The Amazing Decline in Deaths from Extreme Weather in an Era of Global Warming, 1900–2010

Guest post by Indur M. Goklany

Summary

Proponents of drastic curbs on greenhouse gas emissions claim that such emissions cause global warming and that this exacerbates the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms such as hurricanes and cyclones. But what matters is not the incidence of extreme weather events per se but the impact of such events—especially the human impact. To that end, it is instructive to examine trends in global mortality (i.e. the number of people killed) and mortality rates (i.e. the proportion of people killed) associated with extreme weather events for the 111-year period from 1900 to 2010.

extreme_wx_deaths

Aggregate mortality attributed to all extreme weather events globally has declined by more than 90% since the 1920s, in spite of a four-fold rise in population and much more complete reporting of such events. The aggregate mortality rate declined by 98%, largely due to decreased mortality in three main areas:

  • Deaths and death rates from droughts, which were responsible for approximately 60% of cumulative deaths due to extreme weather events from 1900–2010, are more than 99.9% lower than in the 1920s.
  • Deaths and death rates for floods, responsible for over 30% of cumulative extreme weather deaths, have declined by over 98% since the 1930s.
  • Deaths and death rates for storms (i.e. hurricanes, cyclones, tornados, typhoons), responsible for around 7% of extreme weather deaths from 1900–2008, declined by more than 55% since the 1970s.

To put the public health impact of extreme weather events into context, cumulatively they now contribute only 0.07% to global mortality. Mortality from extreme weather events has declined even as all-cause mortality has increased, indicating that humanity is coping better with extreme weather events than it is with far more important health and safety problems.

The decreases in the numbers of deaths and death rates reflect a remarkable improvement in society’s adaptive capacity, likely due to greater wealth and better technology, enabled in part by use of hydrocarbon fuels. Imposing additional restrictions on the use of hydrocarbon fuels may slow the rate of improvement of this adaptive capacity and thereby worsen any negative impact of climate change. At the very least, the potential for such an adverse outcome should be weighed against any putative benefit arising from such restrictions.

The full study with diagrams is here, courtesy of the Reason Foundation. The press release, Extreme Weather Events Are Killing Fewer People Than Ever Before,

Advertisements

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
RoHa

Global Warming causes overpopulation.
We’re doomed.

Robb876

The era of global warming is going to be the next 100 years… Global warming hasnt been around long enough ( or severe enough) to claim anything of consequence… Post this again in 2100 please…

Deaths are not a very good index due to large improvements in Health care, rescue, transport, building standards and Weather warning systems over the Century.

David Gould

Wouldn’t this decline in disaster related deaths be due to things like our improved ability to deal with things like infection, injury and disease, improved advanced warning systems, better managed responses to disasters, better building codes, better transportation systems and the like? In other words, it would be difficult to conclude that there has been a decline in the severity of disasters from these numbers. There may have been, but there are too many other factors.

I find it interesting that ONE person (Indur M. Goklany) can write up a factual presentation about the effects of extreme weather on peoples lives.But most of the Media with their staffs can not.

John M

To those of you attributing this decline to all the good things of modern civilization…that’s the point.
The increased wealth of the 20th century that allowed all these things to happen was largely a result of a fossil fuel economy.
We mess with it at our peril.

Dave Worley

Pesky humans….like cockroaches…..can’t get rid of them. Must destroy the economy.

rob m

@Robb876: Global warming has been around for approx the last 11,000 years.

Doug in Seattle

Robb876 says:
September 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm
The era of global warming is going to be the next 100 years… Global warming hasnt been around long enough ( or severe enough) to claim anything of consequence… Post this again in 2100 please…

Robb, Global warming has been occurring for the last 300 years. I think that is plenty long enough to gauge how well humanity and other species are able to cope with it.

Streetcred

criminogenic says:
September 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm
=========================
This is specific as to what segment has been researched …
“Mortality from extreme weather events … “

J. Felton

Thanks you Mr. Goklany, for a thorough and impressive paper.
I believe not only is the reduced mortality rate due to the lesser amount of “extreme” weather events, ( as readers of WUWT know,) but due to the advance of technology in not only warning and preparing people for these events, but the technology used to help those after the fact. ( Medical, etc.)
I also read that deaths from extreme heat pale in comparison to those from extreme cold, which is just common sense. I’ll try and find the graph.

Streetcred

Sorry, my bad.

How is it possible that so many people still have such an abiding and solid faith in the trustworthiness of the global warming disaster scenarios? This still amazes me. Since when has any predicted long term disaster scenario based on a statistical/economic model ever come even close to being true? Not only have they been wrong but usually the condition predicted has moved in the opposite direction. The Simon–Ehrlich wager of 1980 comes to mind as a well-known example of someone challenging these silly doomsday predictions.

Leon Brozyna

From the full study, Figure 1, showing extreme weather events. Another factor that might come into play during the first half of the tentieth century would be a couple of world wars. When societies become accustomed to deaths in the millions, a handful of deaths from an innocent flood would seem almost trivial and might never even hit the record books.

Greg Cavanagh

Humans are adaptable, so adaptable in fact that when all these dooms fall upon us we quickly fix the problem (or relocate) and keep on living.
Surprising how few people can see the obvious. Government control over fiscal decisions for the long term viability of a people, always leads to corruption and downright foolishness.

Anthony — Thanks for posting this.
J. Felton — I don’t know if in the long term (e.g., over the 110-yr period this study examined) that weather has become more or less extreme. The important thing is that whether it has become more extreme or otherwise, we are–as shown by declining deaths and death rates–coping with it much better than ever before, thanks to economic development (AKA wealth) and technologies (both of which depend directly or indirectly in large part on fossil fuel energy).
And these improvements have come despite the rapid increase in population.

Mike

Water quality has improved and TV shows are much better now so we don’t need to worry about anything.

Dave Springer

Indur,
Any way to figure out death rate due to economic disruption?
Note that the peak in your figure 2 occured during the decade of The Great Depression. It went up like a rocket right after the end of World War I by more than an order of magnitude.
I would put forward that economic hard times drastically raise the death rate from extreme weather events by drastic reduction in proactive preparedness and reactive responses to such events.
This then raises the question of how many additional deaths there would be if arbitrarily large economic resources are diverted to reducing CO2 emissions.

Jim Butts

What am I missing? Why the big increase from 1910 – 1919 to 1920 -1929?

Matt

Prof Muller, in one of his presentations “Physics for Future Presidents” (not the lecture series), also shows that damages in the US due to hurricanes did not increase over the decades, if you account for inflation.

Theo Goodwin

Has anyone published an annotated list of the predictions (so-called) of catastrophe that have come from the American and EU Left in the last fifty years?

J. Felton

Indur Goklany said
“J. Felton — I don’t know if in the long term (e.g., over the 110-yr period this study examined) that weather has become more or less extreme. The important thing is that whether it has become more extreme or otherwise, we are–as shown by declining deaths and death rates–coping with it much better than ever before, thanks to economic development (AKA wealth) and technologies (both of which depend directly or indirectly in large part on fossil fuel energy).”
* * *
Thank you for your response, sir. ( Or is it Dr.? If it is, my apologies on the misuse of the title.)
Your use of statistics and graphs makes for an effective and easily understandable read.
I much agree with you, I believe that increased development and wealth have contributed to the lower mortality rate. To put it simply, it means we are able to better prepare ourselves, (and by proxy, increase our chances of survival during said weather event.)
Einstein said that ” those most likely to survive are the ones most able to adapt.” I think he was spot on.
As for the extreme weather argument, Mr. Watts has an excellent post on it,
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/09/15/24-hours-of-climate-reality-gore-a-thon-hour-13/
detailing numerous events over a long term period. Anthony or others, if you have another link you feel would help, then this would be much appreciated, this link being the only one I remembered to bookmark regarding extreme weather. ( My memory, like my hair, seems fleeting these days 😉 )

J. Felton

Dave Springer said
“Note that the peak in your figure 2 occured during the decade of The Great Depression. It went up like a rocket right after the end of World War I by more than an order of magnitude.
I would put forward that economic hard times drastically raise the death rate from extreme weather events by drastic reduction in proactive preparedness and reactive responses to such events.”
* * *
Excellent idea, I hadn’t thought of that. It also makes you wonder during times like that if deaths due to extreme events were recorded correctly, and vice-versa.
In WWII, for example, there was a massive loss of life in the Soviet Union when the Germans invaded, ( Operation Barbarossa.) due to troops and civilians being unprepared for the harsh winter conditions of the USSR.
It’s debatable that a large number of the mortality rate during this period due to freezing temperatures and so forth were recorded simply as ” Killied in Action ” deaths. (KIA). Similarly, I’m sure in other times of strife gave way to imperfections in the recording system.
But that’s a whole other post….

rbateman

Energy is where it’s at.
If everyone had all the energy they needed, the world wouldn’t suffer as much.
We would still be stuck with ingrates, alas.

David Gould

John M,
The fact that a fossil fuel economy created and sustained our prosperity does not as a matter of course lead to the conclusion that only a fossil fuel economy can create and sustain prosperity into the future. We tend to forget that we have been a fossil fuel economy for only a very short period of time – around 200 years or so. Thus, while it may seem normal to those of us who live in it, in 200 years it is highly doubtful that our economy will be based on fossil fuels.

re post by: David Gould says: September 25, 2011 at 9:44 pm

John M,
The fact that a fossil fuel economy created and sustained our prosperity does not as a matter of course lead to the conclusion that only a fossil fuel economy can create and sustain prosperity into the future.

It doesn’t appear to me that John M. said anything of the sort. He made a factual statement about our history, with a warning that there is large risk if we meddle with the very thing that caused vast improvement in life span, quality of life, and so on. This doesn’t mean that once we develop other energy sources which are as good or better that it would be a big problem to move to those if we desire at the time. Currently we’ve got nothing of the sort, and so to dismantle or limit cheap abundant energy from fossil fuels begs for some very negative consequences – some of which we are already seeing (e.g., food poverty because of biofuels, Ugandan’s burned out of house and home for CO2 credits, multibillion dollar losses to carbon trading frauds, etc).

Werner Brozek

Excellent comments already!
Since 1920, death rates due to extreme weather events have gone way DOWN, but CO2 has gone UP by 30% and temperatures have gone UP by 0.9 C. So why is CO2 being blamed for anything? Spending millions on a global scale to help seniors keep warm in winter will save far more deaths than spending trillions to prevent CO2 from rising quite as fast. And I am not sure if the latter will save any deaths.

David Gould

Rational Debate,
I interpreted the large risk that John Ms was referring to to be the notion that if we move away from fossil fuels we would endanger our prosperity. There is nothing that axiomatically links fossil fuels to prosperity, as you have implied – other energy systems that were as efficient would sustain prosperity just as well as fossil fuels. [As an global warming alarmist, I would also argue that there are other risks to our prosperity than just increasing energy prices, but that is not the point that I am attempting to make here.]

CRS, Dr.P.H.

I’m not worried….the Bird Flu will kill us all anyway. Or, so I’m told….(no sarc intended)

David Gould

Rational Debate,
There is the possibility for misinterpretation of my previous post: I did not mean to suggest that you had implied that fossil fuels are axiomatically linked to our prosperity; you had in fact implied that there were not axiomotically linked to our prosperity. I worded that sentence badly.

dp

I can’t help but think it would be interesting to look at the rate of growth of levies, dams, storm shelters, weather stations, radio emergency broadcast, mobile radios, storm and tsunami warning systems, building code changes, and thousands of aircraft watching every mile of sky from coast to coast and border to border. My inner voices tell me that time line will look like the inverse of the chart at the top of this article.
Increased awareness and a plethora of safe havens have to play a role in reducing the number of potential victims even as the population has grown dramatically. I’m just not willing to blame our good fortunes on a change in the weather or change in CO2 density.

jonjermey

Let’s not overlook the importance of better communications. TV, radio, the Internet, mobile phones, all improve the chances of people getting the message that there is something bad about to happen and they need to get out of the way.

The anomaly in the above chart appears to be between 1920 and 1960. Do you happen to have data for the period 1800 to 1900 Mr Goklany?

I got acid in my rain
Mad cows are in my brain
There’s 15 per cent of green
That’s flooding my planet
The birds wil give me flu
The pigs will too
But’s 24 hours of Reality that
nearly killed me

John Brookes

The decrease from the 1920’s to now is amazing. The increase from the 1910’s to the 1920’s is kind of weird.

Dodgy Geezer

@David Gould
“… There is nothing that axiomatically links fossil fuels to prosperity, as you have implied – other energy systems that were as efficient would sustain prosperity just as well as fossil fuels….”
You are quite right – there is certainly no requirement to keep burning coal/oil in order to maintain prosperity per se. The actual requirement is a more subtle one – as evidenced by your use of the word ‘efficient’.
It is that we need to operate our society in the most cost-efficient way (including, but not limited to energy generation). This allows the ‘most perfect market’ for human development to take place. Any variation from this condition degrades the ability of humans to develop.
The classic response to this from the ‘Alarmist’ camp (though I would not like to use the emotional word ‘Alarmist’ in discussions with someone who speaks cogently and accurately – perhaps ‘Concerned’ might be better?) is to reply:
“Yes, but the market is NOT perfect. It does not factor in the cost of the environmental damage that is being done. All that we are asking is that this cost be accepted and adjusted with subsidies, and when it is, ‘green’ energy generation schemes will be found to be just as competitive. After all, other generation processes are provided with subsidies to ‘level a notional playing field’ – nuclear, for instance…”
My problem with that approach is that ALL subsidy and regulation degrades the perfect market. Nuclear power, for instance, should not have been subsidised – we should have waited until the technology was capable of being built cost-effectively. It was subsidised by governments in order to develop the technology required for nuclear weapons, and gave us a number of unsafe power stations as a result – a good example of the baleful effect of bucking the market place. If you subsidise ‘green’ power you will get similar problems – most likely corruption and fraud on a wide scale, as we are already seeing.
I have no difficulty with supporting ‘clean’ power of all kinds. The main problem I have with the current attack on coal is that it is claiming that CO2 is a pollutant, and using, in my view, fraudulent science to do so. Though the fact that the global average temperature is dropping while CO2 concentrations are rising indicates that the claimed heating effect is untrue, the claim is still being made that CO2 is in some way dangerous. It is not. It is an essential requirement for life on earth, at rather lowish levels at the moment, and we could do with doubling its concentration if we knew how….

Ian W

Michael Babbitt says:
September 25, 2011 at 7:11 pm
How is it possible that so many people still have such an abiding and solid faith in the trustworthiness of the global warming disaster scenarios? This still amazes me. Since when has any predicted long term disaster scenario based on a statistical/economic model ever come even close to being true? Not only have they been wrong but usually the condition predicted has moved in the opposite direction. The Simon–Ehrlich wager of 1980 comes to mind as a well-known example of someone challenging these silly doomsday predictions.

There have been lots of films showing huge loss of life from weather disasters. It is part of the alarmist repertoire (and the reason for their name). These films resonate in the consciousness.
Now name a film that has similar resonance about a climate that remains warm and benign. I cannot think of one,
The conditioning to expect disaster from greedy uncaring capitalism has struck a chord with some that will be extremely difficult to deprogram

Not bad at all, especially when one considers the vast increase in the number of people available to be killed since 1900, when only 1.650 billion inhabited planet Earth.
1920 – 29 was apparently the most dangerous period to have lived in.

World population 6,964,500,644
09:50 UTC (EST+5) Sep 26, 2011

Charles

There were 300,000 fatalities in Bangladesh due to storm surge flooding of the Ganges Delta in 1970. There were another up to 230,000 killed in China when the Banqiao dam broke in 1975 during a freak storm event. Mr Goklany’s figures are not reliable.

David

How very DARE they..!
‘Everyone’ knows that there has only been ‘climate’ for the last thirty years – how could they possibly produce such figures..?

John Whitman

Indur M. Goklany,
Thank you for your informative article.
Below is my conclusion based on your article and your book “The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet” and also based on the work of Julian Simon.
I conclude that the material resources of the earth are not limitations on mankind’s increased health, wealth, environment and expansion. The source of mankind’s success is his rational capability if a culture allows freedom to pursue it and implement it.
John

@- John M says:
September 25, 2011 at 6:30 pm
“The increased wealth of the 20th century that allowed all these things to happen was largely a result of a fossil fuel economy.
We mess with it at our peril.”
We continue unchanged at our peril.
Peak oil was reached around 2007, production has varied by less than 3% since then.
Fossil fuels MAY influence the climate to the detriment of our agricultural systems. (I know a lot of people at this site dispute this, but that is a minority view with very little scientific support.)
France shows how we CAN ‘mess’ with our use of fossil fuels, replacing baseload electrical generation with nuclear so that the cost of energy is stabilised – at an increasingly competitive level with oil, coal or gas generation. France is now the global leader in EXPORTING electrical energy. It is clear that a wholesale reliance on fossil fuels in NOT required to reduce the death rates from environmental disaster. The death rate in France did not jump in the 1980s as a result of abandoning fossil fuel energy generation.
Most of the reduction in disaster death rates is the result of increased collectivist provision of goverment help. Whether preventative in the form of drainage and water management to prevent flooding, or emergency responses to floods and storm damage by FEMA, etc.

Pamela Gray

The framed climate degree earned by globalonyologists is looking like a slice of swiss cheese.

Gail Combs

Ian W says: @ September 26, 2011 at 2:52 am
“…..There have been lots of films showing huge loss of life from weather disasters. It is part of the alarmist repertoire (and the reason for their name). These films resonate in the consciousness.
Now name a film that has similar resonance about a climate that remains warm and benign. I cannot think of one….”

ERR – How about the TV show “Gilligan’s Island”??? Amazing how the nice lush tropics easily feeding people is completely forgotten thanks to “Alarmism”
“Alarmism” SELLS of course, think of all the Horror films such as “Halloween” “Psycho” and others.

Frank K.

Ian W says:
September 26, 2011 at 2:52 am
“There have been lots of films showing huge loss of life from weather disasters. It is part of the alarmist repertoire (and the reason for their name). These films resonate in the consciousness. ”
This illustrates one of the principal beliefs of the CAGW alarmists, namely:
Weather ISN’T climate if the weather is uninteresting (or cold) – Weather IS climate when the weather is extreme (or hot). And regardless of which kind of weather we’re experiencing, it is ALWAYS consistent with “the models”.

No, No, No, y’all haven’t read (ex Greenpolice director) Gildings latest Prophecy of Doom: The Great Disruption” where he claims that billions of people will perish in the irreversible decline of the Earth…

izen says:
“Fossil fuels MAY influence the climate to the detriment of our agricultural systems. (I know a lot of people at this site dispute this, but that is a minority view with very little scientific support.)”
Wrong as usual, Izen. There is NO evidence that the increase in CO2 – a tiny trace gas – has resulted in any “detriment” to agriculture. But there is ample evidence that the rise in harmless, beneficial CO2 has increased agricultural productivity. And that is the majority view, as stated in the OISM Petition.
I’ve provided numerous links proving that CO2 is beneficial to agriculture, but it gets tedious trying to convince someone afflicted with incurable cognitive dissonance that CO2, a trace gas essential to all life on earth, is beneficial. I will post more links on request. Rather than re-posting lots of confirming evidence, here is just one real-world university experiment that shows the benefits of more CO2. If your mind is so made up that you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, then just read the “Key Findings”.
Spreading your lies and disinformation may work on other blogs, but you run up against the truth on the internet’s “Best Science” site. The truth wins, and your lies lose.

David S

Guess the spike in the 1920s was exacerbated if not caused by Stalin’s attempt to collectivise the entire Soviet agricultural sector. Likewise Mao can take credit for quite a few of the deaths in the 1950s and 1960s.
There is another moral here: centrally imposed and enforced “solutions” are almost always violently counterproductive. Perhaps someone could tell Richard Curtis and Chris Huhne, not to mention “watermelon and proud of it” Caroline Lucas.

I’m guessing that the dip in pre-WWI deaths and death rates may be connected with the high rates of non-climate related deaths in that period – Spanish flu, typhoid, cholera, food poisoning, etc. – that killed people faster than the weather events could.
Refrigeration of food sure has saved a LOT of lives.

Pull My Finger

All these wonderful advances brought to you by…. cheap, portable, enegry… coal, oil, gas. The car and truck and bus to get out of harms way, electricity for hospitals, research labs, heat, air conditioning, refrigeration not just for food, but medical supplies, all those huge construction vehicles to make roads, safe buildings, and planes to transport modern goods to the remotest regions of the world.
Fossil Fuels, it’s what’s built our modern world.

Wouldn’t this decline in disaster related deaths be due to things like our improved ability to deal with things like infection, injury and disease, improved advanced warning systems, better managed responses to disasters, better building codes, better transportation systems and the like? In other words, it would be difficult to conclude that there has been a decline in the severity of disasters from these numbers. There may have been, but there are too many other factors.