Climate Change Update: Yeah, We’re All Gonna Die

Climate Change Update: Yeah, We’re All Gonna Die

Well, a few of us, anyway.

If we don’t address climate change, deaths caused by air pollution are expected to increase by about 60,000 globally by 2030, and 260,000 by 2100, according to a new study combining global climate models — including data from Australia.

Warmer temperatures speed up the creation of air pollutants, the researchers say, and areas expected to get drier may also have higher air pollution due to increased fires and windblown dust. Other health-related impacts expected from climate change include increases in heat stress, severe storms, spread of infectious diseases, and less access to clean water.

The study adds to growing evidence that the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative. It is also the most comprehensive study yet on how climate change will effect health via air pollution, since it makes use of results from several of the world’s top climate change modeling groups.

“As climate change affects air pollutant concentrations, it can have a significant impact on health worldwide, adding to the millions of people who die from air pollution each year,” said Jason West, who led the research at UNC-Chapel Hill with former graduate student and first author Raquel Silva.

Hotter temperatures speed up the chemical reactions that create air pollutants like ozone and fine particulate matter, which impact public health. Locations that get drier may also have worse air pollution because of less removal by rain, and increased fires and windblown dust. As trees respond to higher temperatures, they will also emit more organic pollutants.

West and Silva used an ensemble of several global climate models to determine the number of premature deaths that would occur due to ozone and particulate matter in 2030 and 2100. For each model, the team assessed the projected changes in ground-level air pollution that could be attributed to future climate change. They then overlaid these changes spatially on the global population, accounting for both population growth and expected changes in susceptibility to air pollution.

West and Silva found that climate change is expected to increase air pollution-related deaths globally and in all world regions except for Africa. Specifically, five out of eight models predicted there will be more premature deaths in 2030, and seven of nine models in 2100.