The Climate Change Statistic You Can’t Ignore

A new report gives new meaning to the idea that nothing worth having comes easily.

July 5, 2012

You don’t need to be told we had a warm winter and spring. Sure, it felt nice, but we’ll pay the price later. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released new statistics finding that this past spring was the warmest on record, with temperatures a full 5.7ºF warmer than normal.

That may not sound like much, but as a result of those 5 simple degrees, we’re all dealing with less rain, which poses a problem for farmers. Even after heavy rainfall pummeled the East Coast in late May and early June, precipitation levels are still lower than normal, according to the agency. People out West are having to cope with less snowfall and thus less subsequent spring snow melt than usual, limiting their already tight water resources.


Here are three more reasons you should care about a warming climate:

1. More crime
You no doubt have seen tempers boil over and have probably worked with a few hotheads, but there’s more to temperature and bad tempers than just metaphorical phrases. A growing body of research is finding that crime waves and heat waves tend to go hand in hand. There’s one obvious reason for this: When the weather is nice, more people are out and about. There’s more social interaction, and more of a chance for someone to get mad. Another reason is biological. Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., a psychologist from Iowa State University, has found that high temperatures increase testosterone production and that, combined with other physiological heat-induced changes, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and metabolic changes, can increase the likelihood of violent behavior.

Your Move:
Plant more trees. A recent study from Portland, Oregon, found that homes with more trees were less likely to house victims of violent and petty crimes. The largest trees provided the most benefit. Homes with trees that sported canopies covering 2,000 square feet saw 10 fewer crimes per 1,000 homes than homes with smaller trees or no trees. And trees pull carbon dioxide out of the air, which is what’s heating up temperatures to begin with. So your simple act gives you double the benefit.

2. Heart attacks
Heat is hard on your body, and global warming is changing the characteristics of heat waves, producing more warming at night and higher humidity, making it harder to escape long heat waves. Among the havoc the warmer, muggier conditions can wreak: heart attacks, strokes, and kidney damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hotter conditions can be deadly, too. According to a new report from the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, the number of deaths attributed to heat waves and other extreme heat events will increase from the 1,332 seen each year between 1975 and 2004 to 2,648 deaths each year by the middle of the century—and that’s just in the country’s 40 largest cities.

Your Move: 
Eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, get regular exercise (when it’s cool out) and take other commonsense measures to keep your heart healthy. The healthier it is, the less prone you are to heat-induced heart attacks. 

3. Brain swelling
Not something you typically associate with a heat wave, brain swelling is one of the more severe side effects of Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and eastern equine encephalitis, three insectborne diseases becoming more prevalent as the climate warms. This year’s extraordinarily mild winter didn’t kill off ticks as cold winters normally do, and experts are predicting a particularly voracious bunch this year, which means the risk for Lyme disease is more serious than in years past. Expect to find mosquitoes, which carry the other two diseases, biting earlier this year, too, as their feeding patterns change with the warmer weather and earlier onset of spring.

Your Move: 
Protect yourself from these disease-carrying bloodsuckers without poisoning yourself or your home with toxic chemicals. If you’ve spent time outside—even in your yard—take a shower as soon as you go into the house. Research has shown this tactic to be very effective in knocking ticks off of your body before they can attach and transmit disease. If you live near woods or a meadow, install a strip of gravel between your yard and those habitats to cut back on the mice population, which harbors ticks, in your yard.

To control mosquitoes, look for mosquito repellents that do NOT list DEET (a chemical that may damage nervous systems and cause asthma attacks) as an active ingredient. Some safer active ingredients include picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and geraniol. Resort to DEET only if you're heading to a tropical region. Keep both mosquitoes and ticks away with long-sleeved shirts and long pants—which don’t require reapplication and are naturally chemical free!

Finally, tell the Environmental Protection Agency you support its proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants, which would limit globe-warming greenhouse gases, which are contributing to the excessive heat—and all the heart attacks, violent crimes, and insectborne diseases none of us wants to suffer from. You can download instructions on how to comment here.