Deadly Heat Waves Threaten Third of the World
Scorching heat grounded planes in parts of the U.S. on Monday, the same day researchers released a study that finds the globe is only getting hotter and, as a result, potentially deadlier.
Currently, nearly a third of the world’s population is exposed to lethal climate conditions for at least 20 days a year, according to findings published Monday in Nature Climate Change, a monthly peer-reviewed journal.
As the planet’s temperature rises, more of the world’s population will be exposed to conditions that trigger deadly heat waves, the report said.
That risk is expected to cover 48 percent of the world’s population by 2100, even if carbon gas emissions are drastically reduced.
If emissions continue to rise at typical rates, 74 percent of the global population is expected to experience more than 20 days of deadly heat a year by that same time, according to a research group, led by Camilo Mora.
For a city like New York, which currently sees about two days per year that surpass the heat threshold, that could mean 50 deadly days per year by 2100.
“For heat waves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
The researchers analyzed more than 1,900 cases of fatalities associated with heat waves in 164 cities across 36 countries between 1980 and 2014 to define a global threshold for life-threatening conditions based on heat and humidity. Researchers found the overall risk for heat-related sickness or death has increased steadily since 1980.
The study notes well-documented heat waves, including a five-day stretch that claimed hundreds of lives in Chicago in 1995, the European heat wave in 2003 that saw tens of thousands of heat-related deaths and lethal temperatures in Moscow in 2010 that killed more than 10,000.
Across Russia, the heat wave in 2010 claimed more than 50,000 lives.
But the research team found that heatwaves are more common than most people think, and humidity levels combined with heat play a major role in heat-related heath risks.
In cases of high humidity, human sweat doesn’t evaporate, making it difficult for people to regulate and release heat.
That portion of the world’s population, researchers said, is more vulnerable to increases in average temperature or humidity than other areas of the world.
Some areas in the deep tropics – such as in Jakarta, Indonesia – have consistently warm temperatures near the deadly threshold year-round.
Regardless of location, the global climate outlook is bleak, researchers said.
“An increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable,” but will only worsen with an increase of greenhouse gases, they wrote.
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