A 2C Rise in Temperature Will Cost Thousands of Lives Every Year

A new study finds that if temperatures climb as they are predicted to do, the US would see up to ten thousand people die every single year as a result of heat stroke alone.

The study, published this month in “Science Advances“, outlines how 15 major cities in the United States can expect to see fatal extreme heat events in the future if current warming patterns continue. British and American researchers looked at death and temperature information from from 1987 to 2000 in 15 U.S. cities — including New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.  Using computer modeling, they came up with mortality rates in particularly warm years under different temperature increase scenarios: 1.5C, 2C and 3C above pre-industrial temperatures.

It’s worth noting that there is always some variance in summer temperatures, and that won’t change even as the Earth warms. By looking at particularly warm years, the researchers can estimate just how bad the problem could be moving forward.

In the worst case scenario of 3C, the effects are devastating: In warm years, we could expect to see 5,800 people die from heat-related health events in just New York City alone. Los Angeles would see around 2,500 people die every year, and Miami is looking at about 2,300 lives lost.

It’s tempting to dismiss the 3C scenario as scaremongering, but a consensus has emerged that we have now passed the 1.5C target scientists would prefer, and that the 2C target is rapidly slipping through our fingers. A global temperature increase of 2.5C or 3C looking far more likely. It is, therefore, not outlandish to look at what could happen if average global temperatures rose by 3C — and this study makes it clear that the uptick in heat-related mortality would be significant.

The good news is: we can prevent this. The study makes this abundantly clear in its conclusion, saying “Our results demonstrate that strengthened mitigation ambition would result in substantial benefits to public health in the United States.”

Keep Those Temperatures Down by Acting Now and Acting Fast

To prevent this devastating scenario the researchers say the preferred route would be to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

That might not sound so challenging, given that the world — minus the United States — has supposedly been galvanized into action by the Paris Climate Agreement. However, the scientific literature points out that we’ve all but breached the target of 1.5 degrees at this point and that avoiding disaster will require radical action.

If we could do this, though, the effect would be significant. We could save up to 2,716 lives in U.S. cities every year.

Looking at what is now considered a more attainable (but still challenging) scenario, if we can keep warming below 2C above pre-industrial temperatures, we could still prevent up to 1,980 deaths per year in those 15 cities.

“Climate change is not only affecting faraway places but also the United States,” the study’s lead author, Eunice Lo, said in a press release. “As temperatures rise, exposure of major U.S. cities to extreme heat will increase and more heat-related deaths will occur.” Lo also offers some insight into the study, adding: “If we look at deaths avoided per 100,000 people, Miami and Detroit would have the highest numbers of heat-related deaths avoided among the 15 cities that we studied.”

It’s worth noting that this is only looking at heat-related morbidity, but these deaths are not the sum total of what rising temperatures will create. Climate change is already causing famine, more insect-borne diseases and poorer mental health leading to suicides, all of which are projected to increase if the climate continues to change.

And, of course, this is only talking about deaths. We can expect that quality of life will decrease in many areas, too, as these pressures create more disease and ill-health.

Under the Trump administration the United States is currently operating as though climate change does not exist. It does, and as this study shows, some of its effects are already here. Very soon they, could be costing us thousand more lives every year.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

40 comments

Lara A
Lara A3 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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David C
David C3 days ago

can't be "pro-life" and not willing to try and stop environmental destruction

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson4 days ago

Thank you.

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Michael F
Michael F4 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Mike W
Mike Wright5 days ago

Please note Ruth G that Trump doesn't have the excuse of stupidity. He's not the sharpest tool in the box; but he's perfectly capable of understanding the threat of Global Warming when it affects something he cares about, like his precious golf courses. Just not when it threatens the lives of millions (so far mostly poor, mostly Black, mostly not American...)

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Thomas M
Thomas M5 days ago

Thanks for this

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Christine V
Christine V5 days ago

:(

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Alea C
Alea C5 days ago

I've lived in Florida 10 years and every year has been hotter than the last. Climate change is REAL. DON'T VOTE REPUBLICAN!!! IMPEACH TRUMP!!!!

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Ruth G
Ruth G5 days ago

Cant believe how ignorant trump is ,not believing in climate change even at the eleventh hour. His stupidity will cost us all dear. Add the thug Bolsonaro to that list as well with his war on the amazon forest

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Dan B
Dan Blossfeld5 days ago

RK R,
Except that the highest temperatures have barely budged. Here in the U.S., daytime summer high temperatures have actually decreased slightly, and the heat index is less than in past decades.

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