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How climate change could lead to thousands of deaths

Tuesday January 14th, 2020

A temperature rise of 2C could lead to about 2,100 additional deaths from injuries every year in the USA, a study reveals today (13 January 2020).

Most of these deaths would be among men aged between 15 and 34 years, say researchers from Imperial College London, Columbia University and Harvard University, while the three states of California, Texas and Florida had potential to record the highest number of deaths.

The findings, published in today’s edition of Nature Medicine, involved studying the number of deaths from injuries a year in every state and county in the mainland United States, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, between 1980 and 2017. The team tracked unusual, or anomalous, temperature changes in every month in every county in mainland United States over the 38-year period.

By comparing unusual temperatures with injury records, the team then estimated the rise in deaths from injuries associated with a rising global temperatures triggered by climate change.

Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author from J-IDEA, the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics at Imperial College London, said most of the additional deaths seen during times of unusual temperature rises were among young men, and caused by transport accidents, suicides, drownings and violence.

“These predictions suggest we should expect to see more deaths from transport accidents, suicides, drownings and violence as temperatures rise,” he said. “These new results show how much climate change can affect young people. We need to respond to this threat with better preparedness in terms of emergency services, social support and health warnings.”

The researchers used data from the US National Center for Health Statistics to calculate the number of deaths from injuries, which showed that between 1980 and 2017, 4.1 million boys and men and 1.8 million girls and women died from an injury.

Using a statistical model, they then calculated the number of additional deaths from injuries caused by unusual temperatures in different months of the year.

They found the biggest effects of warm temperature were in the risk of dying from drowning and transport accidents, which is due to increased swimming, more driving and increased alcohol consumption.

The researchers used this model to predict the number of additional deaths for an increase in average temperatures of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, which the Paris Climate Agreement says the global temperature must not exceed.

The results suggest more than 1,200 of the 1,600 excess deaths associated with a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise would be in males. However, among older men and women, warmer winter months were associated with a reduction in deaths from falls.

There were also rises in risk of dying from suicide and assault in warmer temperatures, though not as large as those seen for drowning and transport.

Dr Robbie Parks, lead author from Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said: “Our work highlights how deaths from injuries including assaults, suicides, transport and drowning deaths currently rise with warm temperature, and could also worsen by rising temperatures resulting from climate change, unless countered by social and health system infrastructure that mitigate these impacts.”

Parks R et al. Anomalously warm temperatures are associated with increased injury deaths. Nature Medicine 14 January 2020; doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0721-y

Tags: A&E | North America | UK News | World Health

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