YOU may have read recently that ‘Britain is failing to protect its vulnerable citizens. Thousands of preventable deaths could be triggered every year.’ You may have supposed that some road safety organisation was at it again, worried about silent electric cars. Or maybe it was the RNLI having a go about inflatables on the beach. Possibly the opposition playing safe and attacking the crime rate or the NHS?
There’s a clue in the next sentence. ‘As global heating worsens and heatwaves become more frequent, the problem is likely to worsen significantly.’ This is Baroness Brown of Cambridge, a member of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), and she goes on to claim that by 2050 there could be three times as many heat-related deaths as there are today.
This is a Guardian piece about the CCC’s comments on a Met Office warning about hotter summers, so let’s stop here and take a deep breath of reality.
The number of heat-related summer deaths are monitored by Public Health England. The three years 2017-19 averaged 847, but in 2020 there were 2,556, in line with 2003 (2,334) and 2006 (2,323). Let’s be fair and assume global warming will continue, so over the next few years we may have a yearly average of 2,500, then (according to the CCC) on to 7,500 by 2050.
Back in Wonderland there’s apparently no need to worry. The Telegraph has reassuring news from its Environment Editor, Emma Gatten. The CCC, she says, ‘called for the introduction of new regulations to ensure developers were not building homes that are uninhabitable as temperatures rise . . . Measures that can easily be incorporated when building new homes include avoiding large south-facing windows, including external shutters, trickle vents, green roofs, and green walls covered in vegetation.’
There we are, then, problem solved. However, the world that you and I live in has a season called winter when it gets cold even here in the UK, and there is, of course, an opposite effect. Again Public Health England has the data: ‘Cold-related deaths represent the biggest weather-related source of mortality in England, and on average, there are approximately 35,000 excess winter deaths each year in England and Wales.’
Being kind and using the CCC’s figure for 2050, there are still over four and a half times as many excess deaths in winter as in summer. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation looked at the problem some time ago. Not surprisingly, they found that ‘the magnitude of the winter excess was greater in people living in dwellings that appear to be poorly heated. The percentage rise in deaths in winter was greater in those dwellings with low energy-efficiency ratings, and those predicted to have low indoor temperatures during cold periods’.
There are wide variations on recommended indoor warmth in winter. The Met Office must employ all young, hot-blooded people, because they say ‘you should heat your home to the temperature of at least 18°C. This is particularly important if you have reduced mobility, are 65 or over, or have a health condition, such as heart or lung disease.’
For the last twenty years I have been cold from October to March, and have recently become a nonagenarian so will probably be even colder this winter. The figure of 18 is ridiculous. I live in a reasonably well-insulated house with gas central heating; the winter thermostat setting is 21 or above and even then the winter clothing level is four layers.
The heat pump threat has receded by five years, but these things are notorious for their inability to warm a house properly. The CCC want smaller south-facing windows but the cheapest source of additional heat even in winter is the sun. Any day that it’s available let it shine in through south-facing windows. Have shutters for summer.
The CCC say possibly 7,500 excess summer deaths by 2050. But they seem to be relying on our climate warming unbelievably quickly to save 35,000 of us going shivering to our doom every winter.