How the Climate Crisis and Rising Temperatures Will Increase Injury-Related Deaths, According to New Study

Rising global temperatures may cause more injury-related deaths in the future, according to a new study.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jan. 14 2020, Updated 4:34 p.m. ET

climate change rising temperatures

As the climate crisis continues to rage on, it's clear that rising global temperatures have a slew of negative effects on people and animals all across the Earth. And according to a new study, global heating will continue to impact human health in ways many of us have not considered — for example, in terms of injury-related deaths. Specifically, the study hypothesizes that rising temperatures as part of the climate crisis could cause up to 2,135 more injury-related deaths every year in the U.S. due to factors such as increased car crashes, drownings, fighting, and more, as The Verge reported.

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The study, authored by experts from Columbia University, Harvard University, and Imperial College London, was published this week in the journal Nature. The authors were inspired to look into this topic after noticing that most research on how the changing climate affects public health focuses on infectious, respiratory, and other chronic diseases, and that there has hardly been any research on how the climate crisis will affect injury-related deaths. They then noted that injury-related death rates tend to increase in the warmer seasons, meaning rising global temperatures could cause more deaths; additionally, they hypothesized that the behavioral links between temperature and injury would affect the results (more on that below).

Taking all that into account, the authors set out to discover how the climate crisis might cause more injury-related deaths.

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To conduct the study, the authors analyzed data on mortality and temperature over a 38-year span (from 1980 to 2017) in the U.S. They then used a certain scientific model to measure how rising temperatures cause injury-related deaths, taking into account people of various ages, genders, and other demographics. Injury-related deaths include both accidental (falling, drowning, car accidents etc.) and intentional (suicide, assault) deaths.

The authors found that if the global temperature increase remains within the Paris Climate Agreement's goal of rising no more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2030, there would be an additional 1,601 injury deaths each year; if the increase gets closer to +2 °C warmer, an additional 2,135 could die from injury deaths each year. 

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So why exactly would higher temperatures cause several thousand additional deaths a year? For one thing, the authors note that warmer weather is typically associated with higher rates of drinking alcohol, as well as more road traffic and foot traffic — all of these correlations may lead to more deaths caused by alcohol, car accidents, and drunk-driving accidents.

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And even though 2,000 or so people per year may seem like a small tally, a greater takeaway of the study is that global warming is likely to cause significantly more injury deaths in young men to middle aged men than in any other group. The authors found that 84 percent of the injury deaths are likely to be men and boys, and the remaining 16 percent would be women and girls.

"The findings demonstrate the need for targeted interventions against injuries during periods of anomalously warm temperatures, especially as these episodes are likely to increase with global climate change," the authors write. They suggest that interventions such as targeted blood alcohol level checks and targeted messaging about the risks of driving should become public health priorities.

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