NRDC Points to 150,000 Increased Mortalities by 2100 across 40 U.S. Cities

A leading environmental organization’s focus on projected public health impacts may indicate climate activists’ movement toward an issue generally neglected across the U.S. … and one some feel could help sway public attitudes toward increased concern.


A respected national environmental organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, is saying some 150,000 additional heat-related deaths could occur across 40 large U.S. cities by the end of the century as a result of the warming climate.

The group’s study, in pointing directly to adverse health effects, zeroes-in on the public health issue, one many analysts say has been all too lacking in many Americans’ considerations of climate change impacts. It’s an issue climate activists increasingly see as the one that could turn the tide of public opinion toward increasing concern; and it’s an issue they say is much more front-and-center across western Europe and other parts of the world than it is in the U.S.

The NRDC study tallies the number of Excessive Heat Event (EHE) days in 40 cities ranging from A to W — from Atlanta, Ga., to Washington, D.C. Compared with 233 EHE days per summer between 1975 and 1995, it looks at an additional 1,109 EHE days by mid-century resulting from a warmer climate, bringing the total across those 40 cities to 1,342. By the end of the century, it estimates those cities will be experiencing an eight-fold increase in EHE days each summer, a total of more than 1,900 per year.

The group’s study also calculates the increased mortalities by mid-century and end-of-century for those 40 cities and does so with a seeming numerical specificity that is bound to make many analysts uncomfortable (for instance, 2,994 additional mortalities in Washington, D.C., by 2099, and 7,516 additional mortalities in Minneapolis by then).

Experts analyzing public attitudes toward climate change and climate change impacts across the U.S. often note survey and polling results indicating that public health is not a high-priority concern that Americans associate with a warmer climate. They and climate activists say climate change public health issues are a much higher priority in many other countries, and they say that changing that equation in the U.S. could help increase public interest in and concern over the issue domestically. It all may suggest an increased emphasis among climate activists on close-to-home public health issues rather than perhaps a continued focus on more distant and remote impacts involving, for instance, polar bears and other exotic, but far-removed, species.

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11 Responses to NRDC Points to 150,000 Increased Mortalities by 2100 across 40 U.S. Cities

  1. Bruce says:

    NASA does say that the urban heat island effect is huge.

    “Summer land surface temperature of cities in the Northeast were an average of 7 °C to 9 °C (13°F to 16 °F) warmer than surrounding rural areas over a three year period, the new research shows. The complex phenomenon that drives up temperatures is called the urban heat island effect.”

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/heat-island-sprawl.html

    People should move out of those dangerous cities if they are going to die.

    • Richard Berler says:

      Thanks for the link to an informative NASA article. Keep in mind when reading the article that surface temperatures are being discussed (not the free air temperature at 2 meters…this is important…I measured a 143F surface temperature on the parking lot at my office. 3/8″ above the surface, an unshielded thermometer in full sun read 105F. 20 feet away, my government coop themometer showed the temperature at 2 meters above the surface to be 92F). Recent work by Dr. Jeffery Basara at U. of Oklahoma with a dense network of sensors in and around Oklahoma City confirmed a nighttime heat island, but slightly lower 2 meter above the surface afternoon temperatures in the urban center. That said, it would be interesting to study the temperatures inside of unairconditioned apartments where there is limited mixing of the air with the surrounding free atmosphere, and limited ability for excess heat to be radiated out to space due to limited view of the sky, even if the windows were open…I wonder how sensitive this all is to, say, a 3F increase in temperature during the next 90 years.

      • Bruce says:

        Richard, NASA was comparing surface temperature outside of cities to surface temeprature inside cities.

        So the 7C to 9C difference is valid.

        There is new work that suggests the urban Heat Island is a daytime phenomena as well.

        http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00509.1

        I doubt a 3F rise will occur except in cities. The dying of the thermometers has led to most official (GISTEMP) thermometers now being sited in or near cities or at airports. It skews the data.

        So many temperature records that were set in 1921 or 1934 in the US have never been broken, even with UHI.

        • Richard Berler says:

          Bruce…I dont question the 7-9C increase in surface temperature being reported on by NASA for urban surfaces compared to surrounding area. This does not equate to (and NASA is not suggesting) a similar increase in the free air temperature at 2 meters. If it did, Times Square, NY would have an annual average temperature of close to 69F, about the same as rural north Florida. I wanted the difference to be clear between surface temperature and the temperature of free air at 2 meters. I feel that it might otherwise make a reader feel that the story was an exageration.

          • Bruce says:

            NASA’s 7 to 9C was summer land temperatures.

            69F is a little low for the summer.

            June 61/83 = 72
            July 68 / 85 = 76
            Aug 66 / 83 = 74

            http://www.ny.com/general/weather.html

          • Bruce says:

            Ooops June was 63/81 not 61/83.

          • Richard Berler says:

            Bruce…I was talking about year annual mean free air temperature in the New York City area. NASA is not at all suggesting that the free air temperature at 2 meters in the city is also 7-9C warmer during the summer months (that would be around 100F…about the same as Tucsun, Arizona). Please take the time to discern the difference between surface/skin temperature and the temperature of the free air at 2 meters. We are all aware from experience at an early age of the difference between the temperature of urban surfaces such as an asphalt parking lot, and surrounding grass as we walk barefoot! These are surface/skin temperatures that we have all felt. NASA is documenting this with satellite instrumentation (neat to see it so clearly!). The NASA article is not equating this with the temperature of the free air at 2 meters. The urban surface will go through a large diurnal temperature range…our asphalt parking lot has a 70F range from sunrise to early afternoon on a sunny summer day. At 2 meters above the surface, the temperature on my government coop thermometer will span a 20-25 range while at the 850mb level overhead (5,500′ or so high), the temperature will remain within about a 3F span.

            Cheers!

          • Bruce says:

            “NASA is not at all suggesting that the free air temperature at 2 meters in the city is also 7-9C warmer during the summer months (that would be around 100F…about the same as Tucsun, Arizona)”

            Are you suggesting that it isn’t 7 – 9C more 2m above pavement compared to the middle of the greenest part of Central Park?

            Have you tested it?

  2. Richard Berler says:

    The 1995 Chicago extended heat event, 2003 Europe and 2010 Russian episodes certainly point to the high mortality potential in populations without airconditioning (urban populations in particular that are boxed in small apartments). This is especially true when nighttimes remain warm and when humidities are high. The lethal quality of the summer of 1936 (121F in North Dakota, 15 consecutive 100+ days over much of the state…Lincoln, NE had a low of 91 on one day)was noted in the monthly summaries that were issued by the state climatologists at that time (I wonder how many perished in actuality that year…many deaths would not have been properly attributed to the heat)! I do wonder if acclimatization to a warmer climate over the course of the next 90 years would significantly lower the 150,000 number. In my town, there are many poor folks living in homes without airconditioning, yet very few reports of fatalities come in despite the persistent heat (216 days 90+, 122 days 100+ last year!). In any case, education and community involvement are clearly valuable and needed. Great to see the efforts in this direction that have already been taken by NWS, and city emergency professionals.

    • Bruce says:

      Richard, in many US states the hottest 12 month period is still 1933 to 1934.

      Since then, around those thermometers, are millions of A/C units pumping out hot humid air.

      On paper the 1933/34 records may eventually get broken, but only because more thermometers are in the UHI bubble.

  3. Nullius in Verba says:

    This raises the obvious question of how this will affect deaths due to cold weather. Excess winter mortality (EWD) is a common feature of temperate climates. The figure for the US was 108,500 per year in 2008; for Japan 50,900 per year; for the UK around 36,700 per year, and so on. Cumulative deaths in the US from EWD would be 90×108,500 = 9,765,000 by the end of the century. What proportion of these would be avoided with warmer weather?

    Of course, there are 2.4 million deaths per year in the US, and in the remaining 90 years of the century there will be more than 200 million deaths – especially if the population grows. Are we keeping the risks in proportion?

    Is there not a risk that you might be accused of trying to sway public attitudes toward increased concern by the way you present the model results, and thereby lose credibility? Counting the deaths caused but excluding the deaths prevented, using absolute numbers rather than percentages, and accumulating them over nearly a century – would people not wonder why you chose to present the numbers that way?

    Persuading the public is more than just finding topics they care about. If claims are made and then exposed as flawed, the impact on opinion is worse than if nothing had been said. Those with no particular interest in it will write the entire subject off as a technical controversy they have neither the time nor inclination to figure out for themselves, and ignore it. Others will assume you wouldn’t rely on dubiously-constructed arguments if you had any strong ones.

    A far easier way to help people understand the true impact of climate change is to point out a place with a warmer climate. The range of mean temperature in the contiguous states of the US is about 15-20 C, and it is about 1,500 miles north to south, so 2 C of warming would be for much of the US like travelling 200 miles south. Or if you live in the mountains, to an elevation 300 metres lower. You could even do school field trips to the climate future!