A study found that last summer’s heat wave killed 61,000 people in Europe | Climate crisis

Scientists have found that extreme heat killed more than 60,000 people in Europe last summer, in a catastrophe made more deadly by greenhouse gases baking the planet.

European Union statisticians sounded alarm bells in August as sweltering heat, severe drought and raging fires consumed much of the continent, after they saw unusually high numbers of people die during Europe’s hottest summer on record.

Public health experts took that data and used epidemiological models to see how many deaths could be attributed to temperature. they found 61,672 A person died from heat-related causes in Europe between May 30 and September 4, 2022. The death rate was higher in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Heatwave mortality chart 2

“There are people who could have died anyway, but they are not counted with this methodology,” said Joan Pallister, research associate professor of climate and health at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and lead author of the study. “We’re talking about people whose deaths have been caused by the occurrence of these temperatures.”

Only a small percentage of heat-related deaths come from heatstroke. In most cases, hot weather kills people by preventing the body from dealing with existing health problems such as heart and lung diseases.

The study found that for each week of summer 2022, average temperatures in Europe “without interruption” exceeded baseline values ​​for the previous three decades. The most intense heat hit occurred from July 18 to 24, when it killed 11,637 people.

Among the people who died that week was an 86-year-old woman named Maria, who lived alone without air conditioning, said Angelabad, a doctor at University Hospital La Paz in Madrid who was not involved in the study. He said she had been taking diabetes and heart medications every day but came to the hospital on July 19, complaining of fatigue. She died five days later of acute pulmonary edema.

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Heatwave mortality chart

“It’s very frequent in the summer in Spain in our hospitals,” Abad said, adding that patients feel anxious because they realize they are dying. “The patient cannot breathe. The heart begins to fail. The [underlying] The problem becomes stronger.

Humans have warmed the planet by about 1.1°C, but temperatures in Europe have risen at about twice the global rate. Heatwaves will become more deadly unless governments protect people from hot weather and spit out less greenhouse gases to warm the planets.

Scientists have suggested that the death toll in 2022 was particularly high because temperature differences — the gaps between the heat we feel today and in the past — were greater in southern Europe, which is much hotter than northern Europe, and during the height of summer, when the days are hotter. The hottest nights offer little relief.

“We had both factors contributing to the deaths,” Pallister said. “In the end, it’s the absolute temperature that kills.”

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Ana Maria Visdo Cabrera, head of the Climate and Health Research Group at the University of Bern, who was not involved in the study, praised the analysis but said the true number of deaths could be higher.

She said the researchers used weekly data on temperature and mortality that mitigated the effects of short-term spikes. One Stady which used daily data for Spain, estimated the number of heat-related deaths in the country to be 10% more than suggested by the weekly data. separate Stady by Vicedo-Cabrera and colleagues, published on Tuesday, showed a larger effect in Switzerland, where the estimate from the daily data was twice that of the weekly data.

Both Swiss and European studies have found that women, especially older women, die at higher rates than men. The Swiss research also showed that pollution from burning fossil fuels and destroying nature led to a higher death toll. “We found that 60% of the observed deaths can be attributed to climate change,” said Vicedo-Cabrera.

More than 2,000 senior women in Switzerland have taken the federal government to the European Court of Human Rights for failing to do enough to stop global warming – citing the risk to their health from heatwaves. The Swiss government argued that the link between its actions and their suffering was “weak and too distant”.

Strengthening healthcare systems and protecting vulnerable groups would save lives, said Julie Arrigi, acting director of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre. “It is critical that people look out for neighbors and loved ones — especially those who live alone.”

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