How Many of Us Will Die From Extreme Heat in the Decades Ahead?

Date: 2020-09-22 21:23:44

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It’s one of the scariest questions facing billions of humans on a hotter planet: How many of us will die from extreme heat in the decades ahead?

Your future risk of dying from heat will be determined more than anything else by where you live and the local consequences of today’s economic inequality. That’s the conclusion of a major paper released today by the Climate Impact Lab, a research consortium that spent years mapping the relationship between temperature, income, and mortality. People in poor regions who benefit less from investment in air conditioning, protective infrastructure, and elder care will die from extreme heat at much higher rates, even compared to wealthier peers who experience similar hot temperatures.

The researchers from the Climate Impact Lab determined that the toll from future heat will be far worse than expected, with the global annual mortality rate at the end of this century rising by 73 deaths per 100,000 people solely from excess heat. That’s a death rate comparable to the 72 per 100,000 that Arizona has seen from Covid-19 since January. “The mortality risks from climate change are about an order of magnitude larger than previously understood,” says Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and a co-director of the Climate Impact Lab. “I really think that shouldn’t be missed.”

The results emphasize the life-saving power of income growth that drives investment into climate adaptation. Economic development can reduce projected mortality from extreme heat at the century’s end by about 60%, according to the Climate Impact Lab, a finding that translates into the possibility of saving millions of lives.

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