Energy conservation policies may lead to higher mortality rates and other public health consequences, a new study shows.

Researchers estimated that about 7,710 people died prematurely in Japan each year during energy savings campaigns in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as the government sought to avert widespread power shortages. Most of the excess deaths occurred during the hot summer months as elderly residents avoided energy-intensive air conditioning.

The study did not condemn energy conservation policies, which can encompass everything from carpools to power-efficient kitchen appliances, but said policymakers should be aware of the potentially unforeseen trade-offs. The authors recommended governments accelerate the transition to clean energy as adaptation measures like cooling become more pronounced due to extreme weather driven by climate change.

“In the short run, the government should consider promoting and providing subsidies for energy-efficient heating and air conditioning and compliances that use less energy but provide the same level of utility,” co-author and University of Hong Kong associate professor Guojun He said in an email. “In the long run, using renewable energy is the ultimate solution: we don’t want to reduce energy consumption, we just need to consume cleaner energies.”

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