Extreme Heat Risks are Underestimated, Study Says

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Extreme heat studies presented at the European Geosciences Union online conference last April 2021 show that the global death toll from extreme heat is rising, the Inside Climate News reports.

Scientists warn that climate change increases the chances of fatal heat waves. However, in many regions, their preparation to protect their citizens are inadequate mainly because large parts of society still do not treat heat as a threat, according to the article.

The most vulnerable areas are densely populated tropical regions, but these threats are not clearly communicated to those concerned. A study in April showed that power failure during heatwaves in the U.S. could increase the death tolls.

Updates from the U.S. EPA show that major American cities experience three times as many heat waves, four or more days with temperatures that historically only happened every ten years because large parts of society don’t treat heat as a threat.

According to the climate change indicators on heatwaves in the EPA website, heatwave frequency, heatwave duration, heatwave season, and heatwave intensity have steadily increased since the 1960’s with the heatwave season (the number of days between the first and last heatwave of the year) has extended to 47 days.

Aside from heat exhaustion, heatwaves can cause pre-term births.

Record temperatures that persist through the night for April were experienced in central Eurasia, North Africa, and Europe. According to the article, if people have experienced sweltering temperatures during the daytime and cannot cool down at night, it could compound the health risks from the heatwaves.

WHO data show that between 1998 to 2017, the intense heat has claimed 166 thousand lives, including the 70 thousand from Europe’s heatwave. In the US, CDC has recorded 7,800 heat-related deaths between 1999 and 2009, while the EPA shows an average of 1,300 yearly fatalities.

Chloe Brimicombe, a climate researcher from the University of Readings, says that heatwave-related deaths are not necessarily captured in the news. Heat is also not adequately looked at in research and policy compared to other risks. But it is an invisible killer, she said, and to help communicate the risk, she proposes a scale of heat danger developed in 2009 that “adds up a combination of conditions that affect human health.”

Regions that will experience the worst heat

Extreme heat will intensify in tropical regions in Africa and South Asia. According to the article, by 2070, the combination of intense heat or temperatures above 96 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity will put 1.7 billion people at risk.

The Tropics will be unlivable if warming continues through 2050, and it’s the poorest of the population who are working long hours and being exposed to heat will be the most vulnerable.

Extreme heat will also intensify existing problems in human health, wildfire, and food production.

Mike Byrne, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford, through his ongoing research, shows that extreme heat is intensifying in tropical lands more than the global average land surface.

He says that “with this fast pace of warming of temperature extremes, we might actually pass a fundamental limit, beyond the human ability to cool itself.” He says that more research should be done to understand what drives the extremes in the tropics, adding that the current understanding of such events is based on the studies done in cooler regions.

Dire climate projections such as the lengthening, persisting, and expanding fatal heatwaves should be reasons for governments to start implementing climate adaptation and mitigation actions to protect their citizens from the impending threats of climate change.

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Source Citation:

Berwyn, B. (2021, May 16). Extreme Heat Risks May Be Widely Underestimated and Sometimes Left Out of Major Climate Reports. Inside Climate News. Retrieved from https://insideclimatenews.org/news/16052021/extreme-heat-risks-climate-change/

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