Too hot to handle: Study shows Earth's killer heat worsens


They predict that by 2100, up to 74% of the human population could be exposed to potentially deadly heat if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow rapidly, or, up to 48% under a scenario with drastic emissions reductions. In 2010, the Russian capital became engulfed by poisonous smog from wildfires and a sweltering heat wave that killed some 55,000 people across western Russia. Actually, heat has already killed people in the United States this summer, as two people died in Arizona's Maricopa County from heat-related causes, and the county's health officials said they were investigating 12 other deaths that may have been caused by heat too. They found nearly 2,000 locations across the world where people have died from heat-related illness since 1980, including New York, Beijing, and San Paolo in northern Italy.

Unsafe heatwaves are far more common than anyone realized, killing people in more than 60 different parts of the world every year.

"Lethal heatwaves are very common". In late May, temperatures in Turbat, Pakistan, climbed to about 128F degrees (53.5 degrees Celsius); if confirmed, that could be among the five hottest temperatures reliably measured on Earth, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of Weather Underground. These included events like the 2003 heatwave that led to almost 5,000 deaths in Paris and the 2010 heatwave that killed over 10,000 people in Moscow.

"People are talking about the future when it comes to climate change, but what we found from this paper is that this is already happening... and this is obviously going to get a lot worse", said Camilo Mora, lead author of the study and a geography professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Deadly heatwaves have occurred in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, and Sao Paulo.

New analysis says the global risk of death due to extreme heat is expected to rise over the next several decades. "Our study shows, however, that it is warming in the tropics what will pose the greatest risk", said Iain Caldwell, a co-author of the report and a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In agreement with human thermal physiology, the threshold was such that as relative humidity increases, lower temperatures become lethal.

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Heat kills ten times more people in the USA than tornados or other extreme weather events, says Richard Keller, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of medical history.

It was also noted in the study, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, that even if there is success in reducing the greenhouse gases, one out of two people will still die from insanely high temperatures by 2100. The model shows the current U.S. heat wave across the Southwest.

The human body's internal temperature likes to be between 98.6 to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (37 to 38 degrees Celsius); any warmer, and it's a fever. If temperatures rise, the body reacts by sweating as it tries to cool down. Anyone with a body temperature above 104 degrees is in extreme danger and would require immediate medical attention. And there have been heat-related deaths already in the US this summer.

A hotter world doesn't necessarily mean more deaths in all locales, Mora said.

Keller believes that heat didn't use to be a problem in areas like India or Pakistan, but heat extremes are now more common and more intense with climate change.

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Since the start of the 21st century, heatwaves have claimed tens of thousands of lives, even in countries best equipped to help their citizen cope.

A web-application accompanying the paper allows counting, for any place on Earth, the number of days in a year when temperature and humidity exceed such a deadly threshold (Fig.2a/2b,

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"Our attitude towards the environment has been so reckless that we are running out of good choices for the future".

"For heat waves, our options are now between bad or awful", Mora said. "Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heatwaves".

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