Heat-Related U.S. Deaths Could Increase By 150,000 By Century’s End Due To Climate Change

by Dan Lashof, via NRDC’s Switchboard

NRDC released a report [this week] projecting that more than 150,000 additional Americans could die by the end of this century due to excessive heat caused by climate change. This startling conclusion is based on peer-reviewed scientific papers published recently by Dr. Larry Kalkstein and colleagues.

This is the kind of study that should make headlines around the country but is generally ignored when published only in scholarly journals. So NRDC is presenting the information in a more accessible manner, adding calculations of the cumulative additional death toll attributable to projected global warming by mid-century and century’s end (the report, including these additional calculations, was reviewed by Dr. Kalkstein to ensure that we have presented the information accurately)

The “Killer Summer Heat” report gives the results for all 40 cities analyzed in the original papers. The three with the highest number of projected heat-related deaths through the end of the century are: Louisville, KY (19,000 deaths); Detroit (18,000); and Cleveland (17,000). Other cities’ death tolls include:

  • Baltimore: 2,900 deaths
  • Boston: 5,700 deaths
  • Chicago: 6,400 deaths
  • Columbus: 6,000 deaths
  • Denver: 3,500 deaths
  • Los Angeles: 1,200 deaths
  • Minneapolis: 7,500 deaths
  • Philadelphia: 700 deaths
  • Pittsburgh: 1,200 deaths
  • Providence, R.I.: 2,000 deaths
  • St. Louis: 5,600 deaths
  • Washington, D.C.: 3000 deaths.

The projected deaths are based on the widely-used assumption that carbon pollution will steadily increase in the absence of effective new policies, more than doubling the levels seen today by the end of the century.

These findings bring home the fact that global climate change has a number of real life-and-death consequences in our local communities. One of which is that as carbon pollution continues to grow, climate change is only going to increase the number of dangerously hot days each summer, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of lives lost.

Already an average of 1,300 heat-related deaths occur per year due to direct and indirect effects of heat exacerbating life-threatening illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease, according to Dr. Kalkstein’s analysis. That estimate comes from analyzing the 40 largest U.S. cities from 1975 through 2004, so it doesn’t account for the impact of the record-setting heat seen more recently. Last summer at least 42 states saw record daytime highs and 49 states saw record high nighttime temperatures, according to NOAA. And last week NOAA reported that the twelve months that ended on April 30th were the warmest twelve months in the United States since reliable record-keeping began in 1895.

To prevent the health impacts of climate change from getting as bad as the “business-as-usual” scenario portrayed in today’s report we need to change business as usual by establishing a comprehensive program to reduce heat-trapping pollution from all sources. The biggest step taken by the Obama administration so far is a set of landmark clean car standards that will cut tailpipe carbon emissions from new vehicles in half by 2025. The EPA also took an important, but limited, step forward recently by setting the first national standards to reduce air pollution from wells that use fracking to stimulate natural gas production.

But there are still no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants—the largest source of global warming pollution in the United States. That will be the subject of public hearings tomorrow on EPA’s proposal to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. Of course, pollution from existing power plants, refineries and other sources will need to be addressed as well.

If you live near Washington, D.C. or Chicago I urge you to attend the hearing and let EPA know that you agree that it’s long past time to end the practice of dumping unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our atmosphere. EPA’s proposal is an important step toward protecting public health from the consequences of climate change driven by carbon pollution, and more than one million comments have been filed with the agency in support of moving forward. That’s already a record, but we can’t stop now. Let’s blow the record away with another million before the comment period ends on June 25th. Add your voice here.

Dan Lashof is the Program Director for Climate & Clean Air at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard and was reprinted with permission.


8 Responses to Heat-Related U.S. Deaths Could Increase By 150,000 By Century’s End Due To Climate Change

  1. Sou says:

    If all heat-related deaths were factored in, I bet that would turn out to be a very optimistic projection – assuming we allow carbon emissions to keep going up.

    Once the temperature gets above, say, 44C for more than a few days it gets harder and harder to keep cool. Power supply can fail, air conditioners stop working, fires start, water supply can fail, train lines buckle etc etc.

    In our last major heat wave (45C plus) even the back up generators in some hospitals failed.

    By the end of the century there could be major disruptions to all sorts of things so it will be hard to sort out the primary cause of many deaths.

  2. Michelle M says:

    You factor in all the crop failures because of heat, and people starving, then the toll will also be higher.

  3. Mark E says:

    Oops, I suspect Mr Lashof left out “per year” in certain key sentences int his post. That omission makes the issue of these additional deaths relatively insignificant (not the to deceased of course) if they are spread out over the course of the century.

  4. dolomite says:

    another big factor is that people just aren’t drinking enough water to keep up with the heat

  5. NJP1 says:

    we are coming to the end of the hydrocarbon fuel use era
    In 250 years, oil coal and gas allowed our population to jump from 1 billion to 7 billion. Without fossil fuel energy, at least 6 billion people will have no means of support
    (all our food is an oil derivative)
    I think we’re looking at rather more than 150000 deaths

  6. Tom L says:

    Considering that some 30,000 Europeans lost their lives in a single season’s heat wave in 2003,150,000 is an absurd underestimate.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    Ok scientific research, not so good popularization of it. NRDC’s projection of 150,000 deaths is off-focus.

    The research more clearly points out that death rates from extreme heat could be expected to vary from city to city, and in many cities could incease by factors of 4 or 5 times the deaths by heat in the 1970s, given projected increases in EHE (Extreme Heat Emergency) days.

    Greene, Kalkstein, Mills & Samenow (2011) worked with a sample of 40 cities and did not extrapolate to the whole US, much less to the world. Their projections were for limited conditions under A1 and B1 IPCC climate change scenarios.

  8. JM says:

    150,000/87 years = 1724 deaths per year. In 2010 auto deaths were 32,800. The carbon limits you are asking for will cost an incalculable sum of money, and for what? A 0.10 C reduction in temp over a century(US only)? Spending time and resources on which has a greater return on investment, i.e. lives saved; carbon limits or improved car safety?