How much will it cost to prevent climate heat deaths?

For the past In recent years, climate economists have used a concept called the “social cost of carbon” to measure the dollar value of the damage inflicted by adding each tonne of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In February, the White House announced that government officials would examine the social cost of carbon in the development of new environmental regulations.

Now a researcher has come up with a mortality the cost of carbon, which encompasses the toll of climate-related heat deaths. The new article, published today in the journal Nature Communication, estimates that the release of 4,434 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere should be prevented to save a life. This amount is equivalent to the lifetime carbon emissions produced by 3.5 Americans.

Daniel Bressler, a graduate student in sustainability at Columbia University and author of the study, estimates that 74 million lives would be saved globally from heat-related deaths if global economies could “decarbonize”. that is, eliminate carbon emissions, by 2050. “There are a significant number of lives that can be saved by reducing emissions, at the individual level, at the company level, at the nationally and globally, ”says Bressler.

Bressler’s study focuses on the problem of climate focused extreme heat, which can lead to heat stroke, dehydration, and respiratory and organ failure, especially in populations at risk such as the elderly. To come up with this model, Bressler says he started with an existing model for the social cost of carbon developed by Yale University economist William Nordhaus, who originally set the figure at $ 37 per tonne. . Then he updated it with the results of new studies that describe how climate change affects public health and increases the number of excessive heat deaths. The model assumes a scenario in which industrial emissions continue to increase until 2050 before stabilizing for the rest of the century.

After comparing the Nordhaus model with the new climate information, Bressler says, “What I concluded is that less than 5% of the model’s initial damage was from mortality, and I also concluded that it was not updated according to the latest scientific advances. “This summer alone, strong heat waves sparked forest fires in the northern hemisphere, while a ‘heat dome’ that settled in the Pacific Northwest at the end of June was responsible for more than 100 deaths in Washington and Oregon, and nearly 500 deaths in British Columbia.

Bressler’s paper revises the social cost of carbon from $ 37 per tonne, and beyond the White House’s current value of $ 51, to a whopping $ 258 per metric tonne. This figure represents all the societal damages resulting from the emission of each tonne of carbon, such as agricultural losses, lost productivity caused by storms, damage caused by sea level rise and money spent. to clean up climate-related flooding. the cost of lives lost to excessive heat.

Many people die each summer from lack of air conditioning or from pre-existing conditions, so it has been difficult to understand the role of climate change in heat-related deaths. But now there is a growing body of evidence that facilitates this calculation. In March, researchers at the UK’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published a study in the journal Nature Climate Change who calculated that climate change is responsible for an average of 37% of all heat-related deaths worldwide. They analyzed figures from 43 countries to estimate the mortality burdens associated with additional heat exposure resulting from human-induced warming between 1991 and 2018.

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