As the first major heat wave of the summer sweeps across the nation, we are beginning to hear about heat-related deaths, the great majority of which are preventable. Unlike forecasts of winter storms, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms, which are taken seriously by the general public, warnings regarding excessive heat are, for some reason, largely ignored.
Young children and pets are left in closed vehicles, hikers head into desert canyons with insufficient water, public ceremonies or parades are scheduled in the heat of the afternoon, drill sergeants and football coaches downplay the risk of heatstroke and young athletes, convinced of their immortality, exercise in the mid day sun. Despite the advice of physicians, meteorologists and other professionals, such behavior is repeated year after year and needless deaths occur.
After all, common sense is a common deficiency in human beings and our personal interests trump attention to preventive health recommendations. Though our bodies, which evolved in the tropics, are designed to dissipate heat, there is a limit to that capacity and prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in severe heat can be fatal, especially when shade and water are in short supply. It is ironic that the most intelligent species on planet Earth is the one most likely to die from heat exposure; less intelligent animals know better.