If the frigid weather over the holidays showed us anything, it’s that our bodies are not designed to survive the cold.
We do better in the heat. We have sweat glands distributed over our entire bodies. We have long legs and arms that dissipate heat. Humans can run, jog, and walk longer in the heat than any other animal.
Cold weather, however, kills us. Cold weather not only leads to more respiratory illnesses but also can increase blood pressure and lead to organ failure.
According to USA Today, “Cold weather is 20 times as deadly as hot weather ….” The newspaper reported that a study “ … published in the British journal The Lancet — analyzed data on more than 74 million deaths in 13 countries between 1985 and 2012. Of those, 5.4 million deaths were related to cold, while 311,000 were related to heat.”
In the U.S., a 2015 study “from the National Center for Health Statistics … found that cold kills more than twice as many Americans as heat.”
Global warming (19 of the 20 hottest years worldwide in the last 100 years occurred after 2000) will increase heat-related deaths but will decrease deaths caused by cold weather. And since cold kills more humans than does heat, the lives saved by having fewer cold-related deaths will be much larger than the lives lost by having more heat-related death.
The Wall Street Journal estimated that in the first two decades of this century, higher temperatures resulted in 116,000 more heat-related deaths and 283,000 fewer cold-related deaths worldwide for a net gain of 167,000 lives.
Dare we ask if there might be some benefits to global warming?
According to NOAA: “Yes, there will probably be some short-term and long-term benefits from global warming. For example, the flip side of increased mortality from heat waves may be decreased mortality from cold waves. In the short term, farmers in some regions may benefit from the earlier onset of spring and from a longer warm season that is suitable for growing crops. Also, studies show that, up to a certain point, crops and other plants grow better in the presence of higher carbon dioxide levels and seem to be more drought-tolerant. … In the long term, shipping commerce will benefit from the opening of the Northwest Passage for longer periods of the year due to the loss of Arctic sea ice.”
But NOAA points out that these global warming benefits will be eroded by a flood of negative effects: Better growing crops means that weeds, insects, and invasive species will also thrive, and the benefits to crops of increased carbon dioxide will be negated by “the negative impacts of heat stress and drought.”
NOAA’s final verdict: “However, in the long run, if a ‘business as usual’ approach to emitting heat-trapping gases is maintained at the present rate, or faster, then the negative costs and impacts of global warming are very likely to far outweigh the benefits over the course of this century, with increased potential for catastrophic impacts from more extreme events.”
The writer is a copy editor for the Eastern Shore Post. He is the author of 12 novels, including “The Crying Heart Tattoo,” which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Accomack County.