A new report from NRDC that finds that thanks to climate change, most American cities will be seeing an exponential uptick in heat-related deaths (Mat took a look at it here). The conclusion shouldn’t be much of a shocker—as the world heats up, more people will perish from that heat. The report, Killer Heat, finds that "more than 150,000 Americans could die by the end of this century due to the excessive heat caused by climate change."
And that’s certainly a pretty horrifying wide-lens impact. It makes for a big, ugly number that will certainly get thrown around the blogosphere, and justifiably so. But what we’re really talking about here is the heat getting cranked up on our cities. The report, which only considers the impacts of a warming climate on the nation’s 40 biggest cities, finds that the number of yearly deaths from extreme heat will triple by the end of the century.
As the NRDC notes, "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." Well over a thirteen hundred Americans die from the heat every year as it is, and that number will soon balloon to over 4,500. The report is focused only on cities because that’s where most of heat-related deaths occur. Kate Sheppard explains over at Mother Jones:
asphalt and glass amplify the heat and the dense population leaves more people vulnerable. Thirty-seven of 40 cities studied will see increases in heat-related deaths, [the researchers] predict. The hardest hit will be Louisville, Detroit, and Cleveland, researchers found. The average number of deaths in Louisville was 39 per summer from 1975 to 2004. That figure is expected to grow to 257 per summer by mid-century and to 376 by 2100.
That means more stress on already budget-strapped, recession-clobbered cities. More expensive health services, more electricity demand, much, much more unpleasantness. Excessive heat drains productivity, too.
And it’s going to be both a tough sell and expensive to adapt to these changes—but doing so could head off the nastier impacts. For instance, Chicago is already bracing for skyrocketing temps:
Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.
Cities everywhere are going to need to start considering such measures—children and the elderly are going to be most vulnerable, and some good city planning could prevent tragedy.
I probably don’t need to say it, but this is the ugly reality for dozens of cities across the nation—scientists expect global temps to rise between 4˚ and 11˚ Fahrenheit by the end of the century. It’s just going to happen. We must continue to draw down carbon emissions worldwide, but adaptation efforts must be undertaken too. Municipal governments must look at how and where they can reduce their vulnerability to extreme heat events, and how they might find innovative ways to keep residents cool.
Because the NRDC has a a fairly grim prognosis: "rising temperatures driven by unabated climate change will increase the number of life-threatening excessive heat events, resulting in thousands of additional heat-related premature deaths each year, with a cumulative toll of approximately 33,000 additional heat-related deaths by midcentury in these cities, and more than 150,000 additional heat-related deaths by the century’s end." Buckle up.