Extremly High Temperatures Along with High DewPoint Temperatures Leading to Higher Death Tolls from Heat Waves
Climate change is literally killing us. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s [NRDC’s] “Killer Summer Heat” report, more than 150,000 Americans could die by the end of this century due to the excessive heat caused by climate change. And that estimate only covers America’s top 40 cities.
Why will climate change cause so many casualties? Illnesses that are caused or made worse by extreme heat — including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease — currently lead to hundreds of deaths each year.
As carbon pollution continues to rise, the number of dangerously hot days each summer will increase even further, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of lives lost.
While everyone in these urban areas is at risk, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable.
Scientists expect that average temperatures in North America will rise by another 4°F -11°F this century. The risks to public health are greatest when high temperatures mix with other weather conditions to cause what’s known as an “Excessive Heat Event,” or EHE. EHE days occur when a location’s temperature, dew point temperature, cloud cover, wind speed and surface atmospheric pressure throughout the day combine to cause or contribute to heat-related deaths in that location. [NRDC]
Health impacts spike during excessive heat events. For example, when California was hit by deadly heat waves in 2006, the heat caused during a two-week period 655 deaths, 1,620 excess hospitalizations, and more than 16,000 additional emergency room visits, resulting in nearly $5.4 billion in costs. During a 1995 record-setting heat wave in Chicago, over 700 people died due to the excessive heat.
EHE days vary by region and location. Factors such as geography, green space, local warning and preventive measures affect how much impact the weather will actually have on health.
Climate change is one of the most fiercely debated scientific issues of the past 20 years. Although a steady contingent of global warming deniers have remained insistent that climate change does not pose a threat, there is an overwhelming consensus among the worldwide scientific community that our planet is undergoing significant, highly problematic shifts. Experts point to rising sea levels, record-breaking temperatures across the globe, declining air quality and erratic weather patterns as different manifestations of climate change. Today, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are drawing attention to the negative effects on human health caused by an increasingly warm, more heavily polluted environment.
According to a 2009 article in Scientific American, a team of climate change researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that “global warming is [responsible] for some 150,000 deaths each year around the world”; they feared this number would double by the year 2030.
Egypt is the latest country outside the U.S. reporting a deadly heat wave occurring this year. At least 93 people have died during a heat wave in Egypt this week that sent air temperatures soaring to as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit in southern parts of the country, the nation’s official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported Friday. With high temperatures in the forecast for this weekend, authorities fear the death toll from the high heat may continue to mount.
Earlier this summer, record heat wave death tolls were reported to have occurred in India and Pakistan. France reported hundreds of death from a severe heat wave that occurred in July from 11th to 28th. About 2,065 excess deaths occurred in France during that spell that were attributable to the extreme weather.
To limit the health impacts of climate change, we need to reduce carbon pollution from top sources like power plants and refineries. The EPA has taken its first big step toward setting limits for industrial carbon sources by proposing limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. EPA should take the next step by setting limits on carbon from other sources as well, a government at the federal, state and local level should adopt laws and programs that offer all members of the public positive financial incentives ($) for for burning fewer and fewer amounts of fossil fuels over the year. This would reduce further additions being added to the accumulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the environment, which is increasing the potential for more severe and deadly heat waves around the planet.