Killer Climate Change: Deaths on the Rise

Climate Change Deaths

Scientists say that because of the increasing temperatures associated with climate change, deaths from heat exposure appear to be on the rise.

The problem, they say, is that when temperatures go up, it causes longer, more frequent and hotter heat waves.  Even without the effects of global warming, heat waves tend to be killers, with hundreds of American dying each year .  And, with it, they tend to be much worse.

Some researchers at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeå University in Sweden wanted to test to see just how much climate change might be affecting death rates in their country so they took data for the years 1980 through 2009 and compared it with data for the years 1900 through 1929.

What they found in their study was that the temperature increased significantly during the 1980 through 2009 time frame, causing about 300 additional deaths over what had occurred during the cooler time period.

According to Daniel Oudin Åström, the PhD student who conducted the study, this represents a doubling of the number of deaths that would normally be expected if climate change were not occurring.

In addition, Åström says that, despite milder temperatures in the winter, there were still more periods of extremely cold weather than before, which also added to mortality rates.

Although 300 additional deaths might seem like a small figure, Åström notes that this number is only for the Stockholm area.  If the data is extrapolated to larger areas, the number becomes larger.  For example, it has been estimated that 1,500 more people in the entire country of Sweden have died during the past 30 years due to climate change.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, Åström says that the Swedish people do not appear to be doing anything to protect themselves from higher temperatures, such as installing more air conditioning for the elderly.  This is probably because there is relatively little knowledge about how heat waves affect public health, he said.  Extreme temperatures have not historically been the norm for the country.

If you live in a place which frequently deals with heat waves, the National Weather Service makes the following recommendations for keeping yourself safe when temperatures soar:

  • Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.
  • Keep children, the elderly and those with health problems in the coolest places possible.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid meats and other protein foods, which tend to increase your metabolism and increase water loss.
  • Drink plenty of water, but avoid caffeine and alcohol as they can increase water loss.
  • Stay in air-conditioned places during the hottest part of the day, even if this means leaving home and going to a store, library or other public place.
  • Avoid getting sunburned, which reduces your body’s ability to disperse heat.
  • Do not take salt tablets unless you have been advised to do so by a doctor.

The article about climate change deaths was published on October 21, 2013 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Written by:  Nancy Schimelpfening


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