A team of researchers has found that temperature increases of 1.5°C and 2°C in the United States would result in 1,600 and 2,100 additional deaths from injury, respectively.
These deaths would mostly affect men between the ages of 15 and 34 years. They would primarily result from transport accidents, suicides, drownings, and violence.
Because scientists predict that climate change will cause an increase in temperatures for decades to come, the findings are concerning.
The researchers behind the present study wanted to find out whether rising temperatures would affect the number of fatal injuries in the U.S. They estimated the impact of 1.5°C and 2°C increases, figures they selected because the Paris Agreement pledged to keep global temperatures below these levels.
The researchers, based at Imperial College London (ICL), in the United Kingdom, Columbia University, in New York City, and Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA, published their findings in the journal Nature Medicine.
They looked at the number of fatal injuries per year from 1980 to 2017 in each state and county, excluding Hawaii and Alaska. They then analyzed anomalous temperature changes for these areas during this period.
By comparing the two sets of data, the researchers determined the number of additional fatal injuries in each state and county as a consequence of the heating effects of climate change.
The researchers found that an increase of 1.5°C would likely result in 1,600 additional fatal injuries across the continental U.S., while a 2°C increase would result in 2,100 additional fatal injuries. The states with the highest numbers of these injuries would likely be California, Texas, and Florida.
The researchers determined that younger men would be most at risk: Of the 1,600 fatal injuries likely to follow a 1.5°C temperature increase, 1,200 would occur in males, mostly between the ages of 15 and 34.
The leading causes of these fatal injuries would be transport accidents, suicides, drownings, and violence, the researchers report. They speculate that higher temperatures would encourage people to drive, swim, and drink alcohol, all of which carry an increased risk of fatal injury.
Previous research has also suggested that mental distress may increase, especially among young people, due to global heating.
The team behind the present study call for more research into why increases in temperature have led to additional fatal injuries.
Senior study author Prof. Majid Ezzati, who works with ICL’s Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics, explains: “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.”
While these additional deaths would predominantly occur in the younger population, older people would likely see a reduction in fatal injuries, due to a decrease in the number of falls.
Lead author Robbie Parks, Ph.D., from The Earth Institute, at Columbia University, emphasizes that more must be done to prevent this increase in fatalities. He says:
“Our work highlights how deaths from injuries — including assaults, suicides, transport [deaths], 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.”
While the present study focuses on the risk of a significant increase in deaths from injury, this is not the only adverse effect that climate change will likely have on the well-being of the people and the planet.
For example, scientists predict sea level rises and increases in extreme weather events — such as hurricanes, droughts, and flooding — throughout the U.S. as a result of climate change. Ecosystems and infrastructure will likely be compromised, and wildfires and tree die-offs will become more common.
The effects of climate change are, of course, not limited to the U.S. — the United Nations have called climate change “the defining issue of our time.”
The present study contributes to the overwhelming evidence of climate change’s catastrophic consequences. The research makes clear that, as well as limiting global temperature increases to between 1.5°C and 2°C, we must create social and healthcare infrastructure to account for the significant negative social effects.