Australian Study Warns of Air Conditioning Health Fears 

Darwin, the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, can be brutally hot and humid.   Many of its 150,000 residents seek refuge from the tropical elements in air-conditioned homes, offices and cars.

But research from the Australian National University, the ANU, suggests that air-conditioning, which is often set at 21 degrees Celsius, is making people more vulnerable to heat-related death.

Heatwaves are Australia’s deadliest natural hazard.  They kill more people than bushfires, floods and storms put together.

The ANU asserts that “climate change is increasing heat-associated mortality particularly in hotter parts of the world.” 

Simon Quilty, the study’s lead author, is from the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. He told VOA that avoiding the heat and humidity may prevent people from adapting to the climate.

“Being exposed regularly to the prevailing climate in which you live actually acclimatizes your body,” he said. “e know that acclimatization takes roughly 14-days to occur for a human body and that changes the way that we sweat, it changes the way that we breathe, it changes our kidneys and it even changes the way that our hearts pump.  What is happening now is that our entire lives are set at 21 degrees Celsius and so for people who are living in very hot climates like the Northern Territory that deacclimatization is actually probably increasing heat vulnerability.”

Quilty said the research also finds that First Nations communities in the Northern Territory are less vulnerable to heat because they are often less inclined or able to use air-conditioning.

“Yes, it is very, very uncomfortable in really hot weather in Darwin and other places in the Tropics around the world, but we do not all need to live at 21 degrees Celsius,” Quilty said.  “And certainly, my experience of Aboriginal people is they really do not like over air-conditioned environments.  They feel very uncomfortable in it.”       

Quilty says that First Nations people have shown “extraordinary resilience to extreme weather” over thousands of years.

The Australian National University study believes that “hot climate communities need to start considering socio-cultural means of adapting to hotter weather.”  

Indigenous Australians invariably stay out of the hot afternoon sun and reduce physical exertion in warmer parts of the day.  The study recommends that housing in hot climates should also be designed to ensure passive cooling to reduce energy costs.

The Australian research also asserts that a siesta – or an afternoon nap – during the warmest part of the day can help the body to acclimatize to the heat.    

The study is published in the journal, the Lancet Planetary Health.

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