200,000 American Lives at Risk as Global Warming May Triple Temperature-Related Deaths - Study
The research underscores the urgent need for cities to adapt to rising temperatures, with potentially one-third of these deaths rivaling cancer fatalities unless proactive measures are taken.
A concerning new study has delivered a stark warning that approximately 200,000 Americans may face death each year if global warming continues unchecked.
The research, which hinges on the premise of average temperatures rising by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, paints a grim picture of the future unless substantial actions are taken.
The study, conducted across 106 US cities, where 65% of the population resides, analyzed data from 1987 to 2000. During this period, an average of 36,444 people succumbed annually to temperature-related causes. Most alarmingly, three-quarters of these deaths affected individuals aged 75 or older.
If global temperatures do indeed reach the projected 5.4-degree Fahrenheit increase, and the proportion of elderly citizens continues to grow, the study predicts the annual death toll could multiply more than fivefold. To put this into perspective, it would account for approximately one-third of the current annual cancer-related fatalities in the country.
The brunt of these additional deaths is expected to be felt in northern states, which are ill-prepared for extreme heat. However, the study suggests cities can play a pivotal role in mitigating the looming crisis. Adapting to rising temperatures by enhancing access to air-conditioning (AC) could potentially reduce these fatalities by 28%.
"We expect a large increase in the number of temperature-related deaths over the coming century, due primarily to an aging population," said Andrew Dessler, a study author and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.
The study also found that if the temperature increase remains below the 5.4-degree mark, climate change could marginally decrease temperature-related deaths as fewer people would succumb to cold weather.
However, the study has its limitations. It doesn't address other causes of death impacted by climate change, such as diseases spread by pests or major hurricanes.
Additionally, the authors couldn't specify precise causes of death, focusing instead on modeling the correlation between daily deaths and temperature fluctuations.
Despite these limitations, experts stress the immediate need for infrastructure and community adaptations to combat hotter summers, especially in northern regions. Suggestions include incorporating greater shade and airflow in building plans, reinforcing the energy grid, and expanding green spaces and tree canopies.
While preparations for extreme temperatures are vital, Dessler emphasized the importance of addressing the root issue, such as greenhouse gas emissions. Stephen Fong, the director for the Center for Integrative Life Sciences Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, further underscored the importance of long-term, cohesive policies over short-term solutions like air conditioning.
The study was published in GeoHealth