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UW research: Heat wave deaths will rise with climate change


Global temperatures are expected to dramatically rise by the end of the century, causing more extreme heat wave deaths.

This includes an estimated 725 deaths over a one-in-30 year heat wave event in Seattle, according to research out of the University of Washington.

Another climate change report says we’re doomed

The study included research from Kristie L. Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. It concludes that there is a big difference between global temperature spikes of 3 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees, and 1.5 degrees, especially in terms of how many people are estimated to die from extreme heat exposure.

“All heat-related deaths are potentially preventable,” Ebi said. “We need urgent investment in heat wave early warning and response systems and other options to protect the most vulnerable as temperatures continue to rise.”

The study is the first of its kind. It was published this week in Science Advances. It considers 15 cities in the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. The study specifically looks at mortality rates.

In short, rising temperatures will increase deaths related to extreme heat exposure. Average temperatures are expected to rise by 3 degrees Celsius globally by the end of the century, causing more severe heat waves. The study points out that the Paris climate agreement would aim for an average increase of 1.5 or 2 degrees, at which heat wave impacts would be lessened.

The research comes on the heels of addition studies out of Australia that conclude civilization as we know it will cease to exist by 2050.

Ebi’s study looks at deaths related to a one in 30 year extreme heat event (see graphics below):

  • Deaths at 3 degrees Celsius: 725 deaths
  • Lives saved at 1.5 degrees Celsius (compared to 3 degrees): 384 lives saved
  • Lives saved 2 degrees Celsius (compared to 3 degrees): 279 lives saved

Per capita, Seattle could expect 103 deaths per 100,000 at a 3 degree rise.

“Older adults, children and outdoor workers are among those populations particularly susceptible to higher temperatures,” Ebi said. “In the long term, urban planning must prioritize design changes that decrease urban heat islands and ensure our infrastructure is prepared for unprecedented temperatures.”

The study was led by Eunice Lo at the University of Bristol in the U.K. Peter Frumhoff with the Union of Concerned Scientists also contributed.

“Climate change is not only affecting faraway places but also the United States,” Lo said. “As temperatures rise, exposure of major U.S. cities to extreme heat will increase and more heat-related deaths will occur. The United States has emitted the largest amount of carbon dioxide in the world since the 18th century. Immediate and drastic emissions cuts are key to preventing large increases in heat-related deaths in the country.”

(University of Washington)

(University of Washington)

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