A total of more than 11,000 Americans have died from heat-related causes since 1979, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Intense summer heat felt by human-caused climate change is killing people all over the world, and a new study, which is said to be the largest of its kind, has found that more than one-third of the world's heat deaths between 1991 and 2018 was directly caused by global warming.
The study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows only a small part of climate change's overall toll, scientists say. Even more people are killed by other extreme weather events, such as storms, flooding, and drought, exacerbated by global warming.
From wildfires to extreme weather, we've all been experiencing the effects of rising temperatures. Heatwaves that are more intense and frequent affect the elderly and those with underlying chronic conditions such as asthma, making them more susceptible to disease and premature death.
Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of Bern analyzed data from 732 locations in 43 countries and discovered that human-induced global warming was responsible for 37 percent of all heat-related fatalities in the locations surveyed.
The percentage was highest in Central and South America (up to 76 percent in Ecuador or Colombia, for example) and South-East Asia (between 48 percent to 61 percent).
Previous research has already shown the effects of climate change are making people sick and causing premature death, and this trend will only go worse with even more devastating impacts if necessary actions to keep temperatures in control, such as stopping the use of fossil fuels, aren't taken. "We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don't do something about climate change or adapt," explained Dr. Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera from the University of Bern in a press release, the first author of the study. "So far, the average global temperature has only increased by about 1°C, which is a fraction of what we could face if emissions continue to grow unchecked."
The study did not cover the whole globe since there was not enough empirical data from large parts of Africa and South Asia; however, it still "is the largest detecting and attribution study on current health risks of climate change," Professor Antonio Gasparrini from LSHTM, senior author of the study, says.
"The message is clear: climate change will not just have devastating impacts in the future, but every continent is already experiencing the dire consequences of human activities on our planet. We must act now.”