Want to Reduce Needless Summertime Deaths? Act on Climate.

As a refugee from the mid-Atlantic’s first heat wave of the year, I arrived in Southern California earlier this month only to encounter an even more brutal spell of extreme heat.

While there, I experienced my own close encounter with potentially dangerous heat exposure.

An unexpected trail closure on my last hike forced me to walk 12 miles instead of the 6 miles I had planned. Given how well I know the dangers of extreme heat, I’m embarrassed to admit that I ran out of water. But at least I escaped with only hurt pride. Many others across the southwest lost their lives during the heat wave, including a father and son hiking in New Mexico, a 48-year-old runner in central California, and a 69-year-old Nevada woman whose air conditioner had stopped working.

Climate change will make these stories of premature summer deaths more common, as we show in a new NRDC report. In 45 of America’s largest urban areas, a drastic increase in dangerously hot, oppressive summer days could lead to an annual average of nearly 14,000 excess deaths by the mid-2040s—10 times more than the 1975 to 2010 average. By the 2090s, there could be an average of nearly 30,000 deaths each summer. That’s more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer in 2014, and nearly double the number of homicides in that same year.

The good news is that we can avoid some of these deaths on summer days by limiting the climate-changing pollution that’s driving the mercury higher. The bad news is that the Trump administration shows little inclination to do so.

Since Trump took office, he and his polluter allies have systematically worked to take away federal standards and programs intended to protect our health from climate change. Between proposals to hollow out the Environmental Protection Agency, orders to dismantle protections like the Clean Power Plan, and attempts to halt commonsense efforts to limit energy waste, the administration is on track to make climate change worse.

Trump’s plan to withdraw the United States from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change is particularly head-scratching, given the potential health benefits of the global deal. Our report finds that complying with the ambitious—but achievable—targets under the Paris Agreement could limit global warming and save more than 128,000 American lives from 2091 to 2100. This total, which is only from 45 urban areas, is likely conservative, as our analysis does not take future changes in population or urbanization into account.

Within 45 of the U.S. urban areas with a population of one million or more, implementation of the Paris Agreement could reduce total summertime deaths by an average of 12,820 per year from 2091 to 2100.

Polluters may have the ear of the president now, but everyday Americans can be even louder. Tell Trump that you won’t stand for this reckless attack on our health, and that you want him to restore our country’s leadership on climate change. 

About the Authors

Juanita Constible

Senior Advocate, Climate and Health, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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