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Hot and bothered

13 Mar 2019 | Science Notes

Climate change does seem to be causing anxiety; apparently over a third of millennials worry that human children are bad for Mother Earth and some are even on a so-called “birthstrike” at least for now. And CNN says people struggling to survive extreme weather “are vulnerable to the influence of extremist recruits”. Calling to mind a study last fall saying climate change will cause us to go mad before we catch fire because storms cause anxiety while, the National Post said, “hotter nights in some regions… will mean less sleep. Serious sleep deprivation is a risk for depression and suicidal thinking.” It’s a wonder people manage to survive in sunny California—including the latter study’s lead author, at toasty Berkeley. Predictably, it turns out, way down in the story, that Canadians are more depressed in winter than summer and rates of depression tend to increase with latitude not the reverse. So maybe climate hysteria is the real threat to mental health after all.

As usual the headline on the mental health story was a hard sell: “Global warming will drive up suicide rates, study warns: ‘Heat profoundly affects the human mind’”. And the story starts with a great Raymond Chandler noir fiction quotation about hot Los Angeles nights where “every booze party ends in a fight”. After that things get a bit rocky.

It says “28 specialists convened by the Lancet medical journal listed climate change among the greatest threats to mental health globally. Ferocious storms and more frequent weather extremes will affect the human psyche in costly ways, some scientists predict, from more depression and anxiety to increased suicide rates.” So already the story is dealing not with warming but with unspecified “extremes”. (Likewise CNN said “Climate change is already triggering devastating weather events across the planet, including prolonged droughts, flash floods and wildfires.”)

So it’s a bait and switch. And it matters because, as this newsletter will frequently point out, we have good historical data on storms, droughts and other extreme weather going back at least a century and there is no trend toward an increase since 1900 or since man-made warming supposedly really kicked in in 1970… or 1980… or 2000… or whenever. And there cannot be a causal link to something that didn’t happen.

In fact the Post story backpedals frantically on its headline claims if you read far enough. To wit: “The authors were quick to add that heat, alone, isn’t the only risk factor for self-harm. And it’s not clear if hot temperatures hasten suicides that would have happened anyway, or trigger suicides that never would have happened… It’s not likely someone becomes severely depressed solely because it’s really hot outside. Most mental illnesses have their roots in childhood and adolescence, the Lancet Commission paper says.” So what does weather have to do with it? Well, it goes on, “studies in the U.S. and South Africa have linked hot temperatures with increased rates of violent crime, robbery and assault.”

Which brings us back to the remarkable fact that people seem to prefer to live in hot places. Canadians, for instance, have a maddening tendency to huddle on the southern border where it’s tolerably warm compared to our vast frozen north, and vacation even further south if they can afford it. Which can’t be due to sunstroke because they move while still possessed of cooler heads.

Finally, to let common sense intrude for a moment, if feeling hot is so disagreeable, why not turn on the air conditioning? Amazingly they even argue that the advent of air conditioning has apparently not changed the tendency of hotter weather to increase aggression and depression. Which calls into question what any of this has to do with being hot. You’d think not actually being hotter despite what’s happening outside might matter.

More steam than boiling water in this story.

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