PORTLAND, ORE. – The Pacific Northwest USA was on fire in record heat last summer when a 70-year-old woman was taken to the emergency room with symptoms of life-threatening heat stroke.
Desperate to cool her, Dr. Alexander St. John grabbed a corpse bag, filled it with ice from the hospital kitchen, and buttoned the woman inside. After a few minutes, her body temperature dropped and her symptoms improved.
“I’ve never had to do that. It was surreal, ”St. John said. “Twenty years ago, we seem to have talked about climate change as something that will happen in the coming generations, and suddenly it seems to be accelerating to the point where we all feel it in real time.”
This method was used to rescue several other patients at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for five days heat wave Last June, temperatures in some places rose to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) and killed about 600 people and more in Oregon, Washington and western Canada.
According to the United Nations, the hot section of a normally cool region opens up a look at the types of extreme weather events that will accelerate in North America in 30 years without a coordinated effort to slow climate change. report released this week. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, people in the US, Mexico and Canada will be at increased risk of catastrophic weather events.
A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows how worsening global warming will endanger human health, lead to food insecurity, trigger economic shocks and lead to migration from places that are becoming increasingly uninhabitable. According to the report, the most affected are low-income and minority populations, which will exacerbate existing inequality.
In the West, the report predicts increased drought, extreme heat and forest fires. The Gulf Coast is expected to receive more devastating hurricanes and rising sea levels. Heavy rains in the Midwest and Northeast are expected to lead to floods and damage to crops.
In the summer of 2019, floods in the Midwest and South of the United States disrupted barges on the Mississippi River and damaged crops in Ohio and Indiana. Another downpour and flood months earlier crippled the Ofat Air Force Base in Nebraska.
The economic consequences will be serious. Water warming and ocean acidification will disrupt commercial fishing, extreme heat will mean lower yields of major crops such as corn and soybeans, and drought will result in livestock losses because animals have less land to feed, the report said.
Since 1980, there have been 35 non-hurricane floods in the United States that have damaged more than $ 1 billion, and more than half since 2010, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We are suffering countless harms,” said Kathleen Miller, lead author of a section of the report on North America that studies the economic consequences of climate change at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“It’s time to step up and start thinking about what our priorities are and how we can deal with these growing threats,” she said.
The report still hopes that people will be able to slow down climate change – or at least adapt to blunt its effects. The priority of the most vulnerable segments of society will have the greatest impact on climate resilience, the report said.
The type of adjustments mentioned in the report are already underway in the Northwest Pacific, which was not built for hot weather. In Seattle, for example, 44% of homes have air conditioners.
After the deadly heat last summer, Portland officials are considering the possibility of alarm systems in public housing that would warn building managers if temperatures rise above 100 degrees. City officials have also approved a plan to distribute 15,000 heat pumps, which are energy-efficient ways to cool premises. Oregon lawmakers are also considering $ 15 million in funding to improve distribution air purifiers, air conditioners and heat pumps.
Longer-term discussions in the North Pacific and elsewhere include painting roofs white and using brighter sidewalks to repel sunlight, planting more trees in urban centers and creating cooling centers that can also be social places.
These measures will be key for the populations most affected by the deadly heat of last summer – for the elderly, the lonely, the disabled and the poor.
None of the victims in Portland had central air conditioning, more than half lived in apartments and 10% lived in mobile homes, according to data released by Multnomah County. The city line stopped working, making it difficult for low-income residents to access cooling centers, which were hastily set up in public libraries.
Analysis of data from 1,000 homes showed that the average temperature in rich homes was 75 degrees, compared to 125 degrees in poor ones, said Vivek Shandas, a climate professor at Portland State University.
It shows how those who have the resources can “continue to isolate and protect themselves,” he said.
Rene Salas, an ambulance doctor and researcher at Harvard University’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment, noted that health risks are increasingly posed not only by heat but also by increasing forest fires that send plumes of smoke thousands of miles across North America. fever, which can contribute to the spread of diseases by mosquitoes and ticks such as dengue fever, West Nile disease and Lyme disease.
Adaptation would mean treating climate change as a secondary diagnosis for many patients and treating it accordingly, Salas said. In the future, doctors may prescribe air purifiers or heat pumps the way they make medicines, and the national system of medical records can help maintain consistent treatment for patients who have become climate refugees.
“We can do so many things to optimally identify who is most at risk and then help protect them,” she said. “It’s time to do it now that we’re starting to see the impact.”
AP Science writer Seth Barenstein made her contribution from Kensington, Maryland.
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