You can see this difference by comparing the first blue column in the right hand graph above with the first red column on the left hand graph. A recent study in The Lancet suggests a similar pattern exists across Europe. Collecting data from 13 countries, the authors found the cold kills 20 times as many people as heat.
And in the United States, twice as many people each year between and died from excessive cold than excessive heat, according to a recent health statistics report.
The IPCC says :. This is largely based on the idea that colder weather exacerbates conditions, such as bronchitis, pneumonia and heart disease, especially in older people. The question this often leads to is, does the expected decrease in cold-related deaths outweigh the increase in heat deaths? Hajat et al. Based on their estimate of around 41, fatalities in the UK each year now, that would suggest about lives saved.
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You can see this by comparing the slope of the bars in the red and blue graphs above. But there are a few things to note about this conclusion. Scientists disagree on whether or not warmer temperatures will save lives in the UK. Source: Village covered in snow via Shutterstock.
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The first thing is that not all scientists agree that rising temperatures will save lives. The new paper examines the causes of death in older people during winter in 36 US cities from and in three French cities from The authors conclude that cities with warmer winters have a similar number of deaths in winter as those with colder winters, suggesting that cold-related deaths in winter may be much less than some have assumed.
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A study by Philip Staddon from the University of Exeter came to a similar conclusion. It looked at how many extra people die in winter compared to other seasons and not all deaths due to cold weather are restricted to winter, they said. The Hajat et al. In their paper, Hajat et al. In this scenario, fewer people are exposed to high temperatures in the future.
The result is that the number of lives lost as the climate warms goes down and the number of lives saved goes up. The balance shifts so dramatically that the drop in cold deaths by outweighs the rise in hot deaths, suggesting several thousand lives are saved each year.
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This could be — and often is — used to argue that at a given point in time, any single individual has a greater risk of death by cold than by heat. The research that exists suggests the burden of cold weather in the UK is currently greater than for heat, but that the increase in heat-related fatalities expected from climate change outweighs any potential benefit in terms of lives saved, if indeed there is a benefit at all. That means that unless measures are taken to protect vulnerable groups, the UK faces a significant new public health risk from heat-related illnesses as temperatures rise — adding to the already considerable burden of deaths from the cold.
Of course, arguments like this about how many lives will be lost or saved as temperatures rise are a oddly callous lens through which to view changing risk, as it assumes a life saved in one place compensates for one lost somewhere else. Moreover, the impact of climate change on human health is infinitely more complicated than this. A new Lancet report expected on Tuesday will look at how climate change affects the distribution of vector-borne diseases, reduces water and food security, and increases extreme weather.
Finally, comparing mortality rates in the UK or any single country in the northern hemisphere — though it may be where most of the evidence exists — is an extremely narrow way to view a global issue. Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. Roz Pidcock Public health Explainer: Will rising temperatures mean more lives are saved than lost?
Intergenerational commitments are critical to protecting future climate leaders
Credit: David Babb. The Arctic Ocean is topped with a layer of frozen sea water — sea ice — that grows every winter and shrinks every summer. To study the ice in detail, researchers hop aboard an icebreaker ship that can plow through the sharp, cold ice floes without being damaged. But two years ago, the Canadian icebreaker Amundsen was called off its scientific mission to assist the Canadian coast guard with search and rescue operations in the North Atlantic Ocean.
In May and June of , an unprecedented amount of sea ice was choking the normally open waters around Newfoundland. The thick ice trapped many unsuspecting ships and sunk some boats when the ice punctured their hulls. In this episode, University of Manitoba sea ice expert David Babb recounts the rescue operations the Amundsen took part in.
Hi Nanci! You were telling us that one time you actually were in a situation where you had to be rescued. When I was like 11, I went white water rafting with my … I have a bunch of older brothers and father and they used to do this all the time, and it was the first time they ever took me.
This whole time I was with my dad and my godfather in a boat, in a raft, with the guide. So we were like the safe boat, all my brothers and all their friends were in other rafts. This is a rock where people die. Every year, people get sucked under this thing. Save me!
This is 20 years ago at this point. Yeah man! Is that how you say it? Yeah, yeah dude, yeah thanks-. All right, anyways. So, talking about rescues. So last year, I interviewed a scientist who studies Arctic sea ice. I study sea ice dynamics and thermodynamics. I kind of like more of the roughing it, in some of the other remote field locations.
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One of my favorite field campaigns has been we worked in Northeast Greenland one year, the ice had just started to form, and we were working with air boats. These big fan boats that work in the Everglades. Just like an aluminum boat with a big fan behind it-.
We were walking on thin sea ice all the time, and setting up this equipment. The first day out, we stopped the boat and it slid for a while over the thin, smooth ice. The guy I was with hopped out of the boat and started walking around on the ice, and I thought he was completely insane.
But he was a big guy and I figured if it could hold him, it could hold me. I was gonna be okay. They had a barge tucked away with extra fuel so they refueled in Spring, but when the planes flew in they brought fruits and vegetables and resupplied things like that. But, basically the ship has to be totally self-sufficient for a year. You have to have everything with you.
They freeze, you need new gloves. At the end of the day you need fresh gloves to get back, you need waterproof gloves. Oh, yes! Actually, books is a really good one! As an avid reader, it causes me great stress to make sure I have enough books.
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I even had to get a Kindle so I can make sure I have a full stocked library when I travel. I have a very specific type that I get, that you can only order online. Anyways, yeah. The ice cover is becoming younger, and thinner, and as a result of that the ice cover is becoming more mobile. That ice over winter grows to about one and a half to two meters thick. During the following Spring, the ice cover starts to melt. Most of that first-year ice melts out, but some of it is able to persist through summer and remain intact into the Fall when the ice cover starts to form and freeze up again.
As the ice gets older, and survives more and more summers, it theoretically grows thicker and thicker, and stronger. What does that look like for you? So what is a big solid flow that we can spend the day on, and that the ship can pull up beside and get us off onto safely. It usually starts about in the morning, you go up to the bridge and talk with the officers and the captain. Then we go down for breakfast. Come back up, and start to pick a flow. You unload, and you usually make three or four trips depending on how many people are coming out. All that sort of stuff. Water sampling.
Off the ship, we also use the helicopter a lot. So you fly off, and you land with the helicopter on the ice. You spend the day, or a couple of hours out there with the helicopter, collecting your samples.
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