Reflective paint, free water, medical training: How Indian authorities slashed heat deaths 90%

heatwave india photo
CC BY 2.0 Swaminathan

We are by no means helpless in the face of climate change.

As headlines of heatwave-related deaths have become more commonplace around the world, it's sometimes tempting to throw up our hands in despair:

"If we're already seeing mass casualties, imagine how bad it will be when climate change really starts kicking in."

Not only does this seem defeatist because there's still much we can do to ward off the worst-case warming scenarios by slashing emissions, but there's also much we can do to help communities adapt to a warmer world.

A recent report by Michael Safi in The Guardian explores how authorities in Northern India reduced heat-related deaths from 2,040 in 2015 to a little over 200 in 2017. (This followed a 50% reduction in 2016.) Encouragingly, much of this was achieved with very simple, low cost interventions such as reflective paint on roofs in low income communities, unlocking public parks during the day, and reducing work programs and school days during the height of heat waves. These measures, combined with educating medical staff on the symptoms of heat related illness, appear to have been enough to turn a heatwave from outright deadly to simply extremely uncomfortable for a majority of people.

From painting streets white in LA to getting serious about urban forestry in overheated Kentucky, we have covered such low tech interventions before. But it's encouraging to see what can happen when there's buy-in at the centralized, government level—particularly in nations where heat-related deaths are becoming so commonplace.

For some reason, this whole story makes me think of a recent tweet storm from the always insightful Alex Steffen, who argued that despite the vary real, obvious and potentially disastrous challenges we have unfolding before us, we must resist those who make the case for despair and/or defeat:

And then there was this chestnut, which literally stopped me in my tracks:

Disasterbation has always been a pet peeve of mine . It's not surprising to me that folks who are living on the frontline of the climate threat are more interested in taking practical action to save lives, than to throw up their hands and say we're all doomed. Especially as they get increasingly serious about boosting renewable energy, too.

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