The future of ‘healthy places’ — Global Warming and Population Aging

The future of ‘healthy places’

Global Warming and Population Aging

This is a ‘futures’ story about Global Warming and Population Aging, two global mega trends, and their likely impact Across Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole. We took a small peak into the future and this is what we saw.

TL;DR — Our population is aging, the planet’s climate is warming, and we conclude that we are going to have an increasing problem with excess winter mortality in the future, i.e. more people dying from cold temperature stress. Curious? Then please reconsider that this really was a ‘TL;DR’ blog.

Two Global Mega Trends

The global climate is warming, and our population is aging. These are rock solid trends that will play a part in shaping our future. So we’ve had a look at what our temperature related future ‘excess mortality’ might look like in a Dorset in 2048 and we compare it to what we are seeing in 2018.

Local changes in our climate we estimated by using the UK Meteorological Office climate projections for a Medium CO2 scenario. And then using their Weather Generator tool, we simulated 10 years of weather for both the climate of 2018 and of 2048. The best guess is that our summers will be warmer and our winters milder, which sounds good to me from a purely selfish point of view.

However, our population is aging and has been for some time. We’ve had a look at the ONS 2014 projections (and linearly extrapolated them another decade), the number of people 70+ years of age is going to increase from 145,000 in 2018 to about 245,000 in 2048. This will have many impacts on our community including the number of people likely to require higher levels of health and social care (providing we aren’t all healthier and more self-sufficient in the future — that’s another story those that we’ll present in a future blog!).

Thermal Stress

We looked at the impact of ‘thermal stress’ on our older population in a predicted warmer future climate.

“Wait a minute”, I can hear you say. “The impacts of climate warming (change) on health is more complex than this isn’t it?” Absolutely, very complex, but we were just having a first, and very limited look at one of the more obvious issues, i.e. in a warmer world we see older people suffering more heat related stress.

It turned out that this wasn’t so obvious after all. Go figure. Thermal stress.

When air temperature rises above a certain point, it becomes a physiological stressor. It makes your body work harder trying to stay cool. This is known as heat stress. However, this also applies to colder temperatures, and when the temperature drops below a certain level your body works a bit harder to stay warm. this is known as cold stress.

One of the team at Public Health Dorset calculated, based on the work of Hajat et al. 2014, that for our area these pivotal thermal stress points are 17.6 C° above which residents will experience heat stress and below 12.1 C°, when residents will begin to experience cold stress.

Ok, we’re all stressed. So what?

Well, for one, Hajat et al 2014, found that for England, every degree about the heat stress point and every degree below the cold stress point, mortality increased by 2%. This is what they mean by excess mortality. We applied this to local data.

Excess Mortality

A horrible term, ‘excess mortality’ — when do we have just enough death?

Nonetheless, this epidemiological term is often used to describe deaths that occur due to one single factor, for example ‘excess mortality due to cold temperatures’. In other words, deaths that we wouldn’t have experienced, as a population, if the temperature had exceeded the stress threshold for cold stress.

Excess mortality from heat and cold stress across the South West is currently approximately 4 and 64/100,000, respectively.

So, what happens when you combine two mega trends, a knowledge of temperature stress on human physiology with contemporary local rates of excess mortality?

You can gaze into the future and develop a better feel for the magnitude of the challenges.

So, yeah, we looked at the future and expected to make an estimate of excess mortality due to heat stress, we are moving into a warmer future remember, to see what kind of beast we were facing.

In our region, Aging Population Trumps Warming Climate — we will have more cold deaths than we now have, as a result. Heat stress deaths will increase, but cold stress will be an even bigger problem than it is now!

Is this a definitive prediction then? Yeah right, pull the other one. We built a model (below) at InsightMaker to begin developing a shared understanding about this future, maybe even learn as an organisation.

Have a play, let me know what you think.

This futures blog

This blog is about ‘healthy places’ and what our possible ‘futures’ could be given current trends and momentum within society, the economic and political systems, and the environment. I use the plural ‘futures’ intentionally, because our future is not pre-determined (I hope), we can and should work towards the future we want. This blog aims to generate discussion (maybe even some debate) around ‘Healthy places futures’ in the hope that if we all put our minds to it, a collective vision may emerge, which would inform any strategy we might put in place to get us to our preferred future. We’ll be leaning on heavily on futuring tools found on our Shaping Tomorrow hosted website:  phd.shapingtomorrow.com.

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed (William Gibson 1993).

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