Nearly 210 million Americans, or two-thirds of the population, live in counties vulnerable to health threats from unexpectedly high summer temperatures, according to the NRDC’s new research.
The New York City-based advocacy group says that’s more than just a few decades ago, during the period from 1961 to 1990.
“Climate change is fueling more days of extreme summer heat,” Kim Knowlton, deputy director of the NRDC’s Science Center, told reporters Tuesday.
Knowlton said her group’s new map shows the how extreme heat, fueled by global climate change, has become a local issue.
There are at least 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, in which over 75 percent of the population live in counties with more than nine extreme-heat summer days, Knowlton said.
The map data is based on the months of June through August, even though some parts of the country like California experience even hotter days in September and October.
Knowlton said they created to map to show people all across the country how climate change affects them.
“We also wanted to show how widespread extreme summer heat had become,” Knowlton added.
Through August, the year 2017 has been the third hottest on record in the continental United States, with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina all registering new highs for the first eight months of a year.
The United States, according to the report, has warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with most of the rise occurring since 1970. Experts at the NRDC say continued global emissions of carbon pollution could cause between 5 and 10 degrees of additional warming by the end of the century.
As these numbers rise so do heat-related illnesses. The NRDC counted more than 65,000 people, on average, ending up in emergency rooms each summer with heat-related illnesses.
“Heat is the No. 1 extreme-weather killer in the U.S.,” Knowlton said. “It can cause a range of health harms from fainting and heat exhaustion to heat stroke, which can be lethal.”
Older adults, young children, people with chronic illness, and people who work or exercise outdoors are among the populations most vulnerable to heat-related health effects — as are those from lower-income communities and communities of color.
Linda Rudolph, director of the Center for Climate Change and Health at the Public Health Institute, said heat death and illness is preventable.
By taking common-sense steps like staying in air conditioning and drinking lots of fluids, illness caused by the heat can be prevented, Rudolph added.
Hot Child in the City
Southern California in particular has seen record-setting heat as it closes out October, with many parts of the Los Angeles area registering temperatures over 102 degrees.
Rudolph said cities tend to see warmer temperatures, putting residents at a heightened risk, because of the urban heat island effect. The phenomenon occurs when mostly paved surfaces absorb and re-radiate heat, compounded by the lack of green spaces and tree cover in these areas.
To combat this, Rudolph noted, Los Angeles recently passed an ordinance requiring that new roofs be “cool roofs.” She said they should also be targeting neighborhoods with few trees and planting more and improving energy efficiency.
Large urban areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston could each experience at least six times as many dangerously hot summer days by 2100 as they did, on average, from 1975 to 2010, according to the report. Collectively, 45 major urban areas in the United States could see about 28,000 more deaths each year due to extremely hot summer days by the 2090s.
When air conditioning can save lives, Rudolph noted that helping with energy costs is key.
She said it’s important for states to make sure that the government continues supporting the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program, which is partially federally funded.