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September 21, 2021

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Killer carbon could cost 84m lives by 2100. Photo Shutterstock

A new study has coined another metric for estimating the damage inflicted by climate change – this time, looking at the ‘mortality cost of carbon’.

This metric calculates the number of lives placed at risk by our choices about the carbon we pump into the atmosphere. And the results are grim – if we don’t decrease our current emissions, the changing climate will cause 83 million avoidable deaths by 2100.

‘Based on the decisions made by individuals, businesses or governments, this [metric] tells you how many lives will be lost, or saved,’ says R Daniel Bressler, a PhD candidate at Columbia University in New York and lead author of the study. ‘It quantifies the mortality impact of those decisions. It brings this question down to a more personal, understandable level.’

The study, published in Nature Communications, takes into account more recent climate data and public health studies than previous metrics that calculated the ‘social cost’ of carbon.

The social cost is a complex and highly changeable dollar figure attached to each ton of emissions, based on the damage a changing climate will inflict. Such metrics influence global climate policies because they suggest how much we should be willing to invest to avoid future harm.

This new mortality-cost metric is based on temperature-related mortality – that is, deaths that are predicted to occur as a result of events such as heatwaves. The metric does not include deaths related to storms, floods, wars, infectious diseases or wars.

The result? It predicts that we will see 0.000226 excess deaths this century for every metric ton of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere beyond our current emission rate.

To state it more clearly: one person will die from a temperature-related event for every 4,434 metric tons of CO2 added into the atmosphere beyond the rate of emissions in 2020.

For context, 4,434 metric tons of carbon is equivalent to the annual emissions of about 1,000 cars, or around 600 Australian homes.

The metric assumes that we will continue along our current emissions pathway, which will see average global temperatures increase by 2.1°C by 2050, and 4.1°C by 2100.

In this scenario, climate change would cause 83 million excess deaths by 2100.

Bressler notes that while first-world countries are emitting the lion’s share of carbon, the majority of the deaths would be in the hottest and poorest regions: Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

The metric is based on the DICE model, which puts the 2020 social cost of carbon at $37 per metric ton. By adding in costs relating to mortality, Bessler says this figure should be $258 a metric ton.

The study highlights the urgency in immediately and dramatically reducing CO2 emissions – the calculations show that if we fully decarbonise by 2050, as many countries plan to do, excess deaths will drop to nine million in 2100, saving 74 million lives.

Bessler notes that even though individuals should try to reduce their own carbon emissions, the onus should not be on them.

‘Our emissions are very much a function of the technology and culture of the place that we live,’ he says.

More effective solutions may include ‘large-scale policies such as carbon pricing, cap and trade, and investments in low-carbon technologies and energy storage.’

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The photo is correct. This is the sunset. On the east coast over the ocean the sunrise is a pure yellow radiating out. Yellow means no pollution or dust in the air.
    The sunset is an orange to a crimson from all the particles of dust and the refraction of light off those particles.
    We have a photo of air pollution.

  2. An interesting but fundamentally flawed concept.
    As we have all seen many are dying, due to fires , floods and famine all exacerbated by our runaway glasshouse global warming .
    It is a fact, also that it is impossible to know which extra ton of co2 will trigger a ‘ tipping point ‘ , an irreversible cascade of destruction, nor can anybody know if these points have already been passed, and thus the idea of repercussions or indeed any survival until 2050, may-well be fanciful.
    Cheers, G”)

  3. To put it in terms such as these is hopefully more accessible to everyone, including the politicians with the power to take the emergency action we need from them! With the state of the Arctic melting, high rates of continued deforestation, the rate of coral bleaching and warming for our Great Barrier Reef and the pigheaded continuation of fossil fuels and biomass operations, we need people within all levels of Government who understand and are prepared to act on the unavoidable effects of this crisis, yet if we take drastic action this year, and become 100% renewable by 2025 we have a far greater chance of reducing the significant biodiversity and species loss that is currently accelerating and mitigating some of these dire effects. I get up every day knowing I have a child to answer to, whose future is at stake and I will be damned if I don’t do all I can to create positive change where Climate Change is concerned!

    • Well Kate, as a Councillor Candidate, do you suport Byron Council only going for NET zero emissions, ie continue polluting but offsetting the polution by creative carbon certificates from the proposed bioenergy plant that burns methane, and from the proposed solar farm (that reduces the end electricity purchaseers emissions but not Councils, and that Council does not even count its emissions from bulldozing forest for the bypass, or from its Green Waste curbside pick up, or the trucks 300 km round trip to dump the green waste in a Qld tip, or where the green waste is just dumped in other rubbish where it gases off CO2? And who, with the vote of Ndaie on your team, has efectively stopped the return of the mass transport train by giving a multi year licence for markets on the train tracks and a 1.5 metre high bisection of the line by the bypass?

  4. John Lazarus.. you are so concerned by what the sitting elected council may or may not be doing for the shire to minimize the councils carbon footprint in the shire ?
    Incidentally when was the last time you enjoyed a Hydrocarbon free day Mr Lazarus?

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