In a Word: Outdoor Days

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outdoor
adjective: out-dawr, -dohr

Also characteristic of, located, occurring, or belonging outdoors:
an outdoor barbecue; outdoor sports.

day
noun: dey
the interval of light between two successive nights; the time between sunrise and sunset:
Since there was no artificial illumination, all activities had to be carried on during the day.


There are, as I write this, air quality warnings across the U.S. northwest, thanks to wildfires in British Columbia. And there are — no kidding — some social media accounts calling out Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal and proponent of a carbon tax, for somehow sending this smoke to the U.S. 

Against this tragicomic backdrop, scientists have conceived of a new measure of climate change. Something they’re calling “outdoor days.” The term aims to make the impacts of climate change feel more tangible to average people for whom the standard measures — mean temperature and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes — are less intuitive. Outdoor days are exactly what they sound like: the number of days conducive to outdoor activity. Or, as the research team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology put it, “‘Outdoor days’ are defined as the number of days with moderate temperature, neither too cold nor too hot, that allows most people to enjoy outdoor activities, like walking, jogging, running, cycling, and more broadly enjoy travel and tourism.” Study team member Yeon-Woo Choi and his collaborators at MIT found that the historic trend of more outdoor days in the Global South than the Global North will reverse this century. “In tropical areas, outdoor days have decreased by about 13% in the last three decades compared to the period 1961 to1990,” the researchers write. “Meanwhile, high-latitude countries have experienced a 13% increase in the number of outdoor days.”

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Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that, yet again, those least responsible for our warming planet will suffer the gravest consequences. The researchers noted that “Among all countries considered, Bangladesh stands out with a particularly striking reduction of … outdoor days, which may decrease quality of life and cause substantial loss of labor productivity in this country where most of the population primarily depend on agriculture for their livelihood.” 

But before those of us who think we’ll benefit from this trend throw an outdoor party, let’s dig a little deeper into the data. Regions in the Northern hemisphere that have historically enjoyed an outdoor-days-friendly climate might also find themselves driven indoors. Texas, for instance, will see 43 fewer outdoor days, thanks to extreme heat. And, as a Canadian I noted that, while the Great White North is predicted to gain 23 outdoor days, they are mostly in the spring and fall. In fact, we will have fewer outdoor days between June and September than we do currently. Can we blame Justin Trudeau for fewer lovely summer days? The PM loves to paddle on a Canadian lake, so despite what social media would have me believe, I think he’s off the hook for this one. 

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Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett is a journalist and the Editorial Director of Bluedot, Inc. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, and more. She is the author of more than 15 books, including The Virtuous Consumer, a book on living more sustainably. Leslie lives most of the year in Canada with her husband, three children, three dogs and three cats. She is building a home on Martha's Vineyard.
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