WASHINGTON – Extreme heat due to climate change could cause 150,000 deaths in the U.S. by the end of this century,a new study found.
Larry Kalkstein,professor of geography and regional studies at the University of Miami,and a team of researchers conducted the research,which predicts dramatic increases in heat-related deaths in major cities.
Louisville,Ky.,with 18,988 expected heath deaths,would have the greatest increase,followed by Detroit,with almost 18,000,and Cleveland,with almost 17,000.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association,climate change is a long-term shift in the statistics of weather.
It happens over time,due to a variety of factors,including carbon emissions from vehicle pollution.
“Cities can contribute to minimizing the extent of climate change by evaluating building structures and public transit that releases carbon,” Kalkstein said during a recent conference call.
The study was conducted over 12 months,ending April 30. It found that those 12 months were the hottest on record in the U.S.
The District of Columbia is likely to have an additional 2,000 deaths by the end of the century,far from the worst,but also far from the best.
D.C. resident Toni Goodin,29,a law student and Coast Guard intern,said she likes hot weather and has air conditioning at home.
“I’m not worried,personally,for myself. I worry more about the homeless people who don’t have access to even just cold water,” Goodin said as she rode her bike on a hot day.
Kalkstein and Daniel Lashof,director of the Natural Resources Defense Council climate and clean air program,led the discussion of the study and its findings.
Population growth among the elderly,the obese or those taking medication – groups that tend to struggle most in warmer months – was not included to keep the study conservative.
Kalkstein and Lashof acknowledged the missing variables but wanted to avoid getting figures that seemed outrageous.
“With any projection,the figures can be high or low,” Lashof said. “We think the figures in this one are low.”
Medical examiner reports often do not attribute heart attacks and strokes – which increase during high temperatures – to extreme heat. Kalkstein said this means heat-related deaths are likely underreported.
In the South and West,where warm temperatures are the norm,residents are more likely to adapt to increases in temperatures than residents of states with cooler temperatures. That explains the higher projected number of heat-related deaths in northern states.
Kalkstein and Lashof urged cites to develop better heat-awareness plans to prevent the increase in deaths.
Kalkstein cited Philadelphia as the model city for its heat preparedness.
“There is a cost,but cities like Philadelphia rely on faith-based groups and block captains that do a good job of getting people off the street during extreme temperatures,” Kalkstein said.
The city has taken a number of steps to be ready,a spokeswoman said.
“We have it all: cooling stations,recorded telephone conversations,newspaper and TV alerts for residents,” said Phyllis Carter-Henderson,administrative assistant for the Philadelphia Department of Human Services Division of Community-Based Prevention Services. “Our mayor always alerts the community during heat advisories.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, activities such as burning oil and gas increase concentrations of carbon dioxide,a greenhouse gas,which contribute to the gradual warming of the Earth,leading to extreme climate variations.
Kalkstein commended Philadelphia’s power companies,which will not turn off residents’ power during extreme heat even if they have not paid their bills.
Many states have temperature-related utility shut-off policies that typically protect senior citizens,chronically ill patients and families with infants in extreme weather.
Lashof said that cities with plans can reduce the number and cost of hospital emergency room visits.
Reach reporter Maulana Moore at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.