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August 17, 2020

Business as usual

Opinion

August 17, 2020

Is it already too late to stop global warming? That question is not asked with thoughts of throwing up hands in despair and giving up. Rather, that question must be asked in the context of mitigating future damage to whatever degree might yet be possible.

The context here is that the carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases thrown into the atmosphere don’t magically disappear but will have effects that will persist for centuries. A ton saved today is a ton saved tomorrow.

There are the mass disruptions that humanity will almost certainly see from dramatic rises in sea levels and the disruptions to agricultural patterns and sea life. Then there is the human health impact. In what its authors say is the most detailed attempt yet undertaken to quantify what the future cost of global warming will be in terms of mortality, a new scientific paper predicts the future will see significant increases in deaths.

Sixteen researchers, collaborating on a National Bureau of Economic Research paper titled 'Valuing the Global Mortality Consequences of Climate Change Accounting for Adaptation Costs and Benefits', estimate that under “business as usual” – that is, Earth’s current trend of steadily increasing greenhouse gas emissions continues – there would be 85 extra deaths per 100,000 people annually by the end of the 21st century. To put that statistic in perspective, all the world’s cancers currently are responsible for 125 deaths per 100,000 people, according to World Health Organization data. Or to be put it another way, the 85 extra deaths represent a toll comparable to the global total of deaths from infectious diseases in 2018.

As would be expected, the increased deaths will be disproportionately suffered in the Global South. Although the financial cost of mitigation is predicted to be higher in the advanced capitalist countries than elsewhere, the easing of cold weather in winter months might actually cause death rates to decline in high-latitude, high-income locations. The authors put that possibility in stark terms with this comparison:

“The costs of climate change induced mortality risks are distributed unevenly around the world. Despite the gains from adaptation … there are large increases in mortality risk in the global south. For example, in Accra, Ghana, climate change is predicted to cause damages equivalent to approximately 160 additional deaths per 100,000 annually under [the business as usual scenario] in 2100.

"In contrast, there are gains in many impact regions in the global north, including in Oslo, Norway, where we predict that the equivalent of approximately 230 lives per 100,000 are saved annually. These changes are equal to an 18% increase in Accra’s annual mortality rate and a 28 percent decline in Oslo’s.”

Excerpted from: 'Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming'.

Counterpunch.org