June brought scorching heat, but July has taken it to another level. This week, we witnessed the highest average temperatures ever recorded on a global scale.
The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, a tool that utilizes satellite data and computer simulations, reports that on Wednesday, the global average temperature reached 17.18 degrees Celsius (62.9 degrees Fahrenheit). This matches the record set on Tuesday, which itself broke the previous record of 17.01 degrees Celsius (62.6º Fahrenheit) from Monday.
It’s worth noting that these figures represent global averages. To put it in perspective, early in June, Buffalo, New York experienced daily temperature records of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while Fargo, North Dakota reached a scorching 97 degrees according to National Weather Service data. Puerto Rico faced an extreme heatwave that shattered temperature records, with the heat index reaching a blistering 125 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.
More astonishingly, this week saw typically mild Portland, Oregon hit an oppressive 98 degrees, breaking the city’s previous daily high record by two degrees. El Paso, Texas soared to an unbelievable 107 degrees, smashing its own daily record. And keep in mind, these numbers don’t even account for the “real feel” with added humidity.
As man-made climate change continues to make extreme temperatures more frequent, it’s not just temporary discomfort we should be worried about. The rising heat poses health risks that can lead to costly emergency-room visits and have long-term impacts on our well-being. We must recognize the urgent need for action in the face of this escalating global issue.
Read: Hottest day on Earth for the third straight day
Rising Heat and the Impact of Climate Change
Scientists have long warned that 2023 could bring record-breaking heat due to human-caused climate change. As the burning of fossil fuels continues to warm the atmosphere, the effects are becoming more evident. However, there is another significant factor at play – the transition from La Niña to El Niño.
La Niña, a natural cooling phenomenon in the ocean, has historically countered some of the warming effects. But now, with the oceans experiencing a warming trend, the reverse phenomenon of El Niño is taking place. This shift, coupled with the record warmth observed in the north Atlantic Ocean this year, is further intensifying concerns about rising temperatures.
Costs Accumulate in Multiple Ways
The soaring temperatures, especially in the early summer months, bring about various costs that affect individuals, households, communities, and companies. While it is commonly recognized that extreme heat can curtail outdoor work and limit productivity, economists and policymakers emphasize the need for a broader understanding of the economic impact.
Currently, estimates suggest that the economic losses tied to heat in the United States amount to $100 billion annually. However, this figure is purposefully conservative as it solely considers lost productivity. The Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center highlights the importance of taking into account other factors such as healthcare expenses, infrastructure damage, and lost tourism. When considered collectively, it is projected that climate change’s impact on heat-related costs will reach $200 billion annually by 2030.
Furthermore, recent climate change research has specifically focused on the intersection between rising temperatures and public health. Given that certain communities already bear a disproportionately high burden of healthcare costs, understanding and addressing the health effects of heat-related climate change is crucial.
In conclusion, the combination of human-caused climate change and natural phenomena like El Niño poses a significant threat to global temperatures. As temperatures continue to rise, the costs associated with extreme heat are expected to escalate, impacting various sectors of society. It is imperative that policymakers, scientists, and communities work together to develop strategies that mitigate these effects.
Heat-Related Health Care Costs in the U.S. Could Reach $1 Billion this Summer
A recent report by the Center for American Progress reveals that extreme heat will result in approximately $1 billion in health care-related expenses in the United States during the upcoming summer season.
Heat exposure poses a significant risk to human health, leading to a surge in hospitalizations for various conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems, respiratory issues, and even asthma, particularly among low-income urban residents. These individuals often lack access to air conditioning, especially in rental properties, and may also find themselves deprived of green spaces that provide natural cooling.
According to the projections from the Center for American Progress, the excessive heat is expected to cause around 235,000 emergency department visits and over 56,000 hospital admissions across the country due to illnesses related to elevated body temperatures.
To mitigate the damage caused by these heat events, it is crucial for individuals to be aware of how to prepare for extreme heat. Taking necessary precautions can significantly reduce the likelihood of emergencies and hospitalizations.
Moreover, it is essential to remember that human activities contribute to the extreme weather patterns experienced globally. The extreme heatwaves observed in London, for example, are a consequence of human-induced climate change. Understanding our responsibility allows us to address these issues effectively.
As the number of heat-event days increases, so does the risk of people being rushed to emergency rooms or requiring hospitalization. Steven Woolf, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, emphasized the importance of quantifying this risk. Recognizing the potential impact can guide policymakers in implementing effective strategies to protect public health.
Extreme Heat on Health: Underreported and Unfair
Researchers have uncovered a troubling reality: the health impacts of extreme heat are often underreported and disproportionately affect certain communities. Over a four-plus year period, the researchers closely examined cases of “heat-related illnesses,” which included heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. They also took into account “heat-adjacent illnesses,” such as dehydration, rapid pulse, dizziness, or fainting.
In Virginia alone, extreme heat led to approximately 400 outpatient care visits for heat-related illness, 4,600 emergency room visits for either heat-related or heat-adjacent illness, and 2,000 heat-related hospital admissions each summer. These numbers, however, are likely underestimates. Patients with higher body weight or preexisting conditions like heart disease often experience complications during heatwaves that could be considered heat-adjacent illnesses. Unfortunately, these complications are rarely formally diagnosed as such by physicians, adding to the underreporting. Additionally, many individuals affected by extreme heat never seek medical care at all, further concealing the true burden of heat-related illness.
Justin Mankin, an assistant professor in Dartmouth University’s geography department, expressed his desire for further research to expand its timeline. He suggests including health insurance claims tied to high heat that may accumulate in the months and years following an extreme event. By broadening the scope of investigation, a more comprehensive understanding of the long-term impacts of extreme heat on health can be achieved.
Climate Change and Heat: Heading Higher?
Extreme heat historically has attracted less attention than the destruction of hurricanes, wildfires, or floods, because the visual shock can be less or the dangerous effects slower to take hold. However, the impact of climate change in creating longer, drier summers is increasingly throwing up alarms. This is especially true in 2023, with the added factor of an El Niño event.
Non-Smoking Lung Cancer on the Rise
Recent data from the American Lung Association suggests that pollution is to blame for the increasing incidence of non-smoking lung cancer. With climate change exacerbating environmental issues, it is crucial that we address this growing concern.
First Street’s Risk Factor Tool
Climate-change mapping nonprofit First Street has made an important addition to its Risk Factor tool. This tool is accessible free of charge and is now being incorporated into real estate listings, thanks to a partnership with Realtor.com. By analyzing the frequency, duration, and intensity of extremely hot days at a given location, this tool provides valuable insights into how climate change impacts home values and the cost of homeownership.
Naming and Ranking Heat Waves
In collaboration with the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, various groups are advocating for a standard practice of naming and ranking heat waves globally. This approach would enable effective communication about these emergencies, allowing communities to adequately prepare and evacuate when necessary. Just as tropical storms are named, heat waves should receive the same level of attention and recognition.
Ensuring Resilience in Real Estate and Property Insurance
It is essential for homeowners, real estate agents, and insurers to stay informed about the risks associated with climate change. Risk factors provided by First Street’s tool can be easily accessed by searching through property, ZIP code, or state. This information will help stakeholders gain a better understanding of how climate change affects home values and the overall cost of homeownership.
By taking proactive steps and addressing climate change-related concerns, we can mitigate its impact on our communities and the environment.