The Cost of Heat Waves Demonstrates the Broader Economic Threat from Climate Change

By Ann Tran, Summer Intern

Among the many negative impacts of climate change, rising temperatures are causing more frequent and intense heat waves in numerous regions.  As many news outlets recently reported, on the weekend of June 28th, a heat wave struck in the West, breaking various temperature records and affecting parts of Nevada, Arizona and California.  This event is a small, yet exemplary example of the potential impacts of climate change and their economic costs.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, average June temperatures are normally estimated at 99 degrees. However, that weekend, temperatures reached 117 degrees, causing an elderly man who lived in an apartment without air conditioning to suffer from cardiac arrest and die. At an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, more than 200 people were treated for heat-related problems, with 34 of them hospitalized. In Phoenix, Arizona, temperatures reached 119 degrees. Certain commercial planes are only certified to take off in temperatures up to 118 degrees, and that day US Airways had to cancel 18 flights. Just north of Phoenix, a wildfire broke out in the high heat, and 19 firefighters died trying to battle the fast moving flames. In Southern California, six runners were hospitalized from heat-related illnesses after running a half marathon. The race had been a full marathon in previous years, but due to the low turnout last year because of the heat, it was downgraded. The trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, usually very busy, were almost empty that weekend, because as one hiker said, “It’s not the best day to be out here – unless you want to suffer.”

Triple digit temperatures were recorded, causing fires, travel delays, health problems and tragic loss of life. In addition to these harms, such events also lead to detrimental costs for the economy. When fires break out, buildings, parks, houses and other infrastructure may be damaged, all of which would require large sums of money to repair. For popular attractions, such as Las Vegas, deaths are occurring from the heat, which could easily deter tourists from visiting. Events, such as marathons and concerts, that could attract large crowds and thus help raise revenue for the surrounding businesses, are being cancelled or causing so many health problems that people are no longer attending. Flight cancellations also have an economic impact, both on the airlines and on the cities that they fly to.  US Airways’ regional planes have the capacity to carry 99-330 people and 18 flights were cancelled; this means 1782- 5940 potentially lost customers for businesses. These events are only a few harms among many, and they occurred from just one heat wave in one weekend. Put it in larger perspective, and it’s easy to see the significant economic harms that climate change could cause in the future.


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