As much as I'm looking forward to the long July 4th weekend, there are some things about this season I don't enjoy: the excessive heat, the smog, the bugs -- and sometimes when you head to the beach to cool off, there's a swim advisory.
These are the real dog days of summer. As our climate continues to warm, we can expect to see more of the season's less pleasant side. Heat-trapping carbon pollution is blanketing the planet, supercharging summer hazards, making them more frequent and intense.
The good news is we're gearing up to tackle the number one source of the pollution that is driving these changes. The EPA announced last month that it will at last set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, which spew out more carbon emissions than the entire nation of Brazil. President Obama has suggested cutting this pollution 30 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels. This would be a promising step to avoid severe climate impacts in the future.
In the meantime, we have to face the facts: Climate change is already here, and we have to cope with the impacts that we can't avoid. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid the dog days of summer in a warmer world.
(photo by Joe Parks, creative commons)
1. Stay cool in extreme heat. Heat waves are expected to be longer, hotter and more frequent than ever as heat-trapping carbon pollution continues to build in the atmosphere.
Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. When temperatures rise, drink plenty of water, stay out of the sun, and keep strenuous activity to a minimum. Never leave children or pets in a parked vehicle unattended.
2. Be aware of bad air. Hot temperatures speed up smog formation and pollen production. Smoky haze from wildfires also compromises air quality.
Allergy and asthma sufferers, watch the pollen and air quality forecasts closely. Plan to stay indoors as much as possible on bad air days.
3. Avoid insect bites. Climate change is creating more favorable habitat for the ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit dengue and West Nile virus.
(photo: black-legged tick, by Fairfax County, creative commons)
Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks outside, particularly in wooded or grassy areas. Check for ticks when you return indoors and remove with tweezers. Catching ticks within 24 hours reduces the risk of Lyme disease. Empty or change the water in rain barrels, bird baths, gutters, etc. Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
4. Watch out for poison ivy. Excess carbon dioxide makes poison ivy grow faster and more toxic.
If you're spending time outside, wear long pants, long sleeves, boots and gloves. Wash contaminated clothing separately with hot water and detergent. DO NOT BURN poison ivy--the smoke can cause severe allergic reactions. If you touch poison ivy, rinse immediately, and repeatedly, with dishwashing soap or detergent and water. Treat itchy skin with oatmeal baths and hydrocortisone cream.
5. Protect against pollen. Ragweed is flourishing in a warmer, carbon-laden climate, and emits pollen up to a month longer in some places than it did 20 years ago.
(photo: mcfarlandmo, creative commons )
If you're one of the 30 to 40 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, keep an eye on daily pollen reports and try to stay indoors as much as possible on high pollen days. When you come back inside, shower or wipe off pollen from your hair and skin with a damp cloth. Wash bedclothes and vacuum regularly to keep pollen out of your indoor air.
6. Take food safety precautions. Salmonella and other food-borne illness increase as the weather warms. Climate change can also lead to more harmful algal blooms, which may cause seafood contamination.
Make sure perishable foods are refrigerated immediately. Food that's been outside for an hour in 90-degree weather might not be safe to eat. Beef, poultry and eggs should be cooked thoroughly. And pay attention to warnings about contaminated seafood and harmful algal blooms. Cooked seafood isn't necessarily safe--cooking doesn't get rid of toxins from algae.
7. Test the water before you swim. Climate change will cause more incidences of red tides and water pollution at beaches.
(photo by Kris Krug, creative commons)
Avoid swimming in red tides, and stay out of the water a day or two after heavy rains, which can prompt the discharge of sewage and polluted water directly into local waterways. Check NRDC's Testing the Waters guide to see how well your beach's water quality is monitored.
8. Help preserve national parks and monuments. Sea level rise, erosion, flooding and wildfires are damaging our natural and cultural heritage.
Climate change threatens some of our most precious landscapes and historic sites, visited by 250 million people every summer. Boston's historic Faneuil Hall faces the risk of flooding and storm surges. Wildfires threaten petroglyphs at Mesa Verde. The Statue of Liberty was closed to visitors for eight months during repairs after Hurricane Sandy.
If you visit a national park or monument this summer, support efforts to build climate resiliency and prepare these invaluable places for the impacts of climate change.
And most importantly, support the EPA's Clean Power Plan to curb carbon pollution from power plants. It's the most important step we've made to protect our climate and ensure a better future--with fewer dog days-- for our children and for future generations.