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Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk



As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

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