It’s been well-documented that extreme weather can cause death, and that extreme weather will only worsen as our climate continues to warm. A record heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in June killed at least 112 people in Washington state alone, for example. But two new “very concerning” studies show how that extreme weather has contributed to deaths worldwide.

The studies, published as part of the Heat and Health series in The Lancet on Thursday, looked at how temperature affects human health, concluding that heat-related deaths are expected to rise. A two-part modeling study, the first of its kind, analyzed the specific causes of deaths attributed to temperature. 

Though it’s known that heat exhaustion can permanently damage the brain and certain vital organs, the study finds that extreme temperatures are also associated with several kinds of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The authors analyzed data from 64.9 million deaths in nine countries, finding that extreme heat or cold is associated with 17 causes of death — including suicide and other types of injury.

The authors estimate that 1.7 million deaths globally in 2019 were linked to extreme heat or cold. Of those, 356,000 deaths were due to heat and 1.3 million were due to cold. In most regions, cold temperatures have a greater effect on health, said study co-author Katrin Burkart from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

“However, our analysis finds that the harmful effects of extreme heat can far exceed those caused by cold in places where it is already hot, such as Southern Asia, the Middle East and many parts of Africa,” Burkart said in a statement

“This is very concerning, particularly given that the risk of exposure to high temperatures appears to have been increasing steadily for decades,” she added.

Deaths attributed to extreme cold were up 31% from 1990, whereas heat-related deaths increased 74% from 1980 to 2016. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 700 people die on average every year in the U.S. due to extreme heat.

Read more: Extreme heat from climate change puts 32 million U.S. workers at risk of lost wages and illness

One of the papers also found that climate change is “affecting other hazards that can exacerbate adverse heat-related outcomes, including ground-level ozone concentrations and wildfires.” 

“The papers we publish today provide a strong scientific argument that the health dimensions of heat can no longer be overlooked,” The Lancet said in an editorial.

And this extreme heat will only become more common. The National Weather Service warned just last weekend that 2 out of 3 Americans experienced dangerous heat “that can kill.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned in a report that if the Earth warms another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the kind of heat wave we used to experience every 50 years will happen twice every seven years.

Kristie Ebi, the Series co-lead author, echoed that warning.

“Extremely hot days or heat waves that were experienced approximately every 20 years are now being seen more frequently and could even occur every year by the end of this century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated,” she said. “These rising temperatures, combined with a larger and older population, mean that even more people will be at risk for heat-related health effects.”

The authors of the studies recommend immediate globally coordinated actions to mitigate climate change and increase resilience to extreme heat in order to avoid permanent extreme heat worldwide.

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