Monday, January 16, 2012

Climate change could quadruple deaths

Clare Pain in Cosmos: Climate change may quadruple the loss of life due to extreme heat in Brisbane, an Australian study has predicted. Cunrui Huang and colleagues at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane investigated how temperature changes affect the death rate in Brisbane. The study adopted a ground-breaking way of measuring climate change deaths, which could become standard for similar studies carried out for other cities.

"This is something every individual city has to look at," said co-author Adrian Barnett, explaining that cities around the world have unique climate and housing conditions. The results appear in Nature Climate Science today.

Looking at non-accidental deaths in Brisbane between 1996 and 2004, the researchers evaluated them in terms of 'years of life lost'. This way of measuring a death recognises that the death of a younger person (say in their 50s) is more of a loss to society than the death of an 80 year old. "This is the big difference in our study," said Barnett. "We suspected that a lot of temperature-related deaths were occurring in very old people." But when they used their new measure, it became clear that there must also be younger people, between 40 and 60 years old, dying from high and low temperatures.

Commenting on the study, Colin Butler of the Australian National University in Canberra said, "The 'years of life lost' approach is the real breakthrough in this paper," adding that he wishes he had thought of the idea himself. "They show that heat waves have a bigger effect on mortality in younger and middle-aged people than we would expect."

Although one might think that Brisbane's balmy climate would lead to more deaths from heat than cold, the opposite is currently true. When the researchers correlated their mortality data with temperature, they found that there are many more deaths from the cold than from heat...

Brisbane from the air, shot by Cyron Ray Macey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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