A recent study in GeoHealth warns that if global temperatures rise by 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, temperature-related deaths in the United States could quintuple.
The study also found that the aging population contributes significantly to the increase in temperature-related mortality.
While warmer winters could reduce cold-related deaths, a sharp increase in heat-related deaths is expected after the 3-degree threshold is crossed.
The Aging Population & Vulnerability
According to the study, people over the age of 75 are ten times more vulnerable to extreme temperatures than younger adults.
As the population grows and ages, the number of temperature-related deaths will inevitably rise. The findings are crucial, given that the U.S. population is increasingly skewing older.
Interestingly, the study indicates that northern U.S. cities are more at risk than their southern counterparts.
Cities like Phoenix and Houston have adapted well to extreme heat, but northern cities are ill-prepared. Thus, cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Muskegon are expected to be most affected.
Adaptation Can Help, But Only to a Point
Expanding cooling infrastructure could mitigate the risk of temperature-related deaths by 28%. However, the report highlights that adaptation has its limits, especially when it comes to the financial aspect.
Air conditioning is expensive, and not every household can afford it. This is particularly important for developing countries already struggling with extreme temperatures.
A Call for Action
The study serves as a clarion call for policy changes and adaptive measures. Failure to act could result in dire consequences, especially for vulnerable populations and less-prepared regions.
With the 3-degree threshold expected to be crossed by the end of the century if carbon emissions continue unchecked, urgent action is needed to adapt to the changing climate.
A Global Perspective
The study’s authors caution that while the United States has the resources to adapt, the situation can’t be generalized to the rest of the world.
In many tropical regions, people are already struggling with the existing temperatures, and their capacity for adaptation is significantly less than that of wealthier nations.
The study underscores the importance of swift climate action and societal adaptation to prevent a surge in temperature-related deaths.
The findings stress the urgency of addressing climate change and preparing for its inevitable impacts, particularly as the population ages and the world gets warmer.
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The research findings can be found in GeoHealth.
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