Deadly summer heat will get worse as the globe warms, so putting the brakes on climate change by reducing carbon emissions will literally be a lifesaver for thousands of Americans, a new study suggests.
In fact, researchers report that limiting global warming could drastically lower deaths in most of the 15 U.S. cities studied.
“Hundreds to thousands of heat-related deaths could be avoided per U.S. city per year during extremely hot years if the U.S. and other nations increase climate action,” said study lead author Eunice Lo, a researcher at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
The study looks at temperature targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. Almost 200 nations on Earth – every one except the United States – has signed on to the agreement.
The new study is the first research that looks at how different future climate scenarios, as detailed in the Paris agreement, might impact heat-related fatalities in humans.
“Climate change is not only affecting faraway places but also the United States,” said Lo. “As temperatures rise, exposure of major U.S. cities to extreme heat will increase and more heat-related deaths will occur.”
The study said that limiting warming could avoid up to 2,720 annual heat-related deaths during extreme heat-events, depending on the city. New York City and Los Angeles are projected to see the most deaths associated with extreme heat as the planet warms. “This is partly because these cities are most populous and are, therefore, likely to have more people who are vulnerable to heat,” Lo said.
“If we look at deaths avoided per 100,000 people,” Lo added, “Miami and Detroit would have the highest numbers of heat-related deaths avoided among the 15 cities that we studied.”
Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius avoids between about 70 and 1,980 extreme heat-related deaths per city. Even more heat related deaths — between about 110 and 2,720 — can be avoided by achieving the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.
“All heat-related deaths are potentially preventable,” said study co-author Kristie L. Ebi, a professor and researcher at the University of Washington.
The study authors also looked at Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Phoenix, Washington D.C., Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston and San Francisco.
What can be done to combat global warming?
“On a personal level, it’s important to do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint: biking, walking, and, yes, putting pressure on political figures,” Lo told the Los Angeles Times. “This administration continues to deny the science of climate change. Hold them accountable — that’s all you can do.”
The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.