Sunday, July 23, 2017

Climate Change Is Killing Us Right Now

The most obvious effect of global warming is not a doomsday scenario.   Extreme heat is happening today, and wreaking havoc on vulnerable bodies.

Pouring water on child's head (Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
“For heat waves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” Camilo Mora, a geography professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa, told CNN last month. Mora was the lead author of a recent study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showing that deadly heat days are expected to increase across the world. Around 30 percent of the world’s population today is exposed to so-called “lethal heat” conditions for at least 20 days a year.  If we don’t reduce fossil-fuel emissions, the percentage will skyrocket to 74 percent by the year 2100.  Put another way, by the end of the century nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s population will face a high risk of dying from heat exposure for more than three weeks every year.

This is the worst-case scenario.  Even the study’s best-case scenario—a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases across the world—shows that 48 percent of humanity will be exposed regularly to deadly heat by the year 2100.  That’s because even small increases in temperature can have a devastating impact.  A study published in Science Advances in June, for instance, found that an increase of less than one degree Fahrenheit in India between 1960 and 2009 increased the probability of mass heat-related deaths by nearly 150 percent. 

And make no mistake:  Temperatures are rising, in multiple ways.  “We’ve got a new normal,” said Howard Frumkin, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.  “I think all of the studies of trends to date show that we’re having more extreme heat, and we’ve having higher average temperatures.  Superimposed on that, we’re seeing more short-term periods of extreme heat.  Those are two different trends, and they’re both moving in the wrong direction.”  Based on those trends, the U.S. Global Change Research Program predicts “an increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature heat-related deaths in the summer ... each year as a result of climate change by the end of the century.” And that’s along with the deaths we’ve already seen:  In 2015 Scientific American noted that nine out of the ten deadliest heat waves ever have occurred since 2000; together, they’ve killed 128,885 people.

In other words, to understand how global warming wreaks havoc on the human body, we don’t need to be transported to some imagined dystopia.  Extreme heat isn’t a doomsday scenario but an existing, deadly phenomenon—and it’s getting worse by the day.  The question is whether we’ll act and adapt, thereby saving countless lives.

Read more at Climate Change Is Killing Us Right Now

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