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Environment | New Study

Heat-related deaths expected to spike for 10 U.S. cities


Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, July 26, 2017, 6:11 PM - If climate change continues at its current rate, a new study finds that heat-related fatalities will rise significantly for 10 major U.S. cities.

Researchers from Brown University say this is the outcome if the projected increase in global temperatures isn't curbed in the years to come.

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"The conversation about climate change is typically focused on the costs of mitigation, but this paper shows the human toll of policy inaction," Gregory Wellenius, the study's senior author and an associate professor of epidemiology as Brown University's School of Public Health, said in a statement.

"These results show the cost in terms of human lives due to just this one aspect of climate change: temperature."

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Published in the journal Environmental International, the study assessed temperature models between the years 2085 and 2090. Researchers then incorporated current temperature-related mortality rates across Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

The predicted mortality rates were calculated for two potential futures. One scenario accounted for a future in which policy and technology curb the effects of climate change, leading to a 1.8 C increase in the global average temperature by 2100. The other scenario, dubbed the "worse case," saw greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, causing the global average temperature to increase by 3.7 C by 2100.

Not accounting for population growth, the study projects that, in the "worse case" scenario, the average heat-related mortality rate of 10,300 per year by 2050. That number rises to 26,000 by 2090.

For the scenario in which the rate of human-caused climate change is curbed, the number of heat-related deaths would be roughly 7,700 by 2050 and 10,400 by 2090.

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"This paper highlights the importance of both mitigating and adapting to climate change, because what we see is that heat related deaths are going to increase even under the better case scenario," the study's lead author Kate Weinberger, postdoctoral researcher in the School of Public Health and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES), said in a statement.

"We should try to avoid the worse case scenario, but we will still need to protect people from heat, even in the better case."

The projected rise in heat-related deaths increased significantly when scientists accounted for population growth. It was projected that 16,400 fatalities would be heat related by 2050 in the "worse case," with 52,339 deaths expected in 2090.

The better case projected 12,300 and 21,100 in 2050 and 2090, respectively.

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