Adding Up the Cost of Climate Change in Lost Lives – Greg Ip


An exhaustive new study focusing only on heat-related damage predicts that by 2099, even with economic growth and adaptation, 1.5 million more people world-wide will die each year because of increased temperatures.

PIRatE Lab’s insight:
Not surprisingly, wealthier places fare better: in Houston, each additional day averaging 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), relative to a “normal” day of 20 degrees, raises the annual death rate by 0.5 per 100,000 people. In Cairo, which is as hot as Houston but only one-tenth as rich, a hot day is nearly 10 times deadlier.

More surprising, temperate places fare worse, because they aren’t used to heat: in Seattle, a hot day is seven times deadlier than in Houston because fewer homes have air conditioning and people spend more time outdoors.

The study uses these relationships to project the effects of global temperatures rising four degrees Celsius by 2099, which is the scientific consensus of how much temperatures will rise if no steps are taken to slow carbon emissions.
Without the benefits of growth and adaptation, mortality rates would rise by 125 per 100,000 people, or 14 million additional deaths. Factoring in rising incomes, that drops to 44. Incorporating adaptive behavior, such as staying indoors, it drops further, to 13, roughly 1.5 million people.
 The impacts are highly uneven. Mortality actually drops in temperate, rich cities such as Oslo because they experience fewer dangerously cold days, and their affluence minimizes the harm of hot days. It rises sharply in places like Mogadishu, Somalia, that, despite being used to hot days, aren’t rich enough to withstand the extremes. Within the U.S., mortality drops in the relatively cool northern plains but rises in the southeast.
 The toll goes beyond death. Adaptation avoids some deaths but soaks up money and effort that can’t go toward other things such as dental care and vacations. These costs ought to be factored into the effects of climate change. Regulators evaluating new safety rules routinely express human lives in dollar equivalents.
The study’s authors do the opposite, expressing the costs of adaptation in death-equivalents. This raises the net impact on mortality to 35 per 100,000, or roughly 3.9 million lives. Using dollars instead of deaths, the study concludes the heat-related costs incurred by one additional metric ton of carbon dioxide is $39, far larger than existing estimates of around $1.50, according to one popular model, says Mr. Greenstone, who helped developed estimates of the social cost of carbon under President Barack Obama.
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