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    How Seniors Can ‘Stay Cool in a Changing Climate’

    How do we keep in mind our wisest and most vulnerable while confronting climate change?

    Our new workshop, Staying Cool in a Changing Climate”, helps to tackle that question.

    Jessica Caum, Manager of the Philadelphia Health Department’s Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness Program, asked a group assembled in the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center who was at risk during an extreme heat event. Almost fifty Philadelphia seniors replied in unison, “we are!

    excessive heat

    It was another afternoon Wednesday, July 28 at North 41st and Poplar, but between “silver sneaker” workouts and bingo, a broad coalition of organizations presented on climate change and its effects on health and home. Jessica discussed the importance of looking out for others, during extreme weather events, offering advice that goes beyond heat or precipitation but bears repeating.

    Risks for Seniors during Climate Events

    Deepa Mankikar, Environmental Health Project Coordinator at the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium, stressed the importance of indoor air quality, particularly how increased heat and precipitation can contribute to mold growth while inviting rodents and insects into the home.

    Instead of bleach and insecticides, swap white vinegar with lemon for cleaning and closed traps and baits to repel pests. Deepa cautioned that some of the purported solutions to mold and pest problems bring their own hazards.


    With storms like Irene, Lee, and Sandy, it’s important to consider how to handle a power outage. Julia Menzo, Coordinator for Disaster Response and Volunteer Engagement at Liberty Lutheran Service asked how many people had important phone numbers written down. Although many attendees affirmed, the group laughed when Julia asked if their children and grandchildren had done the same.

    Simple ways to Save Energy – and Money

    Much of this advice was provided to seniors – but can also apply to all of us. Julia and Thomas Flaherty, Strategic Initiatives Officer at Energy Coordinating Agency, both talked about maximizing refrigerator efficiency by freezing containers of water to occupy unused freezer space. Your fridge stays cold for four hours during a power outage if you keep the door closed.

    Thomas talked about “vampire” electricity consumption and how most coffee machines devote their days to unnecessarily powering a little red light. He emphasized the home as a system, meaning that if one appliance or area is inefficient, the rest of your residence is sure to follow.heat loss in homes

    Thomas instructed guests to turn water heaters down to 120°, which is still plenty hot. From rope caulk to LED lightbulbs to white roofs, attendees were given options to cut their electric bills while decreasing their contribution to climate change in the process.

    Climate Change 101

    For my own part, I stressed the cyclical nature of climate change, how greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere, which then turns water into water vapor, which is itself a greenhouse gas. More than most elected officials, guests understood how the upward movement of evaporating ocean water contributes to the formation of storms and other weather events when that energetic water vapor meets horizontally moving wind.

    “Then why do so many elected officials dispute climate change?”
    “It’s political.”

    It was a joy to see residents answer each other’s questions.

    Absolutely. With an audience that has witnessed multiple generations of climate; the changes in temperature and precipitation during the last 40 years were wholly understood.

    When valuable federal initiatives like the Weatherization Assistance Program were mentioned, you could feel the uncertainty in the room regarding the disastrous proposed federal budget, but all involved remained optimistic and excited to improve their own budgets with the day’s information. Introducing, concluding and peppering the hour-and-a-half program with questions and comments was the project’s leader, Drexel Professor Alison Kenner, PhD.

    Get Involved in Climate Change

    This was the first of three, Staying Cool in a Changing Climate” workshops. Invite elderly friends to Join us at the South Philadelphia Free Library on July 12 at 2:30 PM and the McPherson Free Library August 2 at 2:30 PM. (You can contact me directly).

    Dr. Kenner and I will be conducting post-workshop interviews after August 2nd to assess the project’s efficacy and look for paths forward. Please let us know if you have a Philadelphia climate change story.

    Russell Zerbo is the advocacy coordinator at Clean Air Council and a nominee for SustainPHL’s Activist of the Year. Reach him at rzerbo@cleanair.org or 215.567.4004 x130.


    Photos: Energy Coordinating Agency; Health Department & Clean Air Council

    Russell Zerbo

    About Russell Zerbo

    Russell Zerbo is the federal advocacy coordinator at the Clean Air Council. He likes to participate in comment periods and write letters to the editor. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2011 with a degree in government.

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