Extreme heat is a silent weather assailant. It kills more people than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. And in 2023, the Earth baked — people around the globe experienced the hottest temperatures in over 100,000 years. Now a new report highlights the dire need for action to help prevent heat-related deaths.
The newest Lancet Countdown report on health and climate change, led by University College London, projects a staggering increase in health risks and heat-related deaths.
Experts found that if the earth's temperature rises by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, annual heat-related deaths could increase by 370%.
Andrew Pershing is the vice president for science at Climate Central. He says some countries will bear an unequal burden, facing more severe consequences and food insecurity as a result of a hotter earth. Pershing says that an increase of 3.6 degrees "is a world that's just very, very hard for humans to imagine ... And there's so many challenges for us in that world. There are places in the world [that] have become uninhabitable without severe technological innovation."
The Lancet report also found that between 2018 and 2022 people on average were exposed to 86 days of health-threatening high temperatures. Experts say a change in weather also accelerates the spread of life-threatening infectious diseases.
Researchers accuse governments, companies and banks investing in oil and gas of negligence and causing irreversible harm. This report was released on the heels of the fifth national climate assessment mandated by Congress, which shows the U.S. is warming roughly 60% faster than the rest of the world and hurting Americans in every region of the U.S — particularly in the Southwest. This summer, Phoenix shattered heat records, with 31 days in a row of temperatures 110 degrees or above.
Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, tracked a record-breaking 579 heat associated deaths. Fifty-six more deaths remain under investigation.
Experts say there is still room for "hope," adding that climate action can help transform the future and save lives.
"Every degree of warming we avoid is that, you know, that's a benefit to people everywhere around the world and especially people who haven't been born yet," said Pershing.
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