by Guojun He and Takanao Tanaka, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics

Decades of research show the vast consequences of climate change, such as the threat to our freshwater supply, endangerment to coastal areas, and reducing agricultural and food production. Excess mortality caused by extreme weather is considered to be one of the most devastating. For example, it is estimated that the mortality cost alone could account for about 70 percent of the total damages in the U.S. by the end of the 21st century.

Two strategies have been developed to reduce and manage these growing risks. First, countries aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which includes reducing energy consumption. Second, countries are working to adapt to climate change, which includes mitigating exposure to extreme weather such as through air conditioning. But adaptation measures—like air conditioning—requires the use of more energy. And, as temperatures become more extreme, more energy will be needed to adapt.

The Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 offers a case study to investigate the role of energy use in protecting people’s health. Following the nuclear accident in 2011, Japan gradually shut down all of its nuclear power plants, causing a countrywide power shortage. In response, the government launched large-scale energy-saving campaigns to reduce electricity consumption. For example, energy-saving targets were set that required different regions to reduce summer electricity usage by as much as 15 percent. The government paid particular attention to reducing the usage of air conditioning because it is the largest contributor to residential electricity consumption in Japan.

The researchers explored the impact of these energy-saving campaigns. Did people take action to reduce consumption in their own lives? And, what impact did reducing consumption have on mortality