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When folks who study the damages expected from climate change report on things like, “cold related deaths” as compared to “heat related deaths” what are they actually comparing? I’ve read dozens of scientific papers indicating that exposure to cold is far more serious a health risk than exposure to heat.

On the other hand if one examines the climate literature, you will regularly see these ideas turned around – with any notion that people dying from cold simply being tossed aside as insignificant and with much emphasis on people potentially dying from heat exposure. So let me offer up a research assignment, which is sure to end up on an assignment in my Eco 238 course next Fall:

What, exactly, gets counted as a “heat related death?” What gets counted as a “cold-related” death? I respect that it is hard to make predictions about death due to climate change, which is why if you take a serious look at the IPCC’s 4th assessment report, you will not really find any solid evidence on what those deaths are likely to be. We are left with lots of back and forth on climate blogs ranging from no deaths to a virtual end of human civilization.

In any case, are the common scientific approaches in the climate literature looking at deaths due to direct exposure? You know, is a cold-related death like the one suffered by Mallory on Everest? Or is it any death that can be attributed to the coldness of the climate? For example, when it is cold outside, the roads are icier, and lots and lots of people crash and are killed in car accidents. What does accident data look like in February versus August? Do these make it into the calculations of the benefits of a warmer planet? And of course, what is going without discussion here today is the distinction between being exposed to heat and cold and actually being made to die from it. Imagine the look on someone’s face if you suggested to them that a good way to deal with the risks of heat exposure would be to have better air conditioning.

2 Responses to “It’s All Just a Lack of Oxygen to the Brain, Isn’t It?”

  1. chuck martel says:

    Cold weather is much more conducive to human survival than hot weather. That’s why the world’s largest cities are all located adjacent to the the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans instead of anywhere near the equator. Few people realize that Hammerfest, Norway and Barrow, Alaska are much bigger cities than Mumbai, Manila and Jakarta.

  2. chuck martel says:

    It’s interesting that you bring up car crashes. Few, if any, human activities in America are monitored more closely than automobile usage, by both the media and government agencies. While information on miles driven, gas mileage, seat belt usage, drunken driving and a plethora of other statistics is easily available, we’re not informed of the risk factors of riding in particular car models. Intuitively, we feel that if we’re going to be in a car accident, we’d be better off as passengers in a Chrysler New Yorker than a “Smartcar”. But we don’t see any statistics to reinforce or refute this impression. What is the rate of death or serious injury per accident in any model of auto? Sure, various models are rated by the crash dummy people but that’s not the same as the real world.

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