Thousands Could Die In New York From Heat Wave

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I would, of course, worry about newly released studies that show massive deaths in cities owing to climate change and global warming if I believed in either. That said, a new study shows that thousands (3,331) could die annually in New York City alone if serious reductions to emissions are not made and made soon.

Study shows New York heat dangers in 2080

The studies were published online this week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and show the danger of continuing on our present course with regards to carbon and greenhouse gases. The two studies out of Columbia University this week look at climate change and temperature as well as the effect of air pollution on children and were not published through rose-tinted glasses.

“We now know a great deal about the harm from the emissions from fossil fuels,” said Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. “We know a great deal about how to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

With the Obama administration recently going out of its way to link personal health concerns to global warming, an idea that for some reason remains vague in the mind’s of many, the studies are well timed to provide ammunition for the route the administration has shifted to in recent weeks. Self-interest guides more decisions than many are comfortable admitting, but when you speak to their health, people in Omaha, Nebraska have more to think about than studies on rising sea levels.

Quite simply, heat waves cause an increase in fatal strokes and heart attacks. Asthma and other breathing conditions are also exacerbated by a rise in summer temperatures. The math is “easy” in populations where nearly everyone is white and the same age, think The Villages in Florida, but in a city as diverse as New York it’s a whole different animal. There are groups based on their ethnicity do considerably better than others when the mercury spikes.

Suffice is to say, Indian communities will do better than retirement communities or kids.

“Many studies keep population constant, which is not really adequate,” said  Elisaveta Petkova lead author and project director at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Slowing global warming and climate change is the biggest challenge facing mankind for the remainder of the century. In ten years time you’ll struggle to remember ISIS but will likely still have issues with radical Islamists. They are an annoyance more than a genuine threat in the greater scheme of things, climate change, however, is a massive problem and needs to be dealt with quickly. While the United States won’t ratify the Paris Climate Agreement anytime in the near future, there is plenty that individual cities, municipalities and states can do.

More access to air condition, better infrastructure and demanding the coating of rooftops with reflective paint (New York already has begun this practice) helps but only to a point. Ounce of prevention and all that and people will become more acclimated to rising temperatures out of need and survival. Shame those in New York, Miami and other coastal cities won’t grow gills quick enough to acclimated to an seawater inundated city.

“People become more resilient to heat,” said Petkova. “We don’t know exactly why.”

Climate change on both ends of the spectrum

Petkova and her colleagues used five different demographic models for the five-borough city using past trends and then put together a “death count” for both low and high greenhouse gas emission projections while plugging in adaptation patterns.

“Aging of the population is probably the most important trend, since older adults are more vulnerable to heat-related health effects,” said co-author Patrick Kinney, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, in an email to Scientific American.

The low greenhouse gas scenario and modeling put death from heat numbers at 1,552 in 2080 with the high side coming in at 3,331 deaths.

“This study just highlighted how important it is to take proactive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Petkova said.

In the second paper released this week, we go back to Perera who linked fossil fuels to the poor health of children.

“Often, we think of climate change and air toxics in terms of effects on adults,” she said. “Those effects are not universal, and not enough emphasis is placed on children, who are more vulnerable.”

These problems don’t begin at age eight but can actually start in utero and lead to premature births as well as developmental problems that take time to come to the forefront.

“These effects don’t disappear and persist through the child’s life course,” said Perera.

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