Climate change has resulted in about 1,500 premature deaths in Sweden over the last 30 years, according to a new study.
The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that temperature increases between 1980 and 2009 caused 300 premature deaths in Stockholm, which researchers say translates into about 1,500 deaths across Sweden. The researchers found that, compared to climate data for 1900 to 1929, instances of extremely hot weather signifigantly increased over the 30-year period, causing deaths due to extreme heat to double. They also found that, even though winters as a whole were milder over the 30-year span, there were more instances of extreme cold events, which contributed to a slight increase of deaths over the winter.
Daniel Oudin Åström of Sweden’s Umeå University, who conducted the study, said the results show that people in Sweden haven’t appropriately adapted to increasing temperatures in the country.
“The study findings do not suggest any adaptation of the Swedes when it comes to confronting the increasingly warmer climate, such as increased use of air conditioning in elderly housing,” he said. “It is probably because there is relatively little knowledge in regards to increased temperatures and heat waves on health.”
Sweden, with its usually temperate climate, is not the only region facing early deaths from heat waves. In China, temperatures surpassing 105 degrees Fahrenheit killed dozens of people this summer. In 2003, the hottest summer on record in Europe was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 70,000 people. The heat in Europe created unbearable conditions for the young and elderly especially, and it coupled with the lack of wind made pollutants like car exhaust hang in the air, creating dangerous environments for those with asthma.
In the U.S., heat is the leading cause of weather-related death, responsible for the deaths of 155 people in 2012 alone. In 2006, a brutal heat wave that spread throughout most of the U.S. was responsible for or contributed to the deaths of 140 people in New York City alone, most of whom were older and lacked air conditioning. In May, a study predicted that by the 2020s, heat-related deaths in New York City could increase by 20 percent — by the 2080s, under some extreme scenarios, they could jump by 90 percent.
As the climate warms, heat waves are becoming longer, more frequent and more intense — since the 1950s, the duration of heat waves has increased worldwide. Some cities and states have taken action: New York state has a program that distributes air conditioners to low-income New Yorkers with serious medical conditions. But other states are struggling to provide for their most vulnerable residents as temperatures rise: in Texas, a program that helps low-income Texans pay their electricity bills will run out of money in 2016, which could force those Texans to go without air conditioning for the summer. And though air conditioners can be a lifesaver in a heatwave, they ultimately are bad news for the climate: during the 2013 heat wave, New York City broke its record for energy use in a single day, as residents with access to A.C. cranked it up to stay cool.