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Climate Change is Frying Our Cities

Climate Change is Frying Our Cities


Written by Brian Merchant

We recently took a look at a new report from NRDC that found that thanks to climate change, most American cities will be seeing an exponential uptick in heat-related deaths. This one shouldn’t come as much of a shocker—as the world heats up, more people will perish from heat-related deaths. 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.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Related Stories:

Anti-Immigrant Group Blames Global Warming on Immigrants

Antarctica’s Ice Shelf is Shrinking, Shrinking, Shrinking… (Slideshow)

Rich-Poor Divide Still a Big Debate at UN Climate Talks


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Photo from pockafwye via flickr

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11:13PM PDT on Jun 3, 2012

We've had temps in the 90's in May already. So far a pleasant 70 degree weather for the week. Thank God everyday for it. Remember people hydrate and a good way to stay cool is a cold wet hand towel on the back of your neck! Works like a charm!

8:39AM PDT on May 30, 2012

The world is indeed frying. My city has been really hot this spring, and will surely be even hotter in summer. I hate hot weather, especially if it's caused by humanity.

6:33PM PDT on May 29, 2012

So far it has been unusually hot here for May but it is going to cool down in a couple days. Last October we had 4 inches of snow. That's unheard of for this area so who really knows??

2:06PM PDT on May 29, 2012

Oh gosh... scary.

2:03PM PDT on May 29, 2012

There is no such thing as climate change unless you are talking about the 4 seasons, PERIOD!
If it's hot enough outside, you can fry an egg on the street in most west coast cities, so big deal...What's a little gravel in your eggs.....Just pretend your having your eggs with grits. Just remember, there's a 30 second rule!

8:49AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Often it is possible to run the compressor for air-conditioning on waste-heat from some other process. Solar panels to power the air-conditioning would be a second choice. But for those really vulnerable to heat, who really need air-conditioning but can't afford solar panels the same year as air-conditioning, local power company electricity is a lesser evil than letting the vulnerable die from the heat.

2:08PM PDT on May 28, 2012

The first thing to do is to replace as much asphalt and especially dark roofing as possible. They absorb heat and increase the burden on air conditioning, which itself is the most energy-intensive modern invention and an enormous contributor therefore to the very global warming that it is used against. Why can't air conditioning be powered exclusively by solar panels--using the energy of the sun to reduce the heat that it brings?

12:13PM PDT on May 28, 2012

Not to sound mean, but a die-off wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Plant Trees for free @

9:04AM PDT on May 28, 2012


5:35AM PDT on May 28, 2012

Thanks for the info.

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