HOTLANTA MADE COOLER
By Laura Diamond
Heat is the deadliest natural disaster facing the United States, killing more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes combined. The bulk of these deaths occur in cities, which are heating up about twice as fast as the rest of the planet.
The number of heat-related deaths is projected to more than double by 2050. But a new Georgia Tech study shows this projected increase can be averted if city leaders and urban planners adopt a few basic strategies.
The study focused on Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, and found on average that potential heat-related deaths would be reduced by nearly 60 percent if cities plant more trees and increase green space; decrease impervious surface areas such as parking lots; and increase the reflectivity of roads and rooftops. If these methods were implemented in Atlanta, the city would see no increase in heat-related deaths over time.
“This shows that large cities in different regions of the country can significantly reduce deaths and improve overall quality of life if they embrace these strategies,” said Brian Stone, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning. “Many cities already use some of these sustainability efforts, but they must be implemented on a greater scale if we are to have a true impact.”
The study supports other research about the urban heat island effect, which turns cities into cauldrons through the combined impact of climate change and rising temperatures driven by a predominance of concrete and a shortage of vegetation.
Researchers computed multiple projections regarding population growth, housing and construction changes, global and urban temperature increases, and heat-related illnesses and deaths. They also tested the impact of different heat management strategies to offset the projected deaths.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the four-year study. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.