July 15 - Higher temperatures caused by climate change could cause a spike in heat-related deaths in New York City, according to researchers at Columbia University. They say that if current trends continue, the number of fatalities attribituble to hot weather could double over the next seventy years. Sharon Reich reports.
Summer in New York City ... Some days It's so hot you can feel the heat rise off the pavement. Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University says that over the last century average temperatures have risen more than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, a significant amount…and he says that if the trend continues, New York will see a 20 percent increase in the number of heat-related deaths by 2020… with worse to come. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RADLEY HORTON, CLIMATE SCIENTIST AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S EARTH INSTITUTE SAYING: "As temperatures rise we see an increase in deaths. Our study suggests that under the worst case scenario if we continue see a major increase in greenhouse gases due to rapid development we could see close to a doubling of the number of people dying during heat waves in New York City by the 2080s. So we know right now the heat waves are a leading killer in the US and our research suggests that a small shift in average temperatures as we burn more fossil fuels could double the frequency of death here in the city." Horton's conclusions come from data produced by 16 different computer models of present and future climate change trends. He says that in each case, the models determined that global warming is bad news for New York City. Higher temperatures inevitably mean warmer winters, but the researchers say that the increase in summertime fatalities will overshadow any positive effects. 2012 was one of the warmest years on record - thousands of wildfires burned all over the world, with Australia battling some of the worst in history. That's why, Patrick Kinney, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia says the report is important for health officials everywhere to heed. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PATRICK KINNEY, PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SCIENCES AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SAYING: "We studied New York because we had good data for NY but in Moscow there was a heat wave in 2010 that killed many thousands of people and in Europe in 2003 there was a very big heat wave that killed an estimated as many as 70,000 people during that August heat wave. So it's not just New York or even just a US phenomenon it's really a global phenomenon." The study predicts a majority of the deaths in the northern hemisphere will occur in May and September, which will see temperatures similar to those felt in hotter months like July and August. But the scientists say there are measures that can be taken to help combat the situation. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RADLEY HORTON, CLIMATE SCIENTIST AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S EARTH INSTITUTE SAYING: "We are locked into some additional warming but there are other things we can do to reduce the effects of that warming. So at the city scale for example we need to continue to plant more trees to increase the amount of shade. We need to develop more white roofs so that we can reflect some of that sunlight. Those are local steps that we can take to reduce the amount of warming. We can also see more of this kind of cooling centers being developed, air-conditioning for some of the most vulnerable members of the population." Measures the team says could help save lives.