By Eric Roston, Paul Murray, Linda Poon, Amy Yee and Hadriana Lowenkron
Climate change abruptly gripped North America’s Pacific Coast at the start of summer, setting new heat records by staggering margins across the region’s cities and towns. Hundreds of people died.
The sudden and extreme heat disaster — matched by other recent heat waves in the Southeastern U.S., Northern Africa, Western Asia, Japan, and Europe — means many temperate cities are in for significantly warmer conditions. At the same time, cities built to withstand 20th-century heat will now face far worse.
The question of which cities and regions will be able to adapt to new extreme heat is part of the hard math of climate change. Heat researchers see this process defined by two drivers: income and climate. It’s wealth that determines which cities have the resources to defend themselves, and future heat mortality that determines if those efforts succeed.
Compare Seattle, San Antonio and Taipei, wealthy cities with vastly different climates. Each is home to professional sports teams and global corporate headquarters. These cities also now have recent severe heat waves in common. Yet heat-related deaths are projected to diverge sharply.
Cities With Similar Incomes in Different Climates
Each line on this chart represents a city’s projected income and temperature from 2020 to 2099, according to Climate Impact Lab. Cities like San Antonio, Taipei and Seattle are projected to see similar increases in income in the next 80 years…
…but income can’t equalize mortality outcomes. Due to hotter climates, San Antonio and Taipei are projected to see much higher death rates.
This is one of the major insights about the relationship between temperature, income and mortality from a study that Climate Impact Lab published last summer. The research group found that preparation is central to staving off heat-related deaths, with future income growth making adaptation possible.