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Published: 00:16, August 16, 2022
Global warming shows need for lifestyle changes
By Paul Surtees
Published:00:16, August 16, 2022 By Paul Surtees

Few people these days can reasonably deny that this globe of ours is already experiencing many of the negative effects of global climate change — making different places hotter, wetter or both.

China has recently undergone record-breaking high temperatures, including scorching days in Hong Kong. When we are talking about temperatures above 40 C, such heat poses a risk to life from heatstroke, and there is also the threat of drowning from flooding or of burning in forest fires. Such extreme changes to weather patterns cannot be simply ignored; longer-term, with global climate change likely to become even more prevalent in the future, better ways need to be found to cope with potential disasters.

For over a decade, I lived in several of the desert countries in the Persian Gulf. Over thousands of years, the local Arabs have developed approaches to cope with extreme heat — approaches that could usefully be emulated widely in other countries, including China. Some of these are self-help approaches to getting through heat waves; others would need major lifestyle changes to bring them about.

Let’s start with what individuals can do to cope with living in overheated places, cognizant as we should be that such global warming is very likely to continue apace, and to even increase as time goes by.

We should all learn to walk on the shady part of the street. Ideally, we should wear loose-fitting clothes made of cotton or linen. Business suits and ties are really inappropriate in places with temperatures in the 40s! The full-length and long-sleeved loose robes worn by many Arabs of both sexes keep the burning sun from causing sunburn. And of course, both men and women wear traditional headgear that protects the head from the sunshine. A hat, at least, should be worn on sunny days.

At home, we should keep the curtains, blinds or shutters closed, thereby avoiding having direct scorching sunlight warming the place. Of course, drinking copious amounts of cool water is also necessary during heat waves.

Larger societal changes, over a longer timespan, would also help. In many hot countries, such as those in southern Europe and the Middle East, many people start work fairly early in the morning before the worst of the day’s heat really kicks in. In many of these places, people try to avoid going out into the hot sunshine from noon to 4 pm, when the sun is at its most scorching. Indeed, many return home for an afternoon siesta, with offices and shops often closed over these extra-hot hours. In many places, it is legally mandated that outside workers, such as builders, are not to work outside once the temperature rises to a dangerous level. Some places of work, such as shops, reopen from about 5 pm, until the evening, when it may become slightly cooler.

Societal changes would be needed to make that possible in southern China, but longer term, this would be a good way to cope with exceptionally high temperatures. That approach might be brought in to cover the hottest months of the year.

Some of the causes of death during very hot weather are heatstroke, severe sunburn and dehydration. These deadly effects are often seen in people who make no allowances for their stressed bodies’ ways of reacting to grossly high temperatures, who try to simply carry on as normal, in abnormally high temperatures. There is a limit as to how far the human body can be pushed to cope with exceptional heat. Lifestyle changes are a must. I speak from personal experience: while foolishly riding my horse in the afternoon burning desert, I twice fainted from the heat. (The horses were all right, though!)

In a heat wave, any form of sunbathing should be avoided, from the fear of the body dangerously overheating, and from the risks of developing skin cancer from the strong sun’s rays on unprotected skin.

Tragically, in several parts of the world, including France, the aged, frail and infirm pass away from the effects of excessive heat when chilled water and the use of an air conditioner would have saved them.

Family members should ensure that those at particular risk are suitably looked-after, including contributing to the electricity bills of their aged relatives, to encourage the latter to actually switch on their home air conditioners.

We are never going to learn to cope with living in very hot temperatures until we recognize that lifestyle changes, such as some of those suggested in this article, are effected — and that, without delay.

The author is a veteran commentator based in Hong Kong. He has spent 12 years living in the Gulf.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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