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Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect Increases the Danger

Health + Wellness
A typical day of extreme heat in Death Valley, California on Aug. 22, 2014. Graeme Maclean / CC BY 2.0

Extreme heat fueled by climate change killed more than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. between 1999 and 2016, more than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods in most years, an investigation by multiple outlets revealed.


The analysis, jointly published by Columbia Journalism Investigations, the Center for Public Integrity and Covering Climate Now, also found actions taken by the CDC climate program created more than 10 years ago to address threats like extreme heat have been insufficient and further weakened by low federal support and outright opposition in some states.

Extreme heat also exacerbates coronavirus threats in multiple ways. Physical distancing complicates public cooling centers for those who don't have, or can't afford to run, air conditioning or are experiencing homelessness — a population likely to increase as temporary eviction suspensions end. Additionally, high heat and humidity can exacerbate respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, and climate change has amplified the intensity, duration and frequency of extreme heat and heat waves.

"What we need is federal action to say no families will be left behind in this crisis," Jean Su, energy justice program director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity told Bloomberg.

As reported by National Geographic:

The United States is facing an unprecedented trifecta: a pandemic, record unemployment, and summer temperatures that are forecast to be above average in much of the country. It's going to be challenging for local authorities, says Patricia Solís, executive director of the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience at Arizona State University (ASU), a group focused on building community collaboration in times of crisis.
"We haven't figured out how to handle all this," she says.
Even though heat is the second leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S., the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers no funding for heat emergencies, leaving cities, counties, and states largely on their own, Solís adds.

For a deeper dive:

Extreme heat deaths: The Guardian; COVID-19 connections; National Geographic, Bloomberg Law; Climate Signals background: Extreme Heat

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

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