Climate Change Doesn't Affect Winter Deaths

by Hilary Weaver

Well, here's an update on climate change that just makes the whole concept even more depressing. A study published by Columbia University debunks the idea that climate change will decrease the number of winter deaths during the cold season. And the report included plenty of evidence that global warming is still very much cause for concern.

Professor Patrick Kinney, who led the study, said he and his colleagues "used statistical methods to pick apart the possible factors contributing to deaths of older people during the winter." The study compared death rates in 39 different cities and determined their associations with the climate of that season. Kinney said he had heard this claim before but wanted to find out for himself, specifically looking at winter as the season for flu and death spikes. But Kinney said most people who die in the winter don't die from the cold weather itself. Rather, they die from the flu and complications from the respiratory disease.

The study found that though we often associate flu season with wintertime, the season itself does not cause people to become deathly ill. Kinney said the dry air "plays some role" in the anomaly, but that a humidifier, proper vaccinations, and "good hygiene" often remedy these winter irritations. The most common factors in winter deaths are accidents due to weather, including slips on snow and ice.

Kinney and his team compared death rates in traditionally warmer and colder cities to see which city might have more death spikes during the winter months. After taking a look at Honolulu and Detroit, the researchers found that the two cities, despite having extremely different winter conditions, had very similar winter death rates.

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In 2014, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that about 2,000 people died each year from weather-related deaths between 2006 and 2010. But regardless of the cause, this data isn't going to get much better. And though climate change might not decrease the number of deaths during the frigid winter months, Kinney and his team said that climate change has a definite effect on health. The report stated that warmer temperatures do link to health risks and life-threatening diseases.

We see mosquito-borne diseases emerging in new territories because warmer winter temperatures enable the insects to over-winter in more northerly regions; warmer temperatures can also enable an insect-borne virus to replicate inside the insect vector to be transmitted and cause disease in a human or animal; cases of food poisoning tend to increase with warmer summer temperatures; and airborne pollution and pollen worsen as temperatures rise, causing deaths from respiratory failure.

So, it's all bad news: Warmer weather is coming in the winter, bringing with it new risks, not fewer. Buckle up, world. There really aren't a whole lot of positives about climate change.

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