One of the climate change Denier claims that keeps resurfacing is that more people die from cold than from heat, therefore warming is a good thing.
Recently this meme is turning up again thanks to a new posting at that font of climate wisdom The Cato Institute (also here and here) viz “The Deadliest U.S. Natural Hazard: Extreme Cold” and another three posted at the equally reliable (so to speak) Watts Up With That?
All of them seem to a response to the recent Reuters piece saying heat was the biggest natural cause of death in the US, and all are authored by Indur Goklany.
Goklany is one of the Heartland Institute‘s “experts“, has work hosted by the Fraser Institute (also here and here), but darned if I can find where he currently hangs his hat. Even ExxonSecrets doesn’t seem to know.
Many of the flaws that Kåre Fog documents about Lomborg’s claim that “warmer is better” are present here as well, but there are differences so I thought it might be a good time to revisit the meme. The point form version includes:
The piece “95,000 Excess U.S. Deaths during the Cold Months Each Year” is easiest to dismiss as it is quiet simplistic. Basically he calculates that in the months December to March 95,000 more people die than compared to the rest of the year. That’s it, and then adds “So bundle up if you go outside, and keep warm indoors as well.”
I did not even bother checking his math since there is not even an attempt to demonstrate that the increase is in anway caused by cold. Obviously that is what you are supposed to assume, but it’s not shown.
Frankly, the fact that it isn’t shown to be caused by cold suggests very strongly that it isn’t. I say that because as we shall see Goklany has been looking at the data pretty closely.
Next we get “The Deadliest U.S. Natural Hazard: Extreme Cold” in which we are presented with a table of “Total Deaths all causes 1979-2002 average”.
Do you see it? where is Goklany’s 95,000/year? This table says only 16,313 total over 23 years with an average of 680 per year. A bit different, no? Of course confusing 95,000 with 680 is a mistake anyone could make … not.
I bring this up just to underscore Goklany is clearly deliberately misleading in his first article. There are other flaws to mention as well, so let’s push on.
The first thing I note is that Goklany’s table is derived for “extreme weather.” This could account for some of his missing cold deaths, but it would also mean a lot of missing heat deaths. If you died of heat stroke, but it wasn’t during extreme weather, then you didn’t count for Goklany’s paper. Glokany does acknowledge this in his “Follow up to Questions on Deaths from Extreme Cold and Extreme Heat.”
Whether the numbers are in the dozens or the tens of thousands this table does suggest cold is twice as deadly as heat. This would contradict the Reuters piece which is based on a study by Borden and Cutter.
Two studies disagree … that doesn’t make Goklany right. It just means we need to try and understand why they disagree and if one of them is “wrong”.
Goklany explains the difference in the different data set’s they used and states that “medical opinion as captured in death certificate records is more reliable than determinations made by the meteorologists” in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NCDC.”
Except Borden and Cutter only used the NCDC data for deaths due to hurricane, storms, etc. It is quite clear that for temperature related deaths Borden and Cutter used the mortality data from The Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute‘s SHELDUS database, not the NCDC.
To screw up such an important item is mind boggling as it is the core of Goklany’s explanation for the difference in their conclusions. If he is able to screw that up one has to wonder about the rest of his work.
I have not looked into what constitutes extreme weather as defined by this study, but I don’t think we need the numbers to make a few more observations about the piece.
The most obvious one is the implicit assumption that if it get’s warmer there will be fewer deaths overall. Huh? It’s not explicitly stated, but that is what you are supposed to believe if you buy into the “wouldn’t it be better to be warmer” meme.
Hello! Reality to Deniers! If temperatures increase there may be fewer deaths due to cold, but there will be more due to heat. What no one does is show that on the balance it will be an improvement, and I want to suggest that it will be quite the reverse.
Frankly deaths attributable to cold can cover the gamut from death by exposure to increased disease and traffic accidents due to road conditions. I am not convinced that many winter deaths are a consequence of temperature per se though.
Winter is also a period of much less light, particularly as you go further north. This could lead to more fatalities due to accidents (eg as a result of a lot more night driving), suicides as a result depression, etc.
Sticking with temperature though, I still question the premise that warmer is better. Ok, take a cold snap of -20 oC, now raise it 5 oC. Do you think there are going to be that many fewer deaths due to the causes mentioned? Some, yes. A large difference? I am skeptical.
Now let’s look at a heat wave, like the one that killed 52,000 people in Europe in 2003. Now raise it 5 oC. Think there will be a significant difference?
Although I have not found a study on it (can anyone help me here?) I suspect that the relationship between cold and mortality is roughly linear. By that I mean that for every degree colder you get N more deaths. Further that it doesn’t matter much whether you are talking -20 to -21 or -30 to -31.
However for heat I suspect that the difference is non-linear, and that past a certain threshold (probably around 39 oC) there is a large jump in mortality for every added degree.
Of course this premise of uniform warming is nonsense anyway. In a world with erratic climate you can set new lows as well as highs. I merely preserve the assumption to note that Goklnay’s claims are false even if we accept his premises.
As with temperature, so with disease. We are led to understand that in a warmer US there will be fewer colds and flus, etc. No mention of the other diseases such as malaria that will expand their range as the world warms, or heart failure due to heat stress, etc.
However, I reserve my two largest criticisms for last.
First, this is about the US (and by implication, to some extent Europe). What happens in Cairo, Mumbai, Jakarta and Sao Paulo as the world warms? Even if we experienced a few thousand fewer deaths, what about the rest of the world?
Second, climate change is first and foremost about food. Not heat waves or flooding or any of that, but food. Our ability to feed ourselves.
It is a series of posts to document how and why, but anyone who
understands climate change knows it is code for “massive famine.” Yes, including in the Industrialized West.
Any discussion of the alleged benefits of climate change that fails to address that reality is just so much hot air. Indeed much of the Denier rhetoric is the metaphoric equivalent of ‘having your house catch fire is good because it would take the dampness out of the basement.’
Clearly Goklany’s claims range from suspect to irrelevant to ridiculous. Any serious analysis of heat vs cold deaths will have to do a full accounting and compare both increases and decreased mortality.
Further, and analysis of the costs or benefits of climate change has to look at the full range of consequences, not just cherry pick one flawed claim that seems to show benefits.
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 79 … still no evidence.