Global warming linked to likely increase in violent deaths

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Rising temperatures caused by global heating are likely to increase deaths from road crashes, violence, suicides and drowning, according to a US data analysis.

The Guardian reports that the research found that this would affect young people most.

Deaths from injuries have long been known to be seasonal and the new analysis uses data on nearly 6m deaths in the US to calculate the impacts of a 2C rise in temperature, the main target set by the world’s nations. The scientists calculated that this increase would result in about 2,100 more fatal injuries every year in the US alone.

People tend to go outside more and drink more alcohol on hotter days, while higher temperatures are known to increase rates of violence and suicide. The analysis did show a small reduction in the number of deaths related to falls among elderly people, probably because there is less ice in winter.

“Our results show how much climate change can affect young people,” said Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London. “We need to respond to this threat with better preparedness in terms of emergency services, social support and health warnings.” Injury deaths were expected to increase in all nations as temperatures rose, he said, although local factors would influence the extent of the increase – for example, the standard of road safety or level of gun control. The world is currently on track for a 3-4C temperature rise, suggesting the increase in injury deaths could be even higher.

The research is based on data on recorded deaths from injuries in every county in the mainland US between 1980 to 2017. It also used temperature data to find the months when the average temperature was 2C higher than usual. This enabled the researchers to account for the fact that people adapt to normal local conditions but are affected by unusual temperatures.

Temperatures that deviate from the long-term local norm affect human health, and are projected to become more frequent as the global climate changes1. There are limited data on how such anomalies affect deaths from injuries. In the present study, we used data on mortality and temperature over 38 years (1980–2017) in the contiguous USA and formulated a Bayesian spatio-temporal model to quantify how anomalous temperatures, defined as deviations of monthly temperature from the local average monthly temperature over the entire analysis period, affect deaths from unintentional (transport, falls and drownings) and intentional (assault and suicide) injuries, by age group and sex. We found that a 1.5 °C anomalously warm year, as envisioned under the Paris Climate Agreement2, would be associated with an estimated 1,601 (95% credible interval 1,430–1,776) additional injury deaths. Of these additional deaths, 84% would occur in males, mostly in adolescence to middle age. These would comprise increases in deaths from drownings, transport, assault and suicide, offset partly by a decline in deaths from falls in older ages. The findings demonstrate the need for targeted interventions against injuries during periods of anomalously warm temperatures, especially as these episodes are likely to increase with global climate change.

Robbie M Parks, James E Bennett, Helen Tamura-Wicks, Vasilis Kontis, Ralf Toumi, Goodarz Danaei, Majid Ezzati

Full report in The Guardian

Nature Medicine abstract

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