Tag Archives: climate change

Emergency Preparedness matters: heatwave, fire, storm and flooding – summer 2018

It’s been an amazing summer 2018, one that in the UK has been compared to the previous record-setting heatwave in 1976 such as in this BBC article . No matter how you draw the comparison (and the article has some interesting graphs) one change in the intervening 42 years is certain: global average temperatures have risen and this is set to continue.

Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense. They trigger serious air pollution alerts and are dangerous to human health. I’m not looking forward to this year’s figures being released but in the 2003 pan-European heatwave there were over 2000 excessive deaths in the UK alone as also mentioned in our UK preparedness awareness video. Public Health England has a useful blog on why some people suffer during heatwaves.    

Heatwaves also connect to fires and this year has been bad all around, terrifyingly illustrated in Wildfires around the world: the photos that explain the flames.

The UK also suffered massively and prevention is more than a fire service issue, research showing that informal local and national  partnerships are key.

Again, it’s about building capabilities and capacities at community and personal level and that starts with being cued in about personal fire safety preparedness. The heat eventually breaks with thunderstorms and torrential rain leading to localised flooding. This year, flooding in Europe was again common and with devastating consequences. A few examples illustrate the danger and devastation from France and my native Switzerland:

Luckily, so far the UK has gotten off relatively lightly – but then we’re only just about half way through August. The exception here is Northern Ireland. Read the next tweet slowly and let that number sink in, for it can happen anywhere with little or no warning

Thankfully, a flood relief scheme was activated for domestic properties but may not reach all affected. Small business are typically not covered either. This is why personal preparedness and insurance are so important. Most people are not adequately covered nor know enough about preparedness.And it is of course at this point I plug our emergency preparedness hub which links to lots of relevant and useful resources for you to check out. Also thankfully and as of 1st July 2018, the Met Office now issues official thunderstorm warnings, a first in its 164 year history! 

Brilliant! Early warning is key of course so make sure you are #weatheraware and tune in regularly. Another excellent way to do this is via the Met Office weather app. In addition you need a low-tech backup such as a trusty wind-up radio which should be standard kit in your emergency grab bag.  Want to know and do more? Then don’t miss this year’s September is Preparedness Month #30days30waysUK campaign.

Have a brilliant rest of August!

Monika

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Prepare for a world that’s more than 2° C warmer | Climate Change

updated 25June2017

That’s the UN’s most recent analysis. The world – us – will have emitted enough carbon to warm the planet by 2°C  by the year 2036, that’s just 20 years down the road!

“I think it is clear [the targets] will fall well short of what is required for any reasonable probability of avoiding 2° C”

So says Alice Bows-Larkin, Professor in Climate Science & Energy Policy of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester UK as quoted in The New Scientist edition No 3046 of 7 November 2015 I’m reading this Remembrance Sunday (italics added by me; read the extended article online at The climate fact no one will admit: 2 °C warming is inevitable).

Barring any sudden personal tragedies or the ability to resettle on a different planet, this will impact us all: me, my family and friends as well as you, your family and friends.

What will a world be like with ‘just’ 2°C extra heat  – do we actually know?

I’ve heard people joke that they are looking forward to warmer and sunnier days. Well, now that would be lovely indeed, especially if you live quite far north (or south). Joke aside; it is actually an interesting reaction and not necessarily one born out of simple ignorance. For example, Freudian’s would point and say: classic denial, one of the most primitive defence mechanisms, a refusal to accept reality to avoid painful feelings. Cognitive psychologists would describe it i.e. as optimism bias and/or discounting, limitations on our rational cognitive processes  (i.e. see earlier post Resilience and Preparedness Roadblocks: what stops us?) It’s probably a bit of all of the above plus a good sprinkling of individual beliefs, personal experiences and personality.

Reality is, however that we will be getting more than just warmer and sunnier days. The crux of the problem is, nobody really knows just exactly what it all means. Climate change is one of the most urgent and profoundly complex challenges we face.

Better and better models – but we are really running out of time

Vast amounts of data feed numerous models every day (i.e. MetOffice) yet in the end they are just that: models, an approximation to reality.

At best, models attempt to explain and hopefully predict the future. How accurately? Well, that remains to be seen. The ukclimateprojections.metoffice data and projections many still use may well be outdated (2009 PDF) because they assume ‘medium’ emission scenarios.

A 2°C warmer world – some reasonable predictions: heatwaves and flooding

Warmer means more heatwaves

 

Serious Climate Change Problem: how to stay cool

Running air conditioners is the short-sighted answer. This is problematic not just because of guzzling energy which may overload the grid but also because it creates and dumps a lot of hot exhaust, adding to the problem rather than reducing it. Where we currently stand with producing not only efficient but also sustainable air conditioning systems is somewhat unclear(see The Guardian). Spraying or dousing heat stressed people with water only works to some extent as Dr Sundeep Dhillon recently explained at the Extreme Medicine Expo,  personal factors such as fitness and acclimatization status play a huge role. Treating heat illness will increasingly become a hot topic very soon. Undoubtedly we will see more of this:     

Warmer also means more flooding because of more severe weather events. There is a very good chance that the weather will not play by ‘our rules’ as per our models. Exceptional may well become the new normal which means more of this:

Yemen just this week, twice in quick succession:

Cape Verde in late August / early September

Flooding also happens because of rising sea levels. Thermostatic expansion, a volume and height increase as sea water warms plays a role as does melting ice. Some recent predictions are dire for coastal cities such as San Francisco:

Image from Coastal News Today, an well respected publication.

Models and projections while essential, don’t necessarily provide solutions. Models don’t’ fix.

Engineering, although playing a hugely important role to i.e. retrofitting, reinforcing and saving infrastructure, building in more resilient ways for the future, can also be problematic as The Rockefeller Foundation recently highlighted:

We need more than just design solutions, however. We also will need real alternatives to insurance for while a 2°C World Might Be Insurable, A 4°C World Certainly Would Not Be and we are heading there fast. We need a change in attitudes. We need a sense that we individually can really do something, change behavior, change culture and change our world for the better.  It means a serious interest and investment in disaster risk reduction. At the most fundamental level,  it all starts with prepared individuals that can achieve realistic confidence in the face of crisis. So, what is your Emergency & Disaster Preparedness Plan? Check our free resources and look through some of the earlier posts here.

Have a great week.

Monika

 

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Mosquitoes – Harmless Nuisance or Threat in the UK?

The UK has just experienced one of its wettest and mildest winter on record. An abundance of fresh water and above average temperatures means an ideal environment for mosquitoes. But it’s not just the rural areas that suffer. Mosquitoes are encroaching ever closer and make their home in sub-urban and urban spaces.

Following a number of glorious summer days interest in mosquitoes is once again peaking if some recent articles (Express; BBC, The Guardian) are anything to go by. While I certainly believe that some apprehensions are justified I also believe that scaremongering does not help. Let me share with you what I’ve recently talked about at one of our in-house awareness-raising sessions.

Know your Mosquitoes – why?

Because mosquitoes are insect vectors responsible for the transmission of parasitic and viral infections, some of them potentially serious. There are 33 species of mosquitoes in the United Kingdom. Most of them are rather small and – so far – qualify as a mild to moderate nuisance. But things are changing.

source: http://sweasel.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/undergroundmosquito.jpgThe common house mosquito Culex pipiens (small, beige/brown 3-7 mm body length) is a biter and well-established. The aptly named subspecies Culex pipiens molestus has adapted to life in the underground – the London Underground and other underground railways. It is known as a vector for meningitis and urticaria and has recently been identified as a potential vector of West Nile Virus (WNV).

Anopheles plumbeus (small, slate grey body, potential WNM and malaria vector) is a tree-hole mosquito but is changing its habitats to now also breed in man-made water containers. It is a persistent biter with peak activity at dusk, entering houses with a preference for mammals including humans but will also bite birds.

One notable exception to the native small mosquitoes is the comparatively large ‘Banded’ Mosquito Culiseta annulata that has a nasty bite but is otherwise considered harmless so far. Problem is, it can easily be confused with the more worrisome Asian Tiger Mosquito Aedes albopictus so here is a quick comparison:

Man versus Mosquito – War?

Some see the brewing crisis as a war between mosquito carrying diseases and man, a war that supposedly can be won by ever more powerful poisons or clever biological engineering. I’m thinking: “would be nice if it were that ‘simple quick’ fixes can be found but people’s behaviour also are inextricably enmeshed in this. Mosquitoes and people, we all share this planet and go about living and surviving. It’s actually more complicated.” I think my views tie in with those of Bill Gates whose work with malaria prevention I admire. He recently tweeted:

Do read his inspiring blog ‘gatesnotes’ but here is a quick summary of why human behaviour matters:

  • mosquitoes transmit disease only for a few days before they die – infected people carry disease (often undiagnosed) much longer, often for many years
  • mosquitoes travel only short distances – people, human activity spans the globe

Mosquitoes and human behaviour are tightly linked

Earlier I mentioned the Asian Tiger Mosquito and here is why I think there is reason to worry (but not panic!): in the mid 1980s, the Asian Tiger spread from Asia via the tyre trade to the US and within 20 years is now firmly entrenched across many states. All efforts at control have failed.

West Nile Virus in the United States 2002

Source: http://www.earthtimes.org/newsimage/climate-change-asian-tiger-mosquito-invasive_1_25412.jpg

 

 

It was introduced and took hold in Italy and Southern France, spread into parts of Switzerland and found it’s northernmost habitat in the greenhouses of Holland (red areas on the map above). Seen in this light you will agree that the Asian Tiger is rightly listed as one of the 100 top invasive species and has to be taken seriously. It was responsible for

  • Chikungunya Fever epidemic, French Island La Reunion in 2005/6, with an estimated 266,000 people infected and 248 fatalities
  • the first and only outbreak of Chikungunya fever on the European continent, 2007 in Ravenna, Italy, over 200 people infected

No reason for Panic – but a real need for Vigilance!

People live longer and travel – much more so than mosquitoes. So, if you’ve just come back from an amazing holiday and don’t feel so well get it checked out quickly and thoroughly. Transmission of disease all starts somewhere and you don’t really want to become known as patient 0.

  • Mosquitoes need warmth and moisture – don’t give it to them!

Avoid having open sources of stagnant water anywhere around your house, terrace, patio or garden. Inspect often. While the Asian Tiger has not yet been officially reported in the UK, it is perhaps just a matter of time especially with our ever warmer and wetter climate.

  • Keep an eye out. Know your mosquitoes.

Catch them and report them to Mosquito Watch by the UK’s Health Protection Agency and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

What else can you do? Stay covered, especially around dusk. Use insect repellents. Sleep under a mosquito net – still one of the best and simplest options. For ideas, check out our popular Travel Supplies Section.

  • Don’t be scared – understand and be better prepared!

Have a great week ~ Monika


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Resources / References:

  • HPA Mosquitoes Species Profiles;
  • PLOS Online Abstract: British Container Breeding Mosquitoes by Susannah Townroe and Amanda Callaghan, 2014
  • 2010, Sarah E. Randolph and David J. Rogers; “The arrival, establishment and spread of exotic diseases: patterns and predictions
  • 2013, Jolyon M. Medlock et al., “Review of the Invasive Mosquitoes in Europe: Ecology, Public Health Risks, and Control Options”

update:

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Climate Change – who will adapt and develop Resilience and how?

UK floods from space; UK-DMC2 satellite images the flooding on the rivers Arun and Adur in Sussex (source: BBC: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/72129000/jpg/_72129613_arun_adur_dmcii_after_green.jpg

UK floods from space; UK-DMC2 satellite images the flooding on the rivers Arun and Adur in Sussex (source: BBC)

Last Saturday I posted about sobering article in The Guardian titled ‘Climate change is here now and it could lead to global conflict‘ on our facebook page. Perhaps even more interesting was to follow the huge number of comments left by the public, 1419 at last count. It struck me just how much ‘heat’ some of these comments and highly polarised debates generated, pitching naysayers (it’s just weather!) against doomsayers (worldwide collapse) with a heavy sprinkling of black humour and sarcasm.

The bitter taste of what climate change might have in store for the UK certainly has rattled many nerves.

Extreme weather events no longer are a distant and intangible threat which hitherto was side-lined by public apathy, an attitude of ‘not here, not now and not us’.

Are the 2014 floods really going to change people’s outlook?

This is discussed in a recent New Scientist article by Adam Corner, a research associate in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University who manages the Talking Climate project for the Climate Outreach and Information Network (also as a blog post).

What influential people say – or fail to say – matters

Unsurprisingly, it has been found that some people will remain unmoved as every aspect of the topic of extreme weather and climate change is subject to powerful political, cultural and psychological filters. Crucially, what so called “elite cues” say really matters, especially when they say nothing1. Elite cues are the messages people get from the media, politicians and other high-profile voices i.e. scientists that are understandably reluctant to make simplistic causal links between single weather events and the highly complex dynamics of a changing climate.

I wholeheartedly join Adam Corner in arguing that the climate change debate urgently needs narratives that link ordinary people to the climate change challenge. Extreme weather will have an impact on most aspects of society and will affect us all individually, our families and loved ones. It is high time to discuss – but not through continued polarized debates that create more heat than light.

Everyone affected by the floods need to be heard

People have suffered. People are scared. Some are terrified. Others have a more positive outlook or have luckily not (yet) been affected at all and so might have difficulty to fully empathize. We’re all different and have a right to be heard without being insulted or accused.

I hold with Marilynne Robinson2 who states:

“It is only prudent to make a very high estimate of human nature, first of all in order to contain the worst impulses of human nature, and then to liberate its best impulses.”

I hope this is remembered in the many forthcoming debates.

Monika


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source

References:

1 Adam Cornor discussing Rober Brulle’s analysis of US public opinion on climate change; blog post

2 Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning author, in “The Strange History of Altruism” in the book “Absence of Mind”; i.e. see Guardian book review

Also of interest “Is it time to join the ‘preppers’? How to survive the climate-change apocalypse” article in The Guardian, 17.02.2014

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More Extreme Weather – heatwave at Australia Open, arctic deep freeze in the US, continued floods in the UK

Dancevic is treated in the extreme heat of Melbourne Park / source http://metro.co.uk/2014/01/14/tennis-player-sees-snoopy-on-court-and-then-collapses-at-australian-open-4262584/

Dancevic is treated in the extreme heat of Melbourne Park; source http://metro.co.uk/2014/01/14/

There I thought I was done talking about crazy weather for a while – not so! Extreme weather events seem to come hard and fast as we head into this new year.

While the UK flooded and the US froze, Argentina baked but ‘heat’ seemed to have slipped the limelight until the Australian Open was disrupted by record breaking temperatures.

On Monday, the average maximum temperature across the country reached a new record of 40.33C. Forecasting that temperatures might reach 54C the Bureau of Meteorology added two new shades of purple to the top of their temperature scale map, New Scientist reported. Thankfully, those predictions were not borne out; else the country would have had to deal with a lot worse than ‘just’ thousands of tennis fans suffering heat exhaustion, as a local newspaper said. As it was, it was bad enough: large numbers of EMS had to be mobilized to respond to heat-related injuries (see heatstroke info i.e. SJA). Heart attacks surged by 300%. Authorities expected an increase of 50% in mortalities caused by the extreme heat mainly affecting the vulnerable (the elderly, infirm and children). The Guardian reported: ‘Australian heat waves are getting hotter and longer says the Climate Council’.

Not a great start to 2014… however, we cannot take these events to simply predict what this summer might bring for us in the UK. We can only remember our own heat waves, how they have affected us in the past and prepare to stay cool. So, here is some context:

– the highest recorded UK temperature was 38.5C on 10/08/2003 Faversham Kent (METoffice); this is only marginally different from Australia’s record last week. Somehow I don’t think here in the UK we’re as adapted and resilient (yet) to heat as the Aussies are, although that is of course a matter of personal tolerance.

– the most recent heat wave (19 days) was last year in July 2013, 33.5C recorded in west London. On 18 July, the Telegraph reports London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine figures that the first 9 days of the heat wave had caused up to an additional 760 deaths. The heat wave ended on 23 July with heavy thunderstorms, bringing flooding and lightning strikes that caused transport disruption, power cuts and fires. One week later temperatures rose again, recording the warmest August temperature since 2003.

Let us hope for a perfectly ‘average’ spring.

Find out more about how to be prepared for a heatwave.

And of interest might be the standardised physiological heat tolerance test (HTT) which evaluates athletes’ tolerance to exercising in the heat. It differentiates between a temporary and permanent state of heat susceptibility (Journal Sport Rehabil. 2007 Aug;16(3):215-21.) HTT is also used by some armed forces to test the heat tolerance of their personnel.

Monika

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Resilience – what it is and how it connects to crazy weather

Resilience - thriving despite difficulties; Resilient Self - Resilienct Relationships - Resilient Problem Solving

Resilience – thriving despite difficulties; Resilient Self – Resilienct Relationships – Resilient Problem Solving

Another crazy weather week! Amazing pictures from the US throughout the week, especially the frozen Niagara Falls and headlines of – literally – Hell freezing over; Hell Michigan that is. Meanwhile more flood misery with heavy rains and violent tidal surges affected thousands here in the UK, causing widespread damage and much personal pain… and more is yet to come we’re being told.

With all this gloom and controversies around flood prevention measures running high it is interesting to note that the Guardian ran an article on how floods are not all uniformly bad, how there is a silver lining (even if somewhat thin) to be had in all of this. I’d like to pick up on this at the close of this week.

Finding the positive side in any situation, no matter how grim and hopeless it might at first appear, is a huge skill and a massively important part of what resilience means. And that, increasingly, is what it’s all about. But what exactly does ‘resilience’ mean? One definition holds that ‘resilience’ is the capacity to cope effectively in stressful situations or adversity. There are a number of core capacities that play role and these are, according to the APA1:

  • (a) self-awareness: identifying one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, and patterns in each that are counterproductive
  • (b) self-regulation: the ability to regulate impulses, thinking, emotions, and behaviours to achieve goals, as well as the willingness and ability to express emotions;
  • (c) optimism: noticing the goodness in self and others, identifying what is controllable, remaining wedded to reality, and challenging counterproductive beliefs
  • (d) mental agility: thinking flexibly and accurately, perspective taking, and willingness to try new strategies
  • (e) character strengths: identifying the top strengths in oneself and others, relying on one’s strengths to overcome challenges and meet goals, and cultivating a strength approach in one’s group; and
  • (f) connection: building strong relationships through positive and effective communication, empathy, willingness to ask for help, and willingness to offer help

That’s a lot – complex and interesting stuff! Plenty of material there for me to write about in small doses as we go into this near year talking about Emergency Preparedness and Resilience.
You will have noticed that I’ve highlighted ‘OPTIMISM’ in the above list and will have read its description – a very far cry from the rose-tinted and rather blind optimism you might have come across elsewhere. The aim here is not to gloss over reality but rather a bit of a case of thorough #SherlockLives -style analysis and a much wider appraisal that eventually will help towards finding new strength and direction.

So, back to the Guardian and the good side of our #UKFloods. I encourage you read the full article but in a nutshell, here it is:

  • UK wind industry had its best-ever period, setting daily, weekly and monthly records
  • heavy rains across Britain have left the water supply industry smiling, reservoirs are full
  • environment: floods and storms are important natural phenomena that help the natural environment, i.e. clear clean river gravels of silt, encouraging fish migration; some plants depend on strong winds to spread their seeds further afield…
  • wildlife: burrowing animals breed best when soggy ground makes their holes easy to dig; record numbers of wading birds..

And for us? The wild weather has been an excellent stick for environment groups and scientists to beat government with as well as raise awareness generally. Charles Tucker, chair of the National Flood Forum, nicely summed it up: “With joined-up thinking, you invest in communities to develop resilience and prepare for future flooding. You invest in a national effort, requiring the agencies responsible for flood risk management to work with local people, equipping them to tackle local flooding problems. You give local communities the tools to find solutions themselves.” Highlights by me.

In the end, it’s also all up to us – individually as well as part of a community! Have a great weekend.

Monika

1APA – American Psychological Association


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