The good news first: we have the power to influence the weather of the future! All we need to do is choose to make smart policy decisions today which reduce pollution, minimize our reliance on fossil fuels, and shift to clean energy like wind and solar. Here’s the not-so-great news: climate change is increasing the risks to our health, our economy, and our natural resources. But if we commit to bold action now, we can avoid a future fate of paralyzing heat and humidity extremes, and their associated tragic toll on human life.
As simply explained by three energy and earth science experts in this New York Times opinion piece, “heat waves are the natural disasters easiest to tie to climate change.” A heat wave study published in March by Nature Climate Change says that people living in the Southwest, Southeast, and Upper Midwest — in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Tampa, and San Antonio — are most at risk of enduring “extreme heat” and can expect a doubling to tripling of 95-degree days by 2050. Unless we change our current trajectory, humans and livestock in the eastern United States would not be able to physiologically tolerate summer outdoor activity (!) by the end of the century. More lethal heat waves also threaten to reduce labor productivity to the tune of 3% by the end of the century, while increased consumer demand for air conditioning would strain regional electricity capacity and increase energy costs.
Learn more about “wet-bulb temperature”, the Humid Heat Stroke Index, and how high humidity can defeat your body’s cooling system. And become inspired to take bold climate action in own your community. Your life may depend on it.
The most deadly weather-related disasters aren’t necessarily caused by floods, droughts or hurricanes. They can be caused by heat waves, like the sweltering blanket that’s taken over 2,500 lives in India in recent weeks.
Temperatures broke 118 degrees in parts of the country. The death toll is still being tallied, and many heat-related deaths will be recognized only after the fact. Yet it’s already the deadliest heat wave to hit India since at least 1998 and, by some accounts, the fourth- or fifth-deadliest worldwide since 1900.
These heat waves will only become more common as the planet continues to warm.
They don’t just affect tropical, developing countries; they’re a threat throughout the world. The July 1995 heat wave in the Midwest caused over 700 deaths in Chicago. The August 2003 heat wave in western Europe led to about 45,000 deaths. The July-August 2010 heat wave in western Russia killed about 54,000 people.
But as anyone who’s spent a summer in the eastern United States knows, it’s not just the heat; it’s also the humidity. Together, they can be lethal, even if the heat doesn’t seem quite so extreme.