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Hot Century Ahead: Study Finds Onslaught of Heat Waves Now Inevitable

Report comes as North Asia temperature spike kills dozens in the midst of a blistering summer

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

A new study dishes out some very bad news about the global warming crisis.

It is too late to stop a "several folds" increase of deadly heat waves caused by greenhouse gases—and the floods, fires, and storms they bring.

The report comes as a record heat wave hits North Asia, killing dozens and sickening far more, flooding hospitals with heatstroke victims amid power shortages that are cutting off air conditioning in some areas.

Published Thursday in the Environmental Research Letters, the study tracks trends in heat increases, finding that "3-sigma" heat wave events, in which climates are warmed 3 standard deviations from the average, have been on the rise since the 1950s and today cover approximately 5 percent of the earth's land surface.

No amount of emissions mitigation can stop this frequency from doubling by the year 2020 and quadrupling by 2040, and by the latter year, extreme heat events will cover 20 percent of the globe. Furthermore, 5-sigma events, which do not occur presently, are expected to ravage 3 percent of the world's surface by 2040.

Study scientists claim that humanity's best hope is to stabilize heatwaves in the second half of the 21st century through an aggressive curb on greenhouse gases.

"[An] important message from this study is that a further increase during the second half of the 21st century can be stopped if we reduce CO2 emissions fairly soon," Dim Coumou, a climate scientist with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and first author of the study, told NBC.

However, if greenhouse emissions are not curbed, deadly climate disaster will spiral further. If carbon levels in the atmosphere are still high after 2040, 3-sigma heat events will be common occurrences in 85 percent of the world, and 5-sigma heat events will occur in 60 percent of the world by 2100.

It is well documented that the deadly effects of global warming are felt most by the global south, yet the global north holds more responsibility. A National Resources Defense Council report predicts that, by the end of the century, 150,000 people in the U.S. could die as a direct result of heat waves alone, with the projected deaths from global warming overall far higher.


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