Health

Steamy nights

Winter is coming “. The phrase from the Game of Thrones series has made a fortune because in its simplicity it expresses with admirable conciseness the apprehension that in the series causes the imminent arrival of a long winter. In our collective memory, cold has always caused more suffering than heat. People have long feared cold winter temperatures, but we have more and more reason to fear summer. The image of energy poverty as an old woman huddled on the couch with three jackets, a double pair of socks and a blanket around her shoulders no longer represents the whole of reality. Now energy poverty is also represented by an old man with sweat-drenched hair, who fidgets in the armchair that he has taken to the balcony and tries to sleep without success because he is short of air.

If energy is needed to combat the cold, it is also needed, and increasingly, to combat the heat. With an aggravating factor: the cold can be mitigated with warm clothes. The heat, above certain temperatures, can hardly be borne without fans or air conditioners that use a lot of energy. The peaks of electricity consumption are already as high in summer as in winter and among the effects of energy poverty we must now count deaths from heat.

The Mediterranean basin accuses climate change with greater intensity than the average of the planet. It heats up a 20% more and the evolution is faster. In cities like Barcelona, ​​summer has become scarier than winter. Sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, it has the ideal physical conditions to become a heat island: high population density, compact urban planning, a lot of traffic and few green spaces. The temperature difference between Ciutat Vella or Eixample and the high neighborhoods near Collserola can be up to 5 degrees Celsius. In the warmest neighborhoods, more than one hundred tropical nights have been counted this summer: these are nights in which the minimum temperature has not dropped below 20 degrees. And the number of torrid nights is also growing alarmingly, with lows above 25 degrees. These are data collected by researchers from the Urban ClimPlan program of the Polytechnic University of Barcelona, ​​but similar data can be found in other Mediterranean cities, where the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures keeps getting shorter.

Torrid nights are criminal for people suffering from coronary heart failure or respiratory problems. From 22 degrees of night temperature increases mortality and it has already been verified that in places where the heat island phenomenon occurs, mortality increases more in summer than in winter. The affected cities cannot sit idly by. It is necessary to think about measures that allow to reduce the ambient temperature during the summer: reduction of traffic, more trees, green roofs on the roofs, vertical gardens, water dispersers. Because everything goes very fast: in the fifties or sixties, nights of more than 20 degrees were very rare. A decade ago, climatologists began to speak of tropical nights as a worrying phenomenon. Now they are worried about torrid nights and some already predict that, if we continue like this, in a few years we will have to talk about hellish nights.

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