Climate change could result in more car crashes and suicides - study

Warning: This story deals with suicide. 

Climate change might not just kill people through heat waves and stronger storms - it could result in more suicides, assaults, car crashes and drownings, new research has found.

Scientists in the US looked at data from 1980 to 2017 on temperatures and injury deaths, and found "deaths due to drowning and transport injuries, and, to a lesser extent, assault and suicide, increased in unusually warm months, offset by a modest decrease in falls".

If the world manages to keep warming to 1.5C - as the Paris Agreement aims to - that would still result in an extra 1600 deaths every month in the US alone, they say. That rises to 2135 at warming of 2C.

Most of the extra dead - 84 percent - would be men, and 92 percent of them aged between 15 and 64.

"It has been argued that other health effects associated with rising temperatures may, to some extent, be balanced by gains that result from less cold weather," an accompanying editorial written by Shanthi Ameratunga  and Alistair Woodward of the University of Auckland's School of Population Health, and published in journal Nature Medicine, said.

"However, the adverse effects on injury were offset only by a relatively modest reduction in falls in warmer months, conceivably due to lower risks of slipping on icy surfaces."

As for what's behind the increase in deaths, the study authors propose:

  • more swimming in natural water
  • deterioration in driving performance
  • increased alcohol consumption
  • more time outdoors
  • greater levels of interpersonal interactions, resulting in confrontations and conflicts
  • and to higher levels of emotional distress among young people.

A poll in 2018 found Millennials are suffering from 'eco-anxiety', with many more of them concerned about the state of the planet than older generations.

Last year, School Strike 4 Climate New Zealand organiser Sophie Handford told Newshub she finds herself randomly bursting into tears and struggling with daily tasks, she's so worried about the future.

"If I sit down and watch a Netflix show or go for a run, I just feel like well maybe if I had spent that hour doing something important like climate strike organising then we might have a better chance of survival for those generations to come."

The world has warmed more than 1C since the Industrial Revolution, when fossil fuels started being burned in large amounts. Scientists have warned if emissions aren't curbed soon, the world faces possibly devastating effects, such as droughts, stronger storms and unstoppable wildfires, such as those burning in Australia this summer.

"A combination of public health interventions that broadly target injuries in these groups - for example, targeted messaging for younger males on the risks of transport injury and drowning - and those that trigger in relation to forecast high-temperature periods - for example, additional targeted blood alcohol level checks - should be a public health priority," the researchers conclude.

The study, like the editorial, was published in Nature Medicine on Tuesday.

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