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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Americans are becoming more worried about extreme heat – Study

Extreme heat is harming people around the world. So far in 2023, heat waves across three continents in the Northern Hemisphere have already broken records, made many people sick and caused deaths from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or related illnesses – and this extreme heat is likely to continue through August.

heat wave
Above-danger heat stress: A man cools off amid searing heat wave

Earth recently had its hottest June ever recorded, and July will almost certainly break records since global temperatures tend to peak around July 29. Excessive nighttime temperatures – a hallmark of human-caused climate change – makes the heat even more dangerous because it deprives our bodies of a chance to cool down if air conditioning is not available.

Heat waves, known as a “silent killer,” are already the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. and will intensify in frequency and severity as human-caused climate change increases global temperatures. Last year in Europe – during their hottest summer on record – an estimated 61,600 people died from heat-related causes, indicating that heat preparedness strategies are falling short.

Many Americans are worried about extreme heat and understand it is affected by climate change. In Spring 2023, the Centre for Climate Change Communication of the George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, found that most Americans (72%) are at least “a little” worried about extreme heat harming their local area – and extreme heat tops the list of worries about climate impacts (e.g., droughts, flooding, water shortages). Additionally, a large majority of Americans (75%) think that global warming is affecting extreme heat at least “a little,” including 42% who say global warming is affecting it “a lot.”

In this analysis, the Centre used data from its Climate Change in the American Mind surveys to assess changes in public levels of worry about extreme heat and other climate impacts over time (spanning March 2018 to April 2023).


Most Americans (72%) are at least “a little” worried about extreme heat, including 44% who are either “very” or “moderately” worried. Over the past five years, Americans have grown more worried that extreme heat might harm their local area, increasing +9 percentage points from 35% in March 2018 (13% “very;” 21% “moderately”) to 44% in April 2023 (21% “very;” 24% “moderately”). The percentage of Americans who are “very” worried about extreme heat harming their local area has also increased over time (+8 points).

Additionally, Americans have grown more worried about extreme heat (+9 points since March 2018) than other climate impacts, including wildfires (+5 points), droughts (+5 points), water shortages (+4 points), reduced snow pack (+2 points), hurricanes (-1 points), and flooding (-3 points).

Importantly, the surveys reported here were all conducted before this summer’s extreme heat waves. Worry about extreme heat may be further increasing right now.

It is important for communicators to emphasise the connection between climate change and extreme weather events (e.g., heat waves, wildfires) and how these events directly impact people’s health, the economy, and public infrastructure. Experience with climate impacts can be a powerful teacher. Personal experience and hearing about others’ experiences with global warming can shape people’s climate beliefs. Research also indicates that hot, dry days have been more likely than other extreme weather events to cause people to say they have experienced global warming.

As the frequency and severity of extreme heat increases, it is important to provide the public with health resources to protect against heat waves – and to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that emit carbon pollution, trap heat, and cause global warming. It is also vital to check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially as heat waves worsen and surprise people unaccustomed to these extremes.

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