Exposure to deadly heat in cities has almost tripled since the 1980s, according to a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to the study, this trend is a result of rising temperatures and booming urban population growth.
Currently spoke with Cascade Tuholske, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
“The big takeaway from the study that really came as a surprise, is the scale of the problem, and that this is retrospective, this is what has already happened,” said Tuholske. “Billions of people across the planet are living in urban settlements where extreme heat exposure is increasing rapidly.”
Tuholske said that while population growth and urbanization pose a challenge, it’s the lack of investment in infrastructure that leads to heat deaths and illness.
“Population growth in many countries didn’t come with constant investment in services and infrastructure that supports the poorest and most marginalized,” said Tuholske.
This study is one of the first of its kind to show heat data on such a granular level— quantifying how many people are being affected in 13,000 cities and showing the degree to which exposure is being driven by population versus climate. Along with the study, researchers released an interactive map.
Tuholske said that he hopes this study and tools can help urban planners and policymakers come up with better adaptation strategies to reduce urban heat and its effects on communities.
“For me, this is a roadmap because the tools we need to adapt are already there. We just need the policies to match the tools,” said Tuholske. “This study is a map of hope and hope for adaptation.”