Danger heating up

Batumi Beach

Georgians flock to Batumi Beach to avoid the heat scientists warn could lead to increased drownings/Wikimedia Commons

As the global climate continues to warm, it is likely to lure people to their deaths, according to scientists from Imperial College London and Harvard.

After examining injury deaths in the contiguous United States for the period 1980 to 2017, they Monday reported in the journal Nature Medicine, the discovery that in warm weather more people die from drownings, transportation accidents, assaults and suicides.

“We found that a 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) anomalously warm year, as envisioned under the Paris Climate Agreement, would be associated with an estimated 1,601 (95 percent credible interval 1,430–1,776) additional injury deaths,” the study said.

The greatest number of additional deaths would come as the result of motor-vehicle related accidents, but the greatest proportional increase would be in drownings.

“…Deaths from drownings are estimated to increase more than those of other injury types—by as much as 13.7 percent for…men aged 15–24 years,” the study said.

The study authors, led by Robbie Parks from Imperial College, noted the link between warmer weather and increased drowning deaths has never been previously reported, but “is highly plausible because swimming is likely to be more common when the temperature is higher.”

With more people headed for the water in a warmer world, shark attacks could also be expected to increase, but the study’s authors did not gather data on those injuries and occasional death.

Cars kill

They did, however, explore the increase in what they termed “transport injuries” and said those go up for a number of observable reasons.

“First, driving performance deteriorates at higher temperatures,” they wrote. “Furthermore, alcohol consumption increases in warm temperatures, which also provides an explanation for why teenagers, who are more likely than other age groups to crash while intoxicated, could experience a larger proportional rise in deaths from transport, when temperatures are anomalously warm, than older adults. Last, warmer temperatures generally increase road traffic in North America; coupled with more people outdoors in warmer weather, this increase could lead to more fatal collisions.”

The scientists did not speculate on how many lives might be saved in the future by government programs to encourage people to park their cars and trucks and stay home when the weather warms.

But if they are right about the effects of climate change, such a stay-at-home program might save lives in a variety of ways.

“Pathways linking anomalously high temperatures and deaths from assault and suicide are less established,” the researchers wrote. “(But) one hypothesis is that more time spent outdoors in anomalously warmer temperatures leads to an increased number of face-to-face interactions, and hence arguments, confrontations and ultimately assaults. These effects could be compounded by the greater anger levels linked to higher temperatures. However, further research on the association of temperature and assault, and the factors mediating it, is needed.”

The scientists were harder pressed to explain an apparent temperature-related increase in suicides.

“…It has been hypothesized that a higher temperature is associated with higher levels of distress in younger people,” they wrote. “Nevertheless, the mechanisms for the links between temperature and mental health require further investigation, including whether the relationship varies by age and sex, as indicated by our results. Future research should also investigate the extent to which the increased risk of injury death as a result of anomalous temperature depends on community characteristics, such as poverty and deprivation, social connectivity and cohesion, quality of roads and housing, public transportation options, emergency response and social services.”

The news in the study wasn’t all bad. It indicated the increased warm-weather injury deaths, which tend to hit hardest at males from adolescence to middle age, would be partially offset by a drop in deaths related to slips and falls –  “the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Very old people would actually have an increased chance of avoiding accidental death in a warmer world.

“In those aged 85 years and older, there would be an estimated decline in injury deaths, because deaths from falls are expected to decline in a warmer year,” the climate study concluded.

Ice – a phase of water with which Alaskans are more familiar than most – appears to be something of a double-edged sword in those portions of the planet with four seasons. It decreases the number of young people drowning, but increases the number of old people dying in slips and falls.

Public health priority

The study authors say their model of future deaths is good down to the state level but would be better as the county or city level “because the impacts of anomalously warm and cold temperature on deaths from injuries may depend on socioeconomic (for example, poverty, social connectivity and cohesion, availability of guns), environmental (for example, availability of swimming pools, distance to bodies of water), infrastructure (for example, quality and safety of roads, public transportation options), and health and social services (for example, counseling and mental health services, emergency response).”

They suggested governments should now be considering ways to deal with global warming as a public-health issue going forward.

“Our work highlights how deaths from injuries are currently susceptible to temperature anomalies and could also be modified by rising temperatures resulting from climate change, unless countered by social infrastructure and health system interventions that mitigate these impacts,” the researchers wrote. “Although absolute impacts on mortality are modest, some groups, especially men who are young to middle-aged, experience larger impacts than other age and sex groups. Therefore, a combination of public health interventions that broadly target injuries in these groups – for example, targeted messaging for younger males on the risks of transport injury and drowning – and those that trigger in relation to forecast high-temperature periods – for example, additional targeted blood alcohol level checks – should be a public health priority.”

The Anchorage Metro Area is coming off its hottest summer in history. If it hots up again next summer, the study would suggest the appropriate message for regional residents, especially younger males, might be simple:

Stay in the house! Going outside in search of fun might kill you.













12 replies »

  1. That thing that freaks me out is I’ll never be in doubt…Dolores Oriordan.
    What freaks me out is how we could swing from an ultra-warm regime to a totally ultra-cold regime.
    Its normal invariability we have here in SC Alaska.

  2. If we really are warming, which we have for billions of years, why do NOAA, NASA, and the IPCC feel the need to fudge and lie about temp data? Curious why the likes need to keep changing descriptions from Global Warming to Climate Change to Climate Crisis? Just curious. Now pass the sunscreen, I might die from a “Climate Crisis”.

  3. Wait a minute, when it’s warm out people partake in warm weather activities outdoors and when it’s not warm out they don’t? Obviously we need to study this more and we should create government positions at all levels whose sole purpose is tell the idiot people when it’s warm out or not since it’s all anthropogenic global warming caused. People cannot be trusted to go outside and recreate in a warm environment without the big hand of government telling them to be safe. How is it that we as a species have managed to survive as long as we have with a warming and cooling environment? The Neanderthals went extinct as recently as 24,000 to 45,000 years ago, in large part due to climate change. If only the Neanderthals had a government lackey to tell them when it was going to be warm outside and that they should curtail their outdoor activities, maybe they would still be with us today.

    • Science may have just sussed out what did-in those Neanderthals.

      Beach-combing Neanderthals dove for shells

      Did Neanderthals wear swimsuits? Probably not. But a new study suggests that some of these ancient humans might have spent a lot of time at the beach. They may even have dived into the cool waters of the Mediterranean Sea to gather clam shells.

      Don’t say you weren’t warned. Still waiting on the lab for blood-alcohol test results.

      • And there we have it Ted, an entire species of Homo Sapien wiped off the face of the earth because of climate change and the fact that there weren’t any Neanderthal life guards to prevent them from drowning in the water when it got warm out!

  4. “Entertainment” in the outdoors is what’s dangerous. Group-recreation especially induces both risk-taking, and the minimization (poo-poohing) of hazards.

    As a kid, hiking in the Olympic mountains was big for us. Later in my 30s, I got back into it, and it quickly developed into a different thing. Firstly, all the other ‘kids’ and friends were now off-gone, or tied to duties and couldn’t go.

    So I went by myself. Cue the wailing & lamentation. BY YOURSELF?! It’s not so bad these days, plenty of people have broken that ice. Even celebrate it.

    I go both ways, long experience both ways. Going in groups is more dangerous, yeah-huh.

    Firstly, groups have to plan ahead, then the weather is crap, and they go anyway.

    But people also ‘egg each other on’ in other ways, creating hazards. “I know! Let’s hike-through, leave a car at the other end!” Suddenly, it’s 400 miles of driving, instead of 20. Furthermore, you’re all excited & pumped for one driving-leg, and all exhausted & sleep-deprived for the other leg. Both bad.

    Professional drivers rack up astronomical miles without accidents. Big part of increased statistics when the public goes driving, isn’t the driving, it’s that they’re in recreation-mode.

    Having fun partly short-circuits the brain.

    • “…it’s that they’re in recreation-mode.”
      Americans call that “VA CA TION” and man does it make their heads spin while consuming vast amounts of Alcohol in the process.
      Better to have a more balanced approach on life and enjoy a few hours each day “unwinding” outside doing the activities you enjoy most.
      I personally enjoy skiing and biking right out my door without the hassle of traffic or starting the car.
      Fortunately we are lucky to live in an environment of endless trails and recreational opportunities, many in parts of America must travel long distances to experience the natural world.

      • Steve, I’ve read different articles about Alaska (and the Fed) making different kinds of trails for different users, and parking-lots for them at trailheads.

        Do these projects seem to you to be working as intended? Does it separate incompatible kinds of uses satisfactorily? Are they able to provide enough venues for the throngs in ‘bedroom communities’ to pour out on nice weekends and have a good day?

        Or do most folks just muddle through, roaming around to find something that works for them?

        Sounds great for you – just walk out the door & into the woods!

      • Ted,
        “Trailheads” in S.C. have several problems these days, number one of which is thieves.
        Vehicles left at trailheads are more susceptible to vandalism and theft.
        This is why areas like Deshka Landing are becoming more popular, since it is privately run and secure for short or long term parking.
        I knew when I left the bush after my first job in AK that I wanted land which was accessible to the wilderness on the west side of the Susitna Valley, so I chose Willow.
        Now that the rivers have frozen, I can ski or ride down to the Little Willow and eventually out to the Big Su and Yentna River.
        More and more fat bikers are also heading out of Deshka and enjoying the trail.
        Ski joring with the Huskies added another enjoyable activity that starts “right out my door”.
        When conditions are good on the Yentna it is like no other place on earth.
        I am just glad that the temperatures have dropped and the rivers have frozen so all the trail users can enjoy winter to it’s fullest extent.

      • Steve,

        It was actually the Deshka Landing & Willow area facilities that stood out as a good working solution & happy layout, in my reading. The developed paths and natural routes around & out of Willow/Deshka sound like an awesome setup … and there’s a secure place to leave vehicles.

        The Yentna. The Big Trail. Water. Ice. Remote country. Others folks around, but spread out good. Couple of wide-spot ‘towns’. Eye-candy infesting the real estate pages. I was offered a cabin to care-take up there, but the roaded side of the river would be more my speed, for living.


  5. Half the story.
    There are many studies that show deaths from illness are higher in cold seasons and lower in warm seasons.
    These affects probably offset each other.

    I would have to go back and look, but I recall the magnitude of the illness differences was large enough to more than offset the magnitude of the accidental death difference numbers above, in most of the illness studies.

    Interesting, but since we don’t know enough to know how to control earth’s temperature and don’t have the resources to even if we did, interesting is all it is.

    Survival skills when it is warm are different from when it is cold. We humans will have to get better at mastering both to improve survival.

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