This is (probably) the last in a series of posts evaluating the state of the planet’s climate and the impacts of 2014 being perhaps the warmest year on record and certainly being one of the 14 top temperatures on record, all occurring in the past 15 years. (I say probably because I may do a summary later.)
Death by climate change. Ever since the World Health Organization postulated that 150,000 people per year die because of climate change, it has been a controversial statistic. ‘Statistical deaths’ have been known to estimate more children dying of a particular disease than all child deaths that occur in a year.
Imputing an increased disease burden to climate change is a statistical exercise. I will not criticize it further here. I will instead use their criteria and look at what has happened in the past year or during the course of this century.
The WHO based its claim largely on the work discussed in a paper called Global Climate Change. The paper says there will be some slight health benefits associated with climbing temperatures, such as fewer deaths due to cold. However, over all, they estimated that in 2000 net additional deaths would be 150,000. The paper forecast 47,000 additional deaths due to diarrhea, 77,000 due to malnutrition, 27,000 due to malaria and 2,000 due to flooding. Although this only adds up to 126,000 the rest may be due to unquantified statistical deaths due to cardiovascular disease and dengue fever.
They also assumed that the number of deaths will rise from 2000, but the next year they gave figures for was 2030, so we will evaluate performance from their 2000 figures.
For diarrhea, the number of deaths decreased by 50% for children under 5 from 2000 to 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available. (Young children are the most vulnerable to death from diarrheal disease.) (In 1980 the figure was 4.6 million per year.) I am unable to find figures for the full population.
For malnutrition, the FAO estimates that 805 million people were chronically malnourished in 2014, a reduction of over 100 million from a decade ago.
For malaria, “Global efforts to control and eliminate malaria reduced mortality by 45 per cent worldwide, and 49 per cent in Africa, according to the World Malaria report 2013 published by the UN agency.
That is the equivalent of 3.3 million lives saved between 2000 and 2012, the large majority in the 10 countries with the highest malaria burden, and among the most affected age groups – children five years old and younger.”
With the direction of these major killers moving in a favorable direction for humanity, it is tempting to dismiss the statistical deaths as a fiction of alarmists.
But it would take work and scholarship to actually do so. There are two reasons why we can’t just sit back and treat the WHO projections as fantasy. First, who’s to say that progress would not have been even more dramatic in these areas absent climate change? Perhaps we would have been celebrating 1.5 million fewer deaths than the millions we are happy to see alive if there had been no climate change. We don’t know and perhaps we never will. So although it’s intuitive to say that climate change has not had an impact on deaths caused by these conditions, we cannot say for sure. Cynics will say that the way the claims are structured make that inevitable and constitute a feature, not a bug, from the point of view of those most concerned about climate change. I’m not nearly at that point yet.
The second reason we cannot dismiss the climate deaths claim is that from 2000 to 2014 there has been a pause in warming. Although warmists and alarmists are now busy saying there is no pause at all, the IPCC, James Hansen and other respected scientists were saying this during the course of the past few years. And it could be true that the reason all these conditions have improved is because the expected warming has not taken place.
I do have a problem with statistical projections of mortality. There are too many factors that can influence the course of any condition. For diarrhea, slight changes in access to clean water can have a dramatic effect. For malaria, the mobilization of efforts (due in part to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) may not have been factored in. Technology’s progress in agriculture and distribution may be an unexpected factor in the fight against malnutrition.
It would be quite difficult to disambiguate the prime factors. Which is why these studies should be treated with a grain of salt in the first place.