During our discussion of the preposterous news story from Pravda, claiming this headline: “Earth begins to kill people for changing its climate” a scientist dropped in to provide us some insight into his latest paper. It was highly relevant at the time since one of the repeating themes we see in the mainstream (and not so mainstream) media is the attribution of increasing death due to severe weather events to “global warming”.
But that is not supported by the real data, it is a false premise.
In the paper, Indur Goklany examines the worldwide trends and makes some surprising discoveries base of examining data from the World Health Organization, NOAA, and other sources.
Some have claimed that, all else being equal, climate change will increase the frequency or severity of weather-related extreme events (see, e.g., IPCC 2001; Patz 2004; MacMichael and Woodruff 2004). This study examines whether losses due to such events (as measured by aggregate deaths and death rates2) have increased globally and for the United States in recent decades. It will also attempt to put these deaths and death rates into perspective by comparing them with the overall mortality burden, and briefly discuss what trends in these measures imply about human adaptive capacity.
The most telling graph is the first one in the paper:
Despite the recent spate of deadly extreme weather events – such as the 2003 European heat wave and the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in the USA – aggregate mortality and mortality rates due to extreme weather events are generally lower today than they used to be.
Globally, mortality and mortality rates have declined by 95 percent or more since the 1920s. The largest improvements came from declines in mortality due to droughts and floods, which apparently were responsible for 93 percent of all deaths caused by extreme events during the 20th Century. For windstorms, which, at 6 percent, contributed most of the remaining fatalities, mortality rates are also lower today but there are no clear trends for mortality. Cumulatively, the declines more than compensated for increases due to the 2003 heat wave.
There is also a table of supporting data:
Click for a larger image
There are a number of things that have contributed to this trend of lowered death rates due to extreme weather events that I have identified, here is a short list:
- Better real-time monitoring due to satellite technology and surface networks
- Better forecasting due to increased skill sets and improvements in computer aided forecasting
- Better warning lead times, due to satellites for hurricanes and radar for tornadoes and flash floods
- Better and faster warning dissemination thanks to radio, TV, and Internet
But there is always this recurring complaint that “there are more natural disasters now than 50-100 years ago”. From a perspective rooted in the human experience of the western world, this is likely due to the instant communications we have now. 50 years ago, if there was a massive flood in China, we might not hear about it for days, 100 years ago, perhaps never.
The shrinking world due to instant global communications will ensure that our frequency of such experiences of severe weather will increase. As testament to this, this very blog entry will be read by a few people worldwide within minutes of its posting. Those outside of the USA, please post a comment to illustrate. This is posted at 9:10 PM Pacific time, 4:10 UTC on July 5th.
See more in the paper: Death and Death Rates Due to Extreme Weather Events, Indur Goklany