A study out of MIT has found that extreme heat is changing the way people spend their time. The study followed 900 million anonymous cell phone users in China, whose locations were queried a total of 60 billion times per day. This data was compared against the locations of 10,499 parks across the country as well as temperature data from 2,000 Chinese weather stations. Though the average person might be required to spend time outside for a number of reasons, parks are usually visited on a voluntary basis, which allowed the researchers to assess how many people were choosing to hang out outdoors instead of staying indoors.
Using this data, the researchers at MIT found that people were 5% less likely to visit public parks when temperatures reached 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). They were 13% less likely to go to parks when temperatures reached 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit).
“We show that unmitigated climate change will generate sizable activity-depressing and activity-delaying effects in summer,” urban economist Yichun Fan and environmental scientist Jianghao Wang write in their paper, which was published Tuesday in Nature Scientific Reports.
Outdoor temperatures impact people’s choices all the time. You might choose to bike to work on a balmy day, but given other options, you wouldn’t do so when it’s snowing outside. You won’t dine or hold an event outdoors when sub-zero temperatures pop up on your weather app, nor will you be particularly inspired to take your kids or your dog to the park on a super hot day. But in these scenarios, an opportunity remains for you to do those activities another time, when the weather is more appropriate. Meanwhile, researchers are worried that climate change is eliminating these opportunities by gradually increasing the temperature across the board.
The team at MIT is concerned that rising temperatures will make various parts of life uncomfortable or downright unrealistic, from exercising and socializing to using the recreation areas their tax dollars have gone toward. Beyond producing what some might consider a more depressing lifestyle, these activities have an impact on individuals’ health. “Extreme climates will reduce people’s opportunities to socialize in cities, or just watch kids playing basketball or soccer, which is not good,” study co-author Siqi Zheng told MIT. “We want people to have a wide-ranging urban life. There is a social cost to this adaptation.”
The researchers are using their study to emphasize the need for further research into outdoor temperatures’ impacts on daily activities. Until then, the study adds to a compounding stack of evidence for climate change’s growing influence.
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