Child cools off in jets of water

Reddit Community Shares Strategies on Coping with Extreme Heat

July 9, 2024

How are you handling the heat? A record-breaking heat wave in the U.S. has put more than 130 million people under an extreme heat advisory and has already contributed to at least four deaths in Oregon, likely a large underestimate, as temperatures there exceeded 100 degrees F (38 C). Pakistan, too, is experiencing dangerous temperature extremes, following an earlier heat wave in Southeast Asia.

A new online community is sharing information and advice on the various ways we can prepare ourselves for extreme temperatures driven by climate change. The Heat_Prep group on Reddit was created this May by Robbie M. Parks, assistant professor of environmental health sciences, and other heat experts, including his friend and former co-intern at the World Meteorological Organization, Nathaniel Matthews-Trigg of Americares, a health-focused relief and development organization. Since its founding, the Reddit community has ballooned to nearly 4,000 active users worldwide with several new posts daily.

Recent posts have sparked discussions on what temperature to set your thermostat, advice on cooling relief at a hot job site, and the pros and cons of a wearable air conditioner.

“We are learning so much about how citizens are coping with extreme heat worldwide,” says Parks, who studies the intersection of public health and climate change (a recent study examined the risks to incarcerated populations, many of whom lack air conditioning). “There are so many creative solutions, including bathing while grilling outdoors, for example, or cooling wearables, which, unfortunately, are too often necessary now because of this supercharged heat season due to climate change. In many ways, the Redditors are heat-health researchers themselves, sharing what works and allowing others to assess.”

Adaptation to climate change and extreme heat is critical, especially as efforts to reduce the production of new greenhouse gases lag, explains Parks. “Solutions need to come from every level of society,” he says, “with large-scale investment made at international, federal, and local levels. But what’s inspiring is that so many people are active on the Reddit group, and it shows that the citizenry is engaged with establishing heat health plans. There is clearly a desire and necessity driving the huge engagement on Reddit.”

Parks and Matthews-Trigg, who serve as moderators on Heat_Prep, as well as Robert Meade, a post-doc at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will be answering questions on an AMA (short for ask me anything) on Tuesday, July 16, 3-7 p.m. ET.