The numbers are in: heat weighs heavily on health and income

We can clearly see just how much heat is taking a toll on global health and jobs, thanks to a comprehensive new climate report from The Lancet medical journal. More and more people are dying during periods of brutal heat. Scorching temperatures also lead to job losses.

While our planet runs feverish, hotter summers increase the risk of heat illness and reduce people’s livelihoods. Certain groups of people are more vulnerable due to their age, occupation and housing, as well as a legacy of discriminatory policies that have stacked the cards against them.

According to Lancet report released today. Things were even worse in the United States, where extreme heat is already the number one weather-related killer. During the same period, heat-related deaths among adults over 65 increased by 74%. On average, older people in America each experienced three more hot days per year between 2012 and 2021 than between 1986 and 2005.

Extreme heat is already the number one weather-related killer

“[That] was particularly striking to me,” Natasha DeJarnett, co-lead author of a US guidance note accompanying the Lancet report and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Louisville, said during a press briefing for the report.

“When we think of climate change and think of the populations that bear the greatest burden – the elderly and children, communities of color, poor or low-income communities, and Indigenous communities here in the United States – these groups contribute the least to this crisis, but bear the heaviest burden.

Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods in the United States are more likely to be in “urban heat islands,” which can be among the most dangerous places in the midst of a heat wave. This is because urban sprawl – especially where there are more highways, skyscrapers and industrial infrastructure – traps heat, making these heat islands several degrees warmer than surrounding areas. which have more trees and plants. In the United States, this is one of the lasting legacies of racist housing policies that have “drawn red lines” and segregated neighborhoods.

Adding green space to cities is a key strategy to prevent heat-related deaths. But only 27% of the approximately 1,000 global urban centers assessed worldwide in the Lancet report were at least “moderately green” in 2021.

“These groups are contributing the least to this crisis, but they bear the heaviest burden.”

Soaring temperatures can also be particularly difficult for people who work outdoors in terms of both their physical health and their ability to work. In 2021, 470 billion potential working hours were lost worldwide, according to the report. This equates to revenue losses equivalent to approximately 0.72% of global economic output.

Zooming in on the United States, Americans lost $68 billion in potential income in 2021 due to extreme heat that reduced work hours. This represents a 36% increase in work hours lost that year compared to the average for the 1990s.

In June of last year, North America experienced what researchers ultimately determined was its “most extreme” heat wave on record, thanks to climate change. The heat wave was particularly severe in the Pacific Northwest, where sweltering heat contorted roads and led to an increase in emergency room visits.

“Unfortunately, I think my colleagues and I know that when we walk into an emergency department in the midst of even more record-breaking heat waves, we know we are going to experience a difficult change,” Renee Salas, Yerby Fellow at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine, said at the press briefing. An international group of health experts collaborate each year to publish the annual climate report, called The Lancet Countdown, to assess the growing health risks with climate change.


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