Posted on November 10, 2023

Black Seniors Bear Unequal Burden of Cardiac Deaths From Rising Temperatures

Saul Elbein, The Hill, October 30, 2023

Elderly Black Americans are on the front lines of a coming spike in deaths from climate change, a new study has found.

Between 2008 and 2019, extreme heat drove at least 1,600 Americans — disproportionately Black and elderly — to an early death from heart attacks.

Without aggressive action on climate, that number could more than double by mid-century, according to findings published Monday in the journal Circulation.

Researchers found that if fossil fuel burning isn’t quickly reduced, the number of extra deaths could more than double, reaching more than 3,700 per year.

Even if current proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions are met — still a politically controversial question — the study found deaths will likely hit 2,000 per year within a few decades.

These deaths will not be distributed fairly across the population, researchers wrote.

Black adults are about four times more likely to die of heat-induced cardiac arrest than white adults, the study found.

And seniors have around four times the risk of heat-induced heart attacks compared to younger adults.

According to scientists from the American Heart Association, the problem isn’t only rising temperatures, but the way heat interacts with how cities function.

Heat turns deadly as it intersects with the other defining inequalities of American cities: unequal access to air conditioning, exposure to pollution, and exposure to the “heat island” effects of large landscapes of asphalt and concrete, according to the study.

And another factor looms behind the data: an aging and increasingly isolated population that researchers found is both more vulnerable to the impacts of heat and more likely to slip through the cracks.