New research has shown that almost one third of the world’s population is now living in areas at risk for deadly heatwaves, an increase resulting from the accumulating greenhouse gases. The research found it is “almost inevitable” that the world will see an increasing number of deaths resulting from rising temperatures. Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced dramatically, the study states that nearly half of the world’s population are on track to experience potentially deadly heat by 2100.
“For heatwaves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” according to the study’s lead author, Camilo Mora, from the University of Hawaii.
Unusually high temperatures are currently affecting much of the southwestern US. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for Phoenix, Arizona. The area is expected to face temperatures as high as 119 degrees Fahrenheit, or 48.3 Celsius, on Monday. In California, Palm Springs is expected to reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or 46.6 Celsius, and Sacramento will reach 107 Fahrenheit, or 41.6 Celsius.
According to the NWS, the unusual temperatures will “significantly increase the potential for heat-related illness.” They advised residents to drink more water than usual and to spend time in the shade.
The new study shows that the risk of heat-related death or injury has gradually increased since 1980, with one third of the global population living in climates that entail 20 days a year of potentially fatal high temperatures. Even a significant reduction in emissions would still mean that figure would increase to 48 percent by 2100. If emissions are not curbed at all, three quarters of the world’s population will be exposed to these conditions.
“Finding so many cases of heat-related deaths was mind blowing, especially as they often don’t get much attention because they last for just a few days and then people moved on,” according to Mora.
“Dying in a heatwave is like being slowly cooked, it’s pure torture. The young and elderly are at particular risk, but we found that this heat can kill soldiers, athletes, everyone,” she added.
The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, and examined over 1900 deaths resulting from heatwaves, in 36 countries over the last 4 decades.
“Your sweat doesn’t evaporate if it is very humid, so heat accumulates in your body instead,” explained Mora. “People can then suffer heat toxicity, which is like sunburn on the inside of your body. The blood rushes to the skin to cool you down so there’s less blood going to the organs. A common killer is when the lining of your gut breaks down and leaks toxins into the rest of your body.”