Thursday, June 01, 2006

UK summer heatwave warning? Chill out

I think it's rather ironic that, 1) the British government has launched it's summer's 'Heatwave Plan 2006', at the tail end of, according to the Mirror newspaper, the wettest May we've seen in a decade - and, 2) that the government now describes the life giving properties of the sun, (aka sunshine), as though it were a severe mortal threat to us all.

The foreword of Heatwave plan for England: 'protecting health and reducing harm from extreme heat and heatwave' written by that well known climatologist, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said, 'Climate change means heatwaves are likely to become more common in England' - the heatwave Sir Donaldson had in mind was the one that hit Europe in the summer of 2003. Donaldson reminds us that the 2003 heatwave saw some 15,000 excess deaths due to 'heat-related conditions'.

In the past, annual government health warnings about the sun meant scaring us witless about the dangers of sunbathing by raising the spectra of cancer, even though melanoma victims in the UK still, thankfully remain rare. Today, the authorities public health promotions are more to do with promoting awareness about what they deem to be the 'right' issue. So, out goes the simplistic medical link between too much sunlight and the risk of skin cancer, in comes environmentalist concerns about the dangers of a summer heatwave.

Sir Donaldson is adamant that the heatwave plan for England is needed, even though the risk of a severe heatwave in Britain is less than 0.1%. He points to the 15,000 excess deaths in France 2003, and talks about the hypothetical problem's relating to climate change as proof that we need this plan. If that's his proof then we don't need their heatwave plan. Indeed, it could be argued that it was French environmentalist policies of 2001 that led to some 15,000 deaths in the summer of 2003. The chain of causes and its effects might seem difficult to grasp. Difficult, but not impossible

The heatwave that hit Europe in the late summer of 2003 did in fact kill thousands of people (mainly the elderly), and livestock. It also caused huge forest fires. It was more severe in France, due to the fact that the temperature did not drop during the evening, according to experts.

However, the hot, baking sun cannot explain the mass deaths in a modern Western society. When at the same time, across the Atlantic, temperatures reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 2003. But that did not lead to thousands of people being killed. Climatologist Patrick J. Michaels on American Fox News pointed out the 'temperature in Paris was the same as in Denver, Chicago and Detroit'. But there were no deaths due to the baking heat in American cities, so what is going on in France?

The truth is, air conditioning is commonplace in American homes, however, in the technological sophisticated country like France, air conditioning is rare. Why is that?

European environmentalists have put so much pressure on governments to reduce energy consumption, that governments in Europe, especially France, have imposed huge energy taxes in order to reduce energy consumption. French consumers now pay on average 25 percent more for their energy than they do in the United States, and the average income is also low, which make electricity even more expensive in France.

So, high-energy taxes have done exactly what the environmentalists wanted it to do, reduce energy consumption. Air conditioners use more energy than any other household appliance, so in order to cut down their electric bills, the poor and elderly simply gave up using their air conditioners because it became too expensive to use. What is universal in America is in fact, the indulgence of the well off in France. The director of the Saint-Antoine in Paris, Chantal de Singly noted in Le Monde (Aug 19, 2003) that the French had two types of citizens 'the France of the air conditioners versus the France of the overheated'.

So, there you have it - in order to address a hypothetical risk of global warming (of a few measly degrees), the French environmentalists high energy tax made it impossible for it's poorer citizens to protect themselves from what was, something that was foreseeable and preventable - a summer heatwave.

So, if the government are really so concerned about the elderly and vulnerable during a summer heatwave, why don't they just make air-conditioners universal in Britain? But that would contradict the governments newfound environmentalist concerns. The truth is, it's not the sun that is the threat to us all in the summer, it's taking warning advice from a government who mistakenly think they Know What's Best.

Picture: The Sun.


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