At least 3,000 deaths due to heat are expected to occur by 2080 if New York City (NYC) continues its escalating rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Heat has a direct effect in lethal events in the organism, especially heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory illnesses. Although people tend to become more resistant towards heat, there comes a point where even artificial cooling proves insufficient to maintain the body at a healthy temperature level.

According to the CDC, people with higher risk are children and those aged 65 or older, as the latter are more likely to suffer from heart disease, and they are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Heat-related illness symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and of course, intense sweating.

At least 3,000 deaths due to heat are expected to occur by 2080 if New York City (NYC) continues its escalating rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Photo credit: Climate Progress
At least 3,000 deaths due to heat are expected to occur by 2080 if New York City continues its escalating rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Photo credit: Climate Progress

Heat-related deaths in New York City

The claim that heat in NYC will be responsible for thousands of deaths in the future comes from a study carried out by Columbia University. The research points out that most models used to visualize the impact of climate change are not correct, mainly because the increasing population of cities like New York is not taken into account.

The study first tried to link the amount of ozone and heat to the cases of child asthma and overall hospitalization of children, while taking into account their place of residence. But the lack of efficient models proved to be a major obstacle. The team then constructed better models of heat, air pollution, and neighborhood temperature. They took data from the NYC Community Air Survey and managed to elaborate the most comprehensive study of NYC’s atmosphere at ground level.

The results showed that over a thousand deaths per year could be avoided if the city’s administration takes drastic preventive measures. 33 models were elaborated, all of them displayed a constant mortality rate due to heat in New York City all over the 20th century. The rates seemed to drop significantly in the late 1970’s when air conditioning became widely implemented on New Yorker’s homes.

Using air conditioning may help reduce the mortality rate, but it only manages to tackle one side of the problem. Researchers propose structural changes all over the city, mainly by planting trees and installing reflective roofs to have a better management of heat levels. The models predict a temperature increase of around 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080, while the occurrence of days hotter than 90 degrees is expected to be thrice as much, according to the resulting data.

Heat has been proven to be a contributing factor to deaths, especially in NYC. 2006’s summer heat wave was linked to the deaths of at least 140 people, becoming the most lethal since 1952’s heat wave, which killed 40 people. Of the 140 victims, 40 died of strokes due to extreme heat, while the other 100 were cardiac or respiratory diseases where heat was a key contributor.

New York vs Climate Change

The New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) released its 2015 report where they predict that higher temperatures are “extremely likely” in future years. Every simulation convened in a scenario where the average temperature would increase significantly over the course of several years. Precipitation is also expected to increase substantially, as sea level around the city will rise, thus promoting the condensation of water to rain. Intensity, frequency and duration of extreme storms are expected to increase, although it is noted that Brooklyn, for instance, experiences lighter rains than Central Park.

Back in 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the threat that climate change poses for New York City. He introduced a plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the course of 40 years. Although the project seems feasible and beneficial, it may prove short as the Columbia University has already stated that more drastic measures are needed.

It is estimated by the University of Columbia Mailman School’s Climate and Health Program that it is possible to save the lives of at least of 3,600 adults and prevent asthma attacks on 90,000 children. The program managed to lead the White House to pronounce the Clean Power Plan, a much needed direct measure to try and control fossil fuel emissions on a nationwide basis.

The Clean Power Plan is being held still by the Supreme Court, and it is not yet implemented. Lawmakers argue that there is a need for further scientific and legal foundations. Although the plan is not applied on a federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges state governments, companies, and individuals to work towards reducing carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan displays each states’ goals in CO2 reduction. New York aims to achieve 918 pounds per megawatt-hour by 2030, a goal that lies on the average when compared to other states. But first, the state must reach 1,025 by 2022. In 2012, the city emanated 1,140 pounds per megawatt-hour.

Even if each state takes into its hands the issue of climate change, until there is an explicit agreement from both federal and public institutions, there is still a long way to go regarding climate conservation. There has to be a full-fledged support in reducing the effects of climate change, but there will always be interests that detour the public’s eye towards more pressing and immediate matters, such as gun control, the presidential elections, global terrorism and so on.

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives