Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Deaths from cold dwarf those from extreme heat, but who would know?

Headlines across the world tell us that hundreds of people have died after the recent heat waves in Canada and the northwestern U.S. The stories invariably blame climate change and admonish us to tackle it urgently. What they mostly reveal, however, is how one-sided, alarmist reporting leaves us badly informed, writes Bjorn Lomborg in the Financial Post. The stories are based on a kernel of truth. Global warming is a real problem, and rising temperatures will make heat waves more likely. But the reporting turns a blind eye to the full story and also asks us to focus on the least effective ways to help. Heat deaths are actually a bigger problem than news reports suggest. Most heat deaths happen without a news crew to document them. Studies show that heat kills about 2,500 people every year in the U.S. and Canada. What is almost entirely ignored by politicians and media, however, is that rising temperatures also have the effect of reducing cold waves and cold deaths. But because they don’t fit the current climate narrative, deaths from cold are rarely reported. Each year, more than 100,000 people die from cold in the U.S. and 13,000 in Canada — which is more than 40 cold deaths for every heat death. This is also the case for warmer countries including Spain, Brazil, and even in India, where cold deaths outnumber heat deaths by seven to one. Globally, every year about 300,000 deaths are caused by heat, whereas almost 1.7 million people die of cold.


A widely reported recent study found that higher temperatures are now responsible for about 100,000 of those heat deaths. But the study’s authors ignored cold deaths. A landmark study in Lancet shows that across every region climate change has brought a greater reduction in cold deaths over the past few decades than it has caused additional heat deaths. On average, it has avoided upwards of twice as many deaths, resulting in perhaps 200,000 fewer cold deaths each year. Heat deaths are generally declining in countries with good data, because heat deaths can be effectively tackled with more widely available air conditioning, heat alerts, public pools, air-conditioned malls, and by encouraging people to use fans and drink plenty of water. This is abundantly clear for the U.S., where hot days have increased since 1960, and have come to affect a much larger population. Yet the number of U.S. heat deaths has halved. The rest of the world needs access to the same simple technologies to drastically reduce heat deaths. If climate policy is to work, it has to drive up the price of energy in order to reduce consumption. A climate policy that drives gas prices back up will mean fewer people will be able to afford to adequately heat their homes and as a consequence the death rate will go back up. Climate change is a real problem that affects many other things than heat and cold. We need to tackle it effectively through innovation to make green energy cheap enough that everyone will want to switch.

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