A new study found that the lifetime carbon emissions of just 3.5 Americans is enough to result in one additional heat-related death between 2020 and 2100.
The peer-reviewed paper, published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications, was written by R. Daniel Bressler, a Ph.D candidate at Columbia University. Bressler’s study examines emissions from individuals, coal-fired power plants and more in causing deaths worldwide from rising temperatures.
Bressler’s paper also found that if we were to remove all of the emissions from a coal-fired power plant for just one year and "replace that with a zero-emissions alternative," that could save as many as 904 lives from heat-related deaths over the next 80 years.
“There are a significant number of lives that can be saved by reducing emissions, both at small scales and large scales,” Bressler told USA TODAY. “I quantify that in this paper.”
The study notes that it would take the lifetime emissions of 146.2 Nigerians and 12.8 “average world people” to produce the emissions necessary to kill at least one person from heat by 2100.
The paper takes into account only deaths caused by rising temperatures, not fatalities resulting from other consequences of climate change, such as infectious diseases, diminished food supplies and flooding.
“I'm only accounting for temperature-related mortality,” Bressler said. “So that is essentially just the net effect of having more hot days and fewer cold days.
“If you were to add in those other impacts, you'd probably expect this number to go up further. But how much it goes up further remains to be seen.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on drought-stricken state: Climate change impacts wildfire battle
'We are so unprepared': Extreme heat fueled by climate change putting farmworkers' lives on the line
Bressler’s findings are based on a model known as the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model, or DICE. The widely used model, created by Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus, creates a "social cost of carbon" using economic and climate-related factors.
Bressler told USA TODAY that his study adapted the model to recent scientific literature and how “climate change is projected to affect society.”
He explained that, using the model, a scenario that leads to 4 degrees of warming worldwide by the end of the century would cause 83 million excess deaths. But if world leaders were able to reach full decarbonization by 2050, that could mean 9 million excess deaths by the end of the century – saving 74 million lives.
“What I found is that the optimal climate policy now involves large immediate emissions reductions and then full decarbonization by 2050,” Bressler said.
Bressler noted that there is “uncertainty” around pinpointing mortality projections, although his work includes higher and lower estimates.
President Joe Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030 and put Americans on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
The White House’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels is nearly double the targets set by the Obama administration in 2015.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American carbon footprint of 3.5 people can cause heat-related death