Extreme Heatwaves from Global Warming Set to Kill Thousands Across U.S. Under 3C Climate Change

Extreme heatwaves could kill thousands of people in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia if the Earth's atmosphere continues to warm up at current rates, scientists have warned.

However, deaths could be prevented if nations stick to the Paris Climate Change Agreement goal of keeping global warming from rising to 2C above pre-industrial levels, and preferably limit it to 1.5C. We are currently on trajectory to see a 3C rise by the end of the century, according to the U.N.

Some 181 nations have signed up to the plan to tackle climate change, although the Trump administration made the controversial decision in 2017 to withdraw from it.

Climate experts, who published their new findings in the journal Science Advances, used figures collected by the National Morbidity, Mortality, and Air Pollution Study between 1987 to 2000. The team predicted how many deaths extreme heat events that tend to happen once every 30 years might cause in 15 major cities in the U.S. in 1.5C, 2C and 3C global warming scenarios.

They modeled potential outcomes for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington, DC.

Study co-author Eunice Lo, a research associate at the Bristol Research Initiative for the Dynamic Global Environment (BRIDGE) at the U.K.'s University of Bristol, told Newsweek when humans endure extreme heart for prolonged periods of time, the body can fail to maintain its core temperature, with fatal consequences. People can also suffer from heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The team estimated that if global temperatures hit 1.5C, between 110 to 2720 deaths could be saved each year per city; while a rise of 2C could prevent between 70 and 1980 heat-related deaths.

A "significant" number of lives saved would be saved in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle, if a 3C increase was avoided in favor of 2C or 1.5C.

A 3C scenario could annually kill 5,798 people in New York City, and 2561 in Los Angeles, if there is a heatwave, respectively. But limiting global warming to 1.5C could avoid 2,716 and 1,085 of these deaths respectively.
Chicago, where 514 people died in a heat wave in 1995, could reduce deaths by 636 in a 2C scenario, and 875 in a 1.5C one, according to the study.

The estimates are likely conservative, the authors warned. Differences in cities, like the demographics and socioeconomic status of citizens and levels of air pollution, make some cities more vulnerable. This is compounded by the changing makeup of the U.S. population, as people live for longer and urbanization increases.

The authors argue their findings show the U.S. would reap "substantial benefits" if the targets of the Paris Agreement are met.

Lo told Newsweek: "[The study shows] climate change does not only affect far away places but also the United States, whose administration has announced withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, which, as our study finds, could prevent large numbers in heat-related deaths in major U.S. cities.

"Nations in the Paris Climate Agreement are due to submit their next round of climate pledges in 2020. Our research highlights the public health benefits of achieving the 1.5C Paris Agreement goal, and will hopefully motivate nations, particularly the United States, to increase climate action immediately."

Lo concluded: "I encourage readers to try to live in a way that protects the planet and to hold their politicians to account."