Richard G. Petty, MD

Global Warming May Be Fatal

There are several reasons for being concerned about climate change. One is that global warming may cause significant changes in patterns of disease.

An analysis published last month in Occupational and Environment Medicine found that global warming will cause more deaths in summer because of higher temperatures but these will not be offset by fewer deaths in milder winters

The Harvard researchers analyzed city-specific weather data related to the deaths of more than 6.5 million people in 50 US cities between 1989 and 2000.

They found that during two-day cold snaps there was a 1.59% increase in deaths because of the extreme temperatures. However, during similar periods of extremely hot weather death rates went up by 5.74%. An important point is that deaths did not rise as steeply when temperature fluctuations were less extreme.

Deaths from all causes are known to rise when temperatures go up while heart attacks and cardiac arrests are more likely when it is very cold. It was anticipated that global warming would increase deaths during hot temperatures but that this would be compensated for by fewer deaths in the winter.

The authors conclude:

“Our findings suggest that decreases in cold weather as a result of global warming are unlikely to result in decreases in cold-related mortality in the US. Heat-related mortality, in contrast, may increase, particularly if global warming is associated with increased variance of summer temperature.”

While all 50 US cities showed similar rises in deaths when temperatures plummeted, more deaths were seen during extreme temperature rises in cities with milder summers, less air conditioning and higher population density.

The authors suggest that this is because the use of central heating is widespread, whereas fewer people have air-conditioning in their homes.

They said:

“Central heating, which constitutes an important adaptive mechanism against cold, is almost universal in the US and this may explain why the US population seemed fully acclimatized to cold.

Making air conditioning universally available may reduce heat-related mortality but would, on the other hand, have a perverse effect by enhancing global warming through carbon dioxide emissions from electricity consumption.”

This advice is very sound.

There are two other points. First, it is sudden changes in temperature that cause the problems: we are quite god at acclimatizing to extremes. But if global warming brings with it more instability in the climate then we will likely see much more of a problem.

Second, and something that is often missed by the naysayers about global warming, is that most of us no longer have a luxury enjoyed by our ancestors: When they endured ice ages and periods of warming, they could simply migrate to a more congenial region.

Most of us are stuck where we are, and that’s the big problem when we think about the health consequences of environmental change.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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