Climate change could kill over 500,000 people per year by 2030?

50337670_1078953748967611_7249466790588186624_o Via Twatter (re-tweeted by Da Mann, no less) we learn that climate change could kill over 500,000 people per year by 2030. The link is to a site called "weird things" which presumably explains the lack of an initial capital on "climate". There's little substance to the article, about all is a new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine tried to estimate an annual death toll which could be attributed to climate change. That number? At least 250,000 by 2030; but that report link, fetchingly titled The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health, begins The WHO predicts that 250,000 deaths yearly from 2030 to 2050 will be attributable to climate change, so it seems that this is just more lazy "journalism", and there's nothing especially new.

500k is a lot of stiffs but the world population is large: about 7kkk. Supposing everyone lives to the nice round number of 70 years, then, 100kk people die each year if we're in a steady state which we aren't but it's probably not too far off - actually, I've just looked it up, it's closer to 50kk, fine, I'll use that - so an extra 500k is an extra 1% on the death rate. Not something that you'd do by design, but (all together now) if you had a large amount of money, where might you spend it to reduce deaths? I'd put it into improving governance in the many regions of the world where the govt is shit1, if I had any brilliant schemes for actually helping. But I'm a big ideas man; I'd have people to deal with the details.

If we now turn to the WMO report itself, which I think is here, we find climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050; 38 000 due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48 000 due to diarrhoea, 60 000 due to malaria, and 95 000 due to childhood undernutrition. The point about "mostly the elderly" came up in 4th National Climate Assessment report: Extreme Temperature Mortality - see the comments. But I'm afraid I find much to doubt in those numbers; my suspicion is that the absolute not just percentage number of malnourished children will continue to fall (and the rather smaller number of overweight children will continue to rise). So instead of 500k we seem to have 250k; and of those less than 50k are directly heat related - so we're down to 0.1% instead of 1% - and so on.

I still think that, apart from just being a bad idea, Global Warming damages aren't going to show up clearly in this kind of simplistic analysis; see-also Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death?


1. Yes I know that neither the UK or the USA are currently setting especially good examples of govt competency at the moment, but compared to Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the like we're paragons of virtue. BTW, before you call me a Statist of enthusiast for Big Govt, I should point out that "governance" doesn't just apply to govt; indeed, one could argue that the UK and the USA are showing fine examples of why you'd want as much of the country not run by govt as possible.


Flight to Sky-Blu - from Ramblings to and from Antarctica by Mike Rose


David B. Benson said...

As in Malawi and Madagascar?

Andy Mitchell said...

"but compared to Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the like we're paragons of virtue."

It seems to me the competence of UK Parliament is very similar to Venezuela: its just that the UK started from a far stronger position. The only thing sorted out, as we head towards no deal Brexit, is the excuse. Apparently, if the UK's economy is ruined, its the fault of the electorate: our MPs were only doing what they had to do to honour the people's decision. That the people only voted they way they did because they were lied to is something to be glossed over.

William M. Connolley said...

> Malawi and Madagascar?

I'm afraid I can't interpret that. Try expending a few more words.

> competence of UK Parliament

In this instance I think it is less a question of competence than of rule of law, which V lacks. In the UKs case there is a genuine question of what the populace wants the govt to do; in V's case, the popular will is clear. FWIW I retain a James Annan-like faith that Something Will Turn Up; for example the govt is starting to sound worried that MPs my shake off their servility and do something. At least one MP has suggested revoking A50.

Tom said...

There is a good chance that for the next two decades the climate change we have experienced will actually reduce rather than increase deaths. We'll see.

Phil said...

Tom: Even more likely is that past climate change has, in net, reduced deaths.

Still, is somewhat like saying your back is hurting less after jumping off a cruise ship. For a short time only, as you are falling 30 meters. Things will change when you hit the water. 0.5 C warming was probably good. A 1 C warming might not be too bad. 2 C is at least worrying. 5 C is bad. 10 C and beyond is a disaster. A permanent disaster on human scale times, as the e-folding time of CO2 is around 50,000 years if we consider the atmosphere and the oceans as one.

Driving while looking only in the rear view mirror isn't wise. As is driving while not looking beyond your nose. So how long do we need to look ahead?

It takes 50 years or more to make a major change to the energy supply. Lots of capital investment is needed, lots of new technology needs to be invented, perfected and cost reduced, lots of new skills needed. Impossible to avoid many changes in ways people live, travel and more.

Look at the wood and other biomass to coal, it took about 60 years for coal to go from 5% to 50% of energy used. The USA is currently at 1% of total energy solar. Sure, solar is growing fast now, but storage will be required to move past 20% to 40% or so. And lots of things will need to be changed to get non-fossil to 50% of energy used. (yes, I could also talk about wind, nuclear and more. More of the same, with extra problems)

50% is half way, at best. The second 50% is harder. The first 1% is hardest, in some ways, and easiest in others. As the fraction of solar rises, the problem of storage goes from a non-issues, as solar reduces the peak electric power use due to building cooling, to a need to shift by hours, to a need to shift by seasons, to a need to get in a form that can be used to make concrete and fly aircraft.

It took oil 80 years to go from first commercial production to 25% of total energy used. If we start the solar clock at 1960, 80 years later is 2040.

So we can't just wait until climate change gets bad, and starts to hurt too much. Sure, that might be a hundred years in the future, and it is hard to make plans that far out. But failure now means the future can't adapt. For the people of the future to have a chance, we need to be starting sooner, not later.

Tom said...

The point of pointing out that deaths have been less due to existing and short term future climate change is that the WMO has concocted a fanatastickal figure of deaths due to current climate change that should be rebutted by anyone with a brain and a pen, and that The New England Journal of Medicine piggy-backed on that report to come up with an equally fantastickal projection of near-term future deaths.

Just making stuff up is not going to help deal with climate change.

Andy Mitchell said...

Tom said...

"The point of pointing out that deaths have been less due to existing and short term future climate change is that the WMO has concocted a fanatastickal figure of deaths due to current climate change that should be rebutted by anyone with a brain and a pen"

And yet you have been unable to come up with even one cogent argument to support your statement.

Tom said...

Here is what the WMO wrote: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

Neither heatwaves nor mortality from heat increased in the US: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-high-and-low-temperatures

Nor in India: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/6/e1700066.full

And this article in the British Medical Journal perhaps puts it best in the way of cogent arguments to support my statement:

"According to some predictions heat related mortality will increase drastically as global warming develops,7 but recent evidence is relatively reassuring. Heat related mortality is similar in hot and cold parts of western Europe8 and in hot and cold parts of the United States.9 This implies that the populations of hot regions have adjusted by physiological or other means to their hotter summers. In Britain annual heat related deaths are in any case far fewer than cold related deaths, so that the initial effect of increased temperatures all year round, before such adjustment, would be to reduce net annual mortality."

Tom said...

From the World Health Organization via Wikipedia, here is a list of the top 80 causes of death worldwide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate

Heat is not one of the top 80 causes of death. Number 80 on the list, benign prostatic hyperplasia, killed 34,200.

According to the World Health Organization, heat did not kill 250,000 people. It did not kill 34,200 people.

Phil said...

Heat isn't the only way climate change will kill.

Tom said...


Andy Mitchell said...

"Heat is not one of the top 80 causes of death."

Even when people burn to death the doctor won't write down "heat" as the cause of death.

Tom said...

Oh, well--if all those missing heat deaths are hiding behind a rock somewhere, let's move to another category of fatality the WMO says is exacerbated by climate change--diarrhea.

"Diarrhoeal diseases account for roughly 530,000 deaths a year, 9% of total deaths among children under-five years of age, making them the second most common cause of child deaths worldwide. Over half of the deaths occur in just five countries: India, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Despite this heavy toll, progress is being made. From 2000 to 2015, the total annual number of deaths from diarrhoea among children under 5 decreased by more than 50 per cent – from over 1.2 million to half a million."

So, 750,000 fewer deaths a year due to diarrhea is caused by climate change?

Tom said...

Sorry--that's from UNICEF--https://www.unicef.org/health/index_92007.html

Tom said...

Hmm. Well, I doubt that you'll want to give climate change any positive mention for anything, so let's move on. The WMO also says malaria is killing more people because of climate change.

And yet since the beginning of the 21st century, the WHO has published global estimates of the number of people that die from malaria. In these 15 years the global death toll has been cut in half: from 839,000 deaths in 2000 to 438,000 in 2015.

Hmm. I'm beginning to sense a pattern.

Tom said...

The WMO also attributes additional deaths by natural disasters and floods to climate change.

By now it may no longer surprise readers that deaths due to natural disasters and floods have sunk to their lowest levels during the current warming period, with the three decades with the lowest death tolls being the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

So at what point do we way the WMO is not describing reality?

Global mortality has declined for every age group since 1970.

You can tell me if you want that all of these trends will reverse in the future because of climate change--and if it is severe enough, perhaps it will. But to say it is happening now is absurd.

Tom said...





I mean.. really?

David B. Benson said...

"... you'd want as much of the country not run by government as possible."

So consider Malawi and Madagascar.

J C Brookes said...

I suspect climate change related deaths to be (a) not a smooth function of temperature and (b) hard to isolate from other causes.
If crops fail because of climate change (already hard to attribute), and as a result civil war breaks out, are the casualties climate related deaths?

But (at the risk of infuriating other climate change true believers) I think that on the whole climate change thus far has been neutral or slightly beneficial. I don't believe it will stay that way.

Andy Mitchell said...

"By now it may no longer surprise readers that deaths due to natural disasters and floods have sunk to their lowest levels during the current warming period..."

What does not surprise me is that when you make key claims you fail to provide any citation for them. And when you do provide citations they do not prove what you say and you just go "I mean.. really?".

Any chance you could debate this in a rational manner? For instance: if the WHO mounts a major campaign to decrease the death rate due to diarrhea how does that transform itself into your claim "So, 750,000 fewer deaths a year due to diarrhea is caused by climate change?"

Do you even realise how puerile what you are writing is?

William M. Connolley said...

> So consider Malawi and Madagascar.

In what manner? If you have a thesis here,please lay it out clearly. I don't like people writing really long comments of several pages worth that really ought to be blog posts elsewhere, but going to the opposite extreme of writing comments so short that they are incomprehensible is weird.

William M. Connolley said...

> rational manner... puerile

Part of a rational debate is not insulting your interlocutor, at least not pointlessly. I think your last sentence is regrettable.

As to your point: what we observe is the number of deaths due to X, Y and Z. Malaria, for example, since D is hard to spell. We observe these going downwards. We are, perhaps, somewhat interested in the relative increase that might be expected from GW - though we know this is very hard to calculate with any precision - but more interesting is the total trend from all causes. Suppose we know - as observations appear to suggest - that the overall effect of industrial civilisation is to decrease those deaths. Then why would we expect that to change in the future? Suppose that efforts to dramatically reduce GW would indeed reduce the increase expected from the GW component, but sadly increase deaths overall by reducing the effectiveness of IC. Would that be good?

Andy Mitchell said...

Sorry about my language, but if somebody builds a seawall it does not prove that sea level rise is not happening because flooding is reduced.

William M. Connolley said...

Indeed, but neither does it prove that SLR is happening, or provide any information on what damages might have occurred in the absence of the wall.

The analogy isn't that good, though, because in the case of the seawall it is a clear cost and something that by default you'd rather not do: you'd rather not have that scar on your landscape, in most places. But for malaria, say, there's a largeish baseload of deaths that you want to reduce anyway.

Andy Mitchell said...

If you want a logical counter to the WHO reports it would be this: the population of this planet has so far exceeded the sustainable number, all we are deciding is if people die by disease or the bullet.

William M. Connolley said...

That is going to depend a lot on what you mean by "sustainable". But if you think the world would be nicer with a lower population, beware Parfit's errors.

Phil said...

Think longer term.



Cheer up-- the killing will cease in 12 years