Skip to comments.Hotter weather, fewer deaths
Posted on 10/31/2007 7:29:04 AM PDT by Clive
What will happen over the coming century, with temperatures rising? The standard story is that our world will become a very unpleasant one. Famously, the chief scientific advisor to the British government, Sir David King, even envisions that an ice-free "Antarctica is likely to be the world's only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked."
Nearly all discussions of the future impacts of global warming use the 2003 heat wave in Europe as their prime example. In Al Gore's words: "We have already begun to see the kind of heat waves that scientists say will become much more common if global warming is not addressed. In the summer of 2003 Europe was hit by a massive heat wave that killed 35,000 people."
Yet while we will see more and hotter heat waves, talking only about heat waves means we leave out something even more important.
The International Panel on Climate Change finds that the trends we have seen over the 20th century will continue, with temperatures increasing more over land, more in the winter and especially in the high northern latitudes: Siberia, Canada and the Arctic. In the wintertime, temperatures might increase 9F in Siberia compared to perhaps 5F in Africa. There will be an increase in heat waves and a decrease in cold spells.
Models show that heat events we now see every 20 years will become much more frequent. By the end of the century, we will have such events happening every three years. This confirms the prospect that we could be seeing many more heat deaths -- a tragedy that will indeed be caused by global warming.
But cold spells will decrease just as much as heat waves increase. In areas where there is one cold spell every three years, by the end of the century such spells will happen only once every 20 years. This means fewer deaths from cold, something we rarely hear about. It might seem callous to weigh lives saved versus those lost, but if our goal is to improve the lot of humanity, then it's important to know just how many more heat deaths we can expect compared to how many fewer cold deaths.
For almost every location in the world, there is an "optimal" temperature at which deaths are the lowest. On either side of this temperature -- both when it gets colder and warmer -- death rates increase. However, what the optimal temperature is is a different issue. If you live in Helsinki, your optimal temperature is about 59F, whereas in Athens you do best at 75F. The important point to notice is that the best temperature is typically very similar to the average summer temperature. Thus, the actual temperature will only rarely go above the optimal temperature, but very often it will be below. In Helsinki, the optimal temperature is typically exceeded only 18 days per year, whereas it is below that temperature a full 312 days. Research shows that although 298 extra people die each year from it being too hot in Helsinki, some 1,655 people die from it being too cold.
It may not be so surprising that cold kills in Finland, but the same holds true in Athens. Even though absolute temperatures of course are much higher in Athens than in Helsinki, temperatures still run higher than the optimum one only 63 days per year, whereas 251 days are below it. Again, the death toll from excess heat in Athens is 1,376 people each year, whereas the death toll from excess cold is 7,852.
This trail of statistics leads us to conclude that, within reasonable limits, global warming might actually result in lower death rates.
The heat wave in Europe in early August 2003 was exceptional in many ways. It was a catastrophe of heartbreaking proportions. With more than 3,500 dead in Paris alone, France suffered nearly 15,000 fatalities from the heat wave. Another 7,000 died in Germany, 8,000 in Spain and Italy and 2,000 in the United Kingdom: The total death toll ran to more than 35,000.
The green group Earth Policy Institute, which first totalled the deaths, tells us that as "awareness of the scale of this tragedy spreads, it is likely to generate pressure to reduce carbon emissions. For many of the millions who suffered through these record heat waves and the relatives of the tens of thousands who died, cutting carbon emissions is becoming a pressing personal issue."
Such reports fuelled the public perception that the heat wave became a sure indicator of global warming. But group wisdom can occasionally be wrong. A recent academic paper has checked this theory and concluded that although the circumstances were unusual, equal or more unusual warm anomalies have occurred regularly since 1979.
Moreover, while 35,000 dead is a terrifyingly large number, all deaths should in principle be treated with equal concern. Yet this is not happening. When 2,000 people died from heat in the United Kingdom, it produced a public outcry that is still heard. However, the BBC recently ran a very quiet story telling us that deaths caused by cold weather in England and Wales for the past years have hovered around 25,000 each winter, casually adding that the winters of 1998-2000 saw about 47,000 cold deaths each year.
It is remarkable that a single heat-death episode of 35,000 from many countries can get everyone up in arms whereas cold deaths of 25,000 to 50,000 a year in just a single country pass almost unnoticed.
In Europe as a whole, about 200,000 people die from excess heat each year. However, about 1.5 million Europeans die annually from excess cold. That is more than seven times the total number of heat deaths. Just in the past decade, Europe has lost about 15 million people to the cold, more than 400 times the iconic heat deaths from 2003. That we so easily neglect these deaths and so easily embrace those caused by global warming tells us of a breakdown in our sense of proportion.
How will heat and cold deaths change over the coming century? Let us for the moment assume-- very unrealistically -- that we will not adapt at all to the future heat. Still, the biggest cold and heat study from Europe concludes that for an increase of 3.6F, "our data suggest that any increases in mortality due to increased temperatures would be outweighed by much larger short-term declines in cold-related mortalities." For Britain, it is estimated that a 3.6F increase will mean 2,000 more heat deaths but 20,000 fewer cold deaths. Indeed, a paper trying to incorporate all studies on this issue and apply them to a broad variety of settings both developed and developing around the world found that "global warming may cause a decrease in mortality rates, especially of cardiovascular diseases."
- Excerpted from Cool it: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming by Bjorn Lomborg. Copyright (c) 2007 by Bjorn Lomborg. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Climate Scientist Bjorn Lomborg,
“The enormously expensive Kyoto recommendations
would save 0.06 polar bears per year at most.
But 49 bears from the same population are getting shot every year,
and this we can easily do something about.”
I’m puzzled by how all these people are dying of cold, though. Are they all homeless?
Well, that settles it for me. I'm moving there now, before it gets too crowded.
What is scary is someone is stupid enough to actually believe that, and what is even scarier, our school system is teaching millions of our children that crap.
They’re mostly 80 years old and catching pneumonia.
To say that they’re “dying” of cold - or heat for the hot years - is over simplification. They’re dying because they’re 80 years old and their bodies are giving out. If it wasn’t flu this winter, it’d be heart disease the following fall.
Traditionaly, come Oct; means minus 20, minus 30 here in Interior Alaska. It’s plus 33 as I speak and it’s great. Probably just a few week warm spell, which is nice. I’m sure it’ll be minus 60 in february as usual; but I’m happy to take this nice wood cuitting weather while it lasts.
Someone needs to start thinking .... mainly global warming scientists.
Look at the map ... where's the most land again??? In the COLD parts of the world. Russia, cold as crap. Canada ... again .. cold as crap.
If we want living space for the world we should be cranking out CO2 like there is no tomorrow.
don`t forget ice, driving on it is a white knuckle nightmare which leads to highway fatalities. walking on it leads to slips and falls for both young and old.
‘When I was in College the Nazi Profs that taught us reported we were entering into a new ice age. Long Island would be under a half mile of ice in a few decades. Media stories abounded.’
Yep. And you know what happens when you point this out, complete with links to news articles from the late 1960’s, and throughout the 1970’s?
They claim thats ‘the hoax’ even though Time Magazine had ‘The coming Ice Age’ on its cover in April of 1975. They deny that the first several ‘Earth Day’s’ were centered on Global COOLING.
You just shake your head.
I enjoy mr Lomborg’s point of view. He is not a GW Skeptic, like most here on FR are, however, he is level headed about it. To him, the earth Is warming, and some of this warming is probably attributable to man, but the warming itself is nothing to get so delusional about.
2007 was the third quietest hurricane season. BWAHAHAHA
“if global warming remains unchecked” - how does one check global warming?
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