300,000+ per annum dead due to Climate Change?

The claim by the Global Humanitarian Forum that over 300,000 people per year is unsubstantiated and most likely false. It is based on a selective reading of data and should be challenged. In particular, the assumption that 40% of the increase in disasters is climate change related and the implication is that we should severely curtail greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate it.

The case studies from the full report (here) illustrate why.

-         Hurricane Katrina (p.21). Latest evidence is that there is most likely a link between global warming and hurricanes, but the nature is unknown. It may be temporary whilst temperatures rise. The deaths and much of the economic destruction in Hurricane Katrina was a result of poorly-maintained levees breaking. The human costs (lives and $) was due to a powerful hurricane hitting land on a major population centre. The probability of any one hurricane doing this is very low.

-         2003 European heat wave — 35,000 deaths (p.33).  Unique events cannot be easily adapted to. Contingency plans have been put in place, but in almost 6 summers since there has been no repeat. However, higher temperatures mean than winters are milder. In the UK alone there are thousands of deaths amongst the elderly with elderly every time due to extremes of cold. So the net impact of global warming (even with more extreme conditions) could be a reduction in climate-related deaths.

-         Ethiopian drought and flooding (p.32). The report quite rightly points out that many of the population is malnourished, there is severe water shortages and there are frequent droughts. However, they fail to point out how this is increasing as global temperatures rise. If my memory serves correctly, there has been no famine matching that of 1984, despite the population having increased. There was also a large famine in 1973. Unless there are strong counter-arguments to the contrary, any climate change may have had a positive impact. The counter-arguments are that a) There has been economic growth in the last 25 years. Although still one of the poorest countries on earth, there is sufficient wealth around to cope with famines. b) Aid agencies have structures and plans in place to avert potential disasters. c) There is no longer a pro-Marxist government pushing through collectivization of agriculture and placing obstacles in the way of relief efforts.

The implication from my reading of these examples is that even if they are wholey due to climate change, the way to mitigate them is a targeted response at the local level. In the 3 cases above, it is unlikely that similar scale weather events would cause similar scale disasters, as there are now contingency plans in place. Further the evidence of earthquakes is that the most deaths occur in the poorer parts of the world. A similar-sized earthquake to that of China in 2008 or Bam, Iran in 2003 replicated in California or Japan would not cause the same number of deaths because of better buildings. and better emergancy services. And these are as a consequence of much greater wealth.

In terms of deaths through hunger, the greatest famines in the 20th century were due to authoritarian governments and wars. The suffering under various communist regimes trying to instill their various brands of utopianism should be a cautionary tale to trying to regulate the world economy. This was based on the certainty that theirs was the perfect system, implementation was not an issue, and those who disagreed were deluded, or in the pay of the capitalist class.

The vast reduction in the proportion of the world’s population suffering hunger is partly due to the green revolution (higher-yielding crops and better types of agriculture of the 1950s & 60s – not the organic fad of the rich countries) but mostly due to sustained economic growth promoted by globalization. The growing countries (China & India, along with others) have turned their backs on state control and embraced globalization and let enterprise flourish. A consequence of that growth has been a massive rise in greenhouse gases. A government managed reduction carries the very great risk that the growth will be reversed, with a consequent increase in human suffering far greater than 315,000 live per year. For these reasons, analysis of the impact of climate change need to be better justified before they form the basis of policy decisions.

Other Sources

  1. The Economist made similar comments when the report came out, commenting that the 40% of the increase in disasters is climate change related is arbitrary and also that money thrown at the problem will not necessarily provide answers. They do not point out the risks to the global economy, nor the local solutions to mitigate the impact rather than global reductions in greenhouse gases.
  2. Christopher Booker in the Telegraph said “Then there was the 103-page report launched by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, on behalf of something called the Global Humanitarian Forum, claiming, without a shred of hard evidence, that global warming is already “killing 300,000 people a year”. But Mr Annan himself had to admit that this report, drawn up by a firm of consultants, was not “a scientific study” but was “the most plausible account of the current impact of climate change”. He contrasts this with recent evidence that the planet has not warmed, and the recent cold winter.
  3. Robert Pielke Jr (c/f wattsupwiththat) gives a more scientific (and thorough) debunking of the basis of the report, concluding “This report is an embarrassment to the GHF and to those who have put their names on it as representing a scientifically robust analysis. It is not even close.” Link broken (02/13) , but referred to by Delingpole in the Telegraph and Climate Depot
  4. Willis Eschenbach in Feb 2013 at Wattsupwiththat, points out that the source of the figure is from Munich Re, the huge reinsurance company. The company has a vested interest in hyping the weather effects of global warming, as false perceptions  of risk leads to a willingness to pay higher premiums, and to over-insure. This in turn leads to larger profits for the insurance industry.
  5. Indur Goklany points to a figure of 141,000 deaths a year from the World Health Organisation. This figure puts it well down the list of risks, may well be excessive, and ignores the reduction in excess cold weather mortality that occurs with milder winters. 
  6. I looked at how the WHO figure of 141,000 deaths per year was estimated, finding a more balanced estimated is virtually zero.
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