The climate crisis has been projected to bring changes to our world of unprecedented and unpredictable depth and range. From rising seas and stronger storms, to extreme heat and disease, we are experiencing changes that scientists have predicted for decades. But what about the unexpected consequences of extreme heat due to climate change? This summer was the hottest on record and the coolest it may ever be again. As the U.S. summer heat season finally wanes, we’ve compiled a short list of five consequences of living with extreme heat for everyone to think about as we look ahead to the 2024 heat season.
Power Grid Infrastructure
Weather events of the last several years have taught us lessons of both the importance and the fragility of our electric infrastructure. Extreme heat events tax the electric grid and increase the chance of a failure . These blackouts have increased in frequency every year, exposing those affected to the dangers of heat exposure. While the poor, children, and the elderly are the most at risk, no one is completely safe without the ability to stay cool.
Food Production and Nutrition
While it makes sense that crops may suffer during extreme heat events, the reality of the impact on our food production systems is much more complex. Research shows that some crops, such as wheat, suffer particular negative effects based on its stage of growth . This can result in not just reduced densities of crop yield but cause a reduction in the nutritious value of the crop. Heat events also negatively affect livestock production as well, causing reductions in fertility, less resilience to disease, and the production of livestock goods such as eggs and milk. Extreme heat also drastically impacts the efficiency of how we store and transport food. All of these consequences combined find increases in prices that are passed to the consumer.
Disruption of education for children
Extreme heat events are increasingly disruptive to the educational opportunities for children. Research has shown that up to 41% of schools may not have proper cooling or ventilation systems which have already caused early school dismissals and cancellations . Early class dismissals or cancellations due to heat put more strain on worker attendance and productivity for some parents as they scramble to find childcare. These conditions expose children to heat related health risks as well as lower test scores in some instances.
Many of the products and services that we take advantage of are performed by workers who labor in less than ideal conditions. As extreme heat events become more common, last longer, and are more intense, these workers are at a higher risk for heat related injuries. These injuries, as well as simply pausing work for safety, not only lead to losses in productivity, but to increased costs passed down to the consumer. These losses amount to up to $311 billion USD per year just to heat exposure.
While researchers and law enforcement have traditionally known for decades that hot days see increases in crime , the new reality under the climate crisis is that a warmer world could be a more violent one. As with many, if not most, climate change impacts, the poorest neighborhoods are the most heavily impacted by this increase in crime. Poor neighborhoods can see surface temperature differences of up to 36 degrees hotter than wealthier communities with much of this is due to disparities in vegetation between these two communities. (Learn more about NOAA urban heat island research.)
New realities of a warming world
Taken together, these domino effects of consequences amount to new realities for the average person living in a warming world. As we begin to draw more connections between just these consequences, we find the possibility of living in a less consistent and less predictable world much more real. As the planet warms, NOAA is working to ensure the continued resilience of our social, natural, and economic systems. For more information on heat and heat health, please visit https://www.heat.gov/