The Effects of Heat Exposure on Human Mortality Throughout the United States.

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Exposure to high ambient temperatures is an important cause of avoidable, premature death that may become more prevalent under climate change. Though extensive epidemiological data are available in the United States, they are largely limited to select large cities, and hence, most projections estimate the potential impact of future warming on a subset of the U.S. population. Here we utilize evaluations of the relative risk of premature death associated with temperature in 10 U.S. cities spanning a wide range of climate conditions to develop a generalized risk function. We first evaluate the performance of this generalized function, which introduces substantial biases at the individual city level but performs well at the large scale. We then apply this function to estimate the impacts of projected climate change on heat-related nationwide U.S. deaths under a range of scenarios. During the current decade, there are 12,000 (95% confidence interval 7,400-16,500) premature deaths annually in the contiguous United States, much larger than most estimates based on totals for select individual cities. These values increase by 97,000 (60,000-134,000) under the high-warming Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario and by 36,000 (22,000-50,000) under the moderate RCP4.5 scenario by 2100, whereas they remain statistically unchanged under the aggressive mitigation scenario RCP2.6. These results include estimates of adaptation that reduce impacts by ~40-45% as well as population increases that roughly offset adaptation. The results suggest that the degree of climate change mitigation will have important health impacts on Americans.





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Shindell, Drew, Yuqiang Zhang, Melissa Scott, Muye Ru, Krista Stark and Kristie L Ebi (2020). The Effects of Heat Exposure on Human Mortality Throughout the United States. GeoHealth, 4(4). p. e2019GH000234. 10.1029/2019gh000234 Retrieved from

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Drew Todd Shindell

Nicholas Distinguished Professor of Earth Science

Drew Shindell is Nicholas Professor of Earth Science at Duke University. From 1995 to 2014 he was at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and taught at Columbia University. He earned his Bachelor's at UC Berkeley and PhD at Stony Brook University, both in Physics. He studies climate change, air quality, and links between science and policy. He has been an author on >250 peer-reviewed publications, received awards from Scientific American, NASA, the NSF and the EPA, and is a fellow of AGU and AAAS.

He has testified on climate issues before both houses of the US Congress (at the request of both parties), developed a climate change course with the American Museum of Natural History, and made numerous media appearances as part of his outreach efforts. He chaired the 2011 UNEP/WMO Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone, and was a Coordinating Lead Author on the 2013 Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC and on the 2018 IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C. He also chairs the Scientific Advisory Panel to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition of nations and organizations.


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