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As it got hotter in Spain, less people died. Thank air conditioning and electricity.

Cheap energy might save more lives than expensive “climate-changey” energy?

Researchers looked at 47 major cities in Spain, from 1980 to 2015 and checked 554,491 deaths. Even though temperatures have risen, less people are dying of heat in Spain. Apparently human ingenuity, energy and air conditioners were more than able to keep up with climate change. The population is older but less vulnerable to heat now than it was forty years ago.

Air conditioners rose from 5% of the population to 35% during the study period.

Oh the dilemma — to save lives, should we build more windmills to try to change the global climate or aim to get 100% of households access to an air conditioner?

Welcome to the dire threat of climate change:

Deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory causes, heat, mortality, graph, Spain.

The relative risk of death fell as temperatures rose (According to the model used). See the caption below.

From the Discussion in the paper:

The temporal evolution of heat-related mortality risks here found is, in general, consistent with those reported by previous studies in some other countries [1215], which provide evidence for a decrease in vulnerability to climate warming despite the ageing of societies. For example, in Spain, the proportion of people aged over 64 years increased from 11.6% to 15.0% in men and from 15.9% to 19.6% in women between 1991 and 2011 [40]. The general downward trend in mortality risks has been attributed by some investigators to socioeconomic development and structural transformations, such as improvements in housing and healthcare services [1215], or even to specific public health interventions [1618]. The large socioeconomic advances that occurred in Spain during the last decades might have also contributed to this response, thus reducing the effect of mortality risks over time. For example, the gross domestic product (from €8,798 per capita in 1991 to €22,813 in 2009), the life expectancy at birth (from 77.08 years to 81.58), the expenditure in healthcare (from €605 per capita to €2,182) and social protection (from €1,845 per capita to €5,746), and the number of doctors (from 3,930 per million inhabitants to 4,760 per million inhabitants) have all largely increased in Spain [41]. In addition, the use of air conditioning, which has been postulated as a major contributor to the reduction in heat-related mortality in the United States [13], has also experienced a strong increase in Spanish households within the analysed period (from 5.3% to 35.5%) [42].

 The researchers are not sure if this trend will continue as the world warms. But if people can afford to run their air conditioners — why not?


Fig 4. Temporal evolution of mortality RR at the 99th temperature percentile from the model with interaction (time-varying DLNM).

In the left column panels, RR estimates correspond to the 99th temperature percentile of the summer time series for the whole study period, while in the right column graphs, they correspond to the 99th temperature percentile of the summer days of the given year (i.e., the 99th percentile of the 122 daily summer values of the year, computed separately for each year). The shaded areas represent the 95% empirical confidence interval. DLNM, distributed lag nonlinear model; RR, relative risk.


h/t GWPF


Achebak H, Devolder D, Ballester J (2018) Heat-related mortality trends under recent climate warming in Spain: A 36-year observational study. PLoS Med 15(7): e1002617.

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