Rapid and severe temperature changes can kill people, and not just during heat waves, researchers reported on Monday.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers found that more people died during years with warmer than average summers in New England, while years that had warmer than usual winters actually reduced the number of deaths.
A rise of 2 degrees F in the summer months was associated with a 1 percent increase in the death rate, “whereas an increase in winter mean temperature corresponded to a 0.6 percent in decrease in mortality,” wrote Joel Schwarts, professor of environmental health at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.
A rise in summer mean temperature of 1 degree C (just under 2 degrees F) was associated with a 1 percent higher death rate, whereas an increase in winter mean temperature corresponded to a 0.6 percent decrease in mortality.
The researchers studied around 3 million people 65 and older, reports NBC News. Everyone on Medicare in New England was included in the study, as well as the annual deaths and average temperatures in summer and winter.
“The take-home message: Unusual temperature is bad for people’s health,” said Liuhua Shi, a graduate student at Harvard’s School of Public Health and study author.
Temperature variability emerges as a key feature in the potential impacts of climate change. The take-home message: Unusual temperature is bad for people’s health.
Scientists have long debated the effects of climate change on health, reports Phys.Org, and the general consensus is that more people will get sick as climate change results in flooding, polluted air, and extreme heat.
The Guardian reports that Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office in the UK, says the threat of climate change “needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation.”
Her warning was issued in the foreword of a report on the risks of climate change led by Professor Sir David King, the UK’s climate change envoy.
“The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment,” said Anelay, referring to how countries assess the risk of nuclear weapons.
Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics. The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.
The report also points out the increased deaths during heat waves in warmer countries where, “safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently,” and the increase of floods in some areas while others suffer from water shortages.
The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realized.”
The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realized, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.
In another study, the decrease of the world’s bee population was also linked to climate change.