Deadly heat is killing Americans: A decade of inaction on climate puts lives at risk
Heat now causes more deaths than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods in most years, creating a new public health threat. An investigation reveals why the CDC’s prevention efforts have faltered
Charlie Rhodes lived alone on a tree-sparse street with sunburned lawns just outside Phoenix, Arizona. At 61, the army veteran’s main connection to the world was Facebook; often, he posted several times a day. But as a heatwave blanketed the region in June 2016 – leading to temperatures among the highest ever recorded – his posts stopped. Three weeks later, a pile of unopened mail outside his door prompted a call to police.
When officers arrived, they were overcome by the odor of rotting garbage, worsened by the still-searing heat. Inside the home, they found the air conditioner broken and its thermometer reading 99F. Rhodes lay dead in the bedroom, his body decomposing. The cause, his autopsy shows: “Complications of environmental heat exposure.”
Yearly heat-related deaths have more than doubled in Arizona in the last decade to 283. Across the country, heat caused at least 10,000 deaths between 1999 and 2016 – more than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods in most years.
Scientists link the warming planet to a rise in dangerous heat in the US, as well as the spread of infectious diseases and other health conditions.
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