youhe record heat that Earth endured during the summer of 2022 will be repeated without a robust international effort to tackle climate change, a panel of scientists warned Monday.
Heat-related deaths, wildfires, extreme rainfall and persistent drought are expected to become increasingly severe as ocean and air temperatures continue to rise, experts said. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions cease today, the Earth will continue to warm for several decades.
The presentation, “Earth Series Virtual: Blazing Temperatures, Broken Records,” featured a multidisciplinary panel of scientific experts from Columbia University.
Radley Horton, a research professor at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said human-induced climate change has caused the global average atmospheric temperature to warm by about 2 degrees (1.1 degrees Celsius) in the last decades.
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“One of the key points is that a small change in global temperature has a huge impact,” Horton said. Some of the main consequences include longer and more intense heat waves hitting larger and larger areas.
In addition, Horton said, certain climate models have underestimated how extreme certain events can be, such as the 2022 European heat wave and the 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave.
“We are caught up in so many additional climate hazards, there is no way around it,” Horton said.
Diana Hernandez, Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, is investigating how certain vulnerabilities, such as medical conditions or access to energy, could be affected by climate change nationally and internationally. Expected impacts include inequalities in shade, urban heat islands, and unequal access to energy-powered medical devices.
“The climate is changing, and we’re not adapted to be able to deal with it from a health perspective,” said Cecilia Sorensen, MD, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University Medical Center.
Sorensen noted that she and her colleagues referred to summer as the “season of trauma” early in her career, even before she focused on the health impacts of climate change. “We used to be inundated with patients… people coming in with heart attacks and asthma exacerbations.”
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Despite the foreboding climate projections, panelists expressed hope that considerable progress can be made to minimize future climate impacts related to extreme heat.
Hernández said that a community-focused approach, especially with an emphasis on inclusive engagement, will be successful in implementing a wide range of climate adaptation strategies.
Sorenson said one solution hospitals can implement is to develop emergency room protocols to treat a large influx of patients suffering from heat stroke or related conditions during extreme weather conditions. Better communications are also needed to raise awareness about the medical risks of extreme heat and how impacts can be prevented, she said.
“Within the problem is the solution,” Sorensen said.
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