEC