Warming to increase or decrease mortality rates

by William Yeatman on June 22, 2004

in Science

Two recent studies on the relationship between warming and mortality rates have reached contradictory conclusions.  According to a report by the Columbia University Earth Institute, rising temperatures will increase mortality rates.  However, a University of Virginia study points out that, Lives saved in conjunction with warm winters do tend to offset the additional deaths associated with warmer conditions in July and August. 

The Columbia University report by members of the New York Climate and Health Project examines linkages between climate change and problems such as ozone pollution and heat-related stresses and estimates that heat-related mortality in New York City could more than triple by the 2080s.  Researchers down-scaled global climate change models to make predictions for regional areas.  In contrast, the U. Va. study by Robert Davis and colleagues used temperature data in 28 major U.S. cities to find that temperature currently does not have a major influence on monthly mortality rates in US cities. 

The discrepancy between the two studies can likely be explained by the Columbia studys using global climate models to forecast regional impacts, a practice that is widely discredited in the scientific community.  For example, in an article about a conference on regional climate modeling in Lund, Sweden, Nature magazine, reported (Apr. 8) that, Participants admitted privately that the immediate benefits of regional climate modeling have been oversold in such exercises as the Clinton Administrations US regional climate assessment (the National Assessment on Climate Change).  The magazine also summarized participants beliefs that, Policy makers expectations of precise local regional projections need to be dampened down.  The use of real-world data rather than dubious extrapolations from models suggests that the U. Va. study is closer to the truth.  (Greenwire, June 22).

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