Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Demographics of Heat Death

I found the interesting data above in a US Center for Disease Control report.  It shows the disposition of deaths in the United States from 1999-2003 in which heat was either the primary cause, or a contributing cause (as listed on the death certificate).  During this five year period there were 3442 deaths in this category of which 2239 were primarily caused by heat, and the balance had heat as a contributing factor (of that latter category, in two-thirds of cases, the primary cause was heart disease).

I speculate that the male/female pattern is explained as follows - men and women are roughly equally vulnerable to heat stress (as indicated by the similar death levels in the retired population), but working-age men are more likely to be working outside in the heat (in industries like construction or agriculture) exposing them to higher risk of heat death.

Of course, the absolute levels of death are small here in a population of 300 million or so.  As a near-term public health issue in developed countries, it would be very hard to spin climate change as the highest priority.  Rather, the issues arise because the lags in the system mean that far more climate change is committed to than has actually occurred, and because developed countries are not insulated from the much greater distress likely in developing countries (rather, channels like immigration, terrorism, and resource extraction connect them - not to mention compassion, to the extent we have any).

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