You have to wonder about the logic behind such “science”. Instead of looking at actual data, such as actual causes on death certificates, researchers instead run a distributed model processing project similar to SETI@Home to determine that “506 out of 735 summer deaths recorded in the French capital were due to a heatwave made worse by man-made climate change.”.
But, that data aside, there was a strong cultural component to the excess deaths that climate models don’t capture. While not normally a fan of Wikipedia, this description of events makes far more sense than climate modeling:
In France, 14,802 heat-related deaths (mostly among the elderly) occurred during the heat wave, according to the French National Institute of Health. France does not commonly have very hot summers, particularly in the northern areas, but seven days with temperatures of more than 40 °C (104 °F) were recorded in Auxerre, Yonne during July and August 2003. Because of the usually relatively mild summers, most people did not know how to react to very high temperatures (for instance, with respect to rehydration), and most single-family homes and residential facilities built in the last 50 years were not equipped with air conditioning. Furthermore, while contingency plans were made for a variety of natural and man-made catastrophes, high temperatures had rarely been considered a major hazard.
The catastrophe occurred in August, a month in which many people, including government ministers and physicians, are on holiday. Many bodies were not claimed for many weeks because relatives were on holiday. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers as they did not have enough space in their own facilities. On 3 September 2003, 57 bodies were still left unclaimed in the Paris area, and were buried.
The high number of deaths can be explained by the conjunction of seemingly unrelated events. Most nights in France are cool, even in summer. As a consequence, houses (usually of stone, concrete, or brick construction) do not warm too much during the daytime and radiate minimal heat at night, and air conditioning is usually unnecessary. During the heat wave, temperatures remained at record highs even at night, preventing the usual cooling cycle. Elderly persons living by themselves had never faced such extreme heat before and did not know how to react or were too mentally or physically impaired by the heat to make the necessary adaptations themselves. Elderly persons with family support or those residing in nursing homes were more likely to have others who could make the adjustments for them. This led to statistically improbable survival rates with the weakest group having fewer deaths than more physically fit persons; most of the heat victims came from the group of elderly persons not requiring constant medical care, and/or those living alone, without frequent contact with immediate family.
That shortcomings of the nation’s health system could allow such a death toll is a matter of controversy in France. The administration of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin laid the blame on families who had left their elderly behind without caring for them, the 35-hour workweek, which affected the amount of time doctors could work and family practitioners vacationing in August. Many companies traditionally closed in August, so people had no choice about when to vacation. Family doctors were still in the habit of vacationing at the same time. It is not clear that more physicians would have helped, as the main limitation was not the health system, but locating old people needing assistance.
Then there’s the fact that the heatwave itself was caused by a blocking high pressure system, as Eduardo Ferreyra explained in September 2003:
In 1976, as in 2003, the story in eastern Europe was different. The blocking anticyclone situated over Europe had kept England, France and neighbouring regions dry and hot. But the low pressure systems, following the undulating path of the Jet Stream, had to go somewhere else with their load of humidity gathered during their journey through the Atlantic Ocean. Most of them chose the northern edge of the blocking anticyclone – the portion of the Jet Stream driven to the north – and fell afterwards over the Baltic region around Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and Moscow, pouring heavy rains there and causing flooding – in the exact same way they did this summer of 2003. History repeats itself after 27 years, without global warming having anything to do with it. The Jet Stream is to blame – or perhaps God.
Now, after reading those facts, here is this tabloid level climate science paper which is already generating headlines around the world:
‘100s of deaths in 2 cities in 2003 heatwave due to man-made climate change’
Scientists have specified how many deaths can be attributed to man-made climate change during an extreme heatwave.
Scientists have specified how many deaths can be attributed to man-made climate change during an extreme heatwave in two European cities in 2003. They calculate that in Paris, the hottest city in Europe during the heatwave in summer 2003, 506 out of 735 summer deaths recorded in the French capital were due to a heatwave made worse by man-made climate change. The impact of climate change was less severe in London, with an additional 64 deaths out of a total of 315 heat-related deaths, says the paper published in the scientific journal,Environmental Research Letters. The study, led by the University of Oxford, suggests that such research gives policymakers better information about the damaging effects of heatwaves to help them respond to the≠ future challenges of climate change
The findings were generated by putting the results of climate model simulations of the 2003 heatwave into a health impact assessment of death rates. Using computer time donated by thousands of volunteers from the weather@home project, the researchers ran many thousands of high-resolution regional climate model simulations. They found that human-induced climate change increased the risk of heat-related deaths in central Paris by around 70% and by 20% in London.
The paper says the mortality rate attributed to man-made climate change in both these cities is notably high, but they are just two of a large number of cities that were affected by the heatwave that year. It suggests that the resulting total number of deaths across Europe due to climate change is likely to be substantially higher.
The paper looks at the three months June to August. It warns that no heatwave on record has ever had such a widespread effect on human health, as experienced during those months of 2003. Previous studies have attributed changes in heatwave frequency and severity to human-caused climate change, or demonstrated the effect of extreme heat on human mortality. This paper is the first to attribute the number of premature deaths to climate change during extreme heat waves.
Lead author Dr Daniel Mitchell, from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, comments: ‘It is often difficult to understand the implications of a planet that is one degree warmer than preindustrial levels in the global average, but we are now at the stage where we can identify the cost to our health of man-made global warming. This research reveals that in two cities alone hundreds of deaths can be attributed to much higher temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change.’
Co-author Dr Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, says: ‘Traditionally, climate research has linked increasing levels of greenhouses gases simply to trends in weather, such as generally higher day-to-day temperatures. However, linking the impact of burning of fossil fuels right through to health implications enables much better planning to prepare for any further climatic changes.’
By starkly showing we can measure the toll in human lives that climate change is already taking through worsening extreme heat, this study shines a spotlight on our responsibilities as a society for limiting further damage,’ adds co-author Dr Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, USA.
The paper concludes that with climate change projected to increase the frequency and severity of future heatwaves, these results highlight an emerging trend. It suggests that further research should focus on possible changes in future death rates, taking into account population and demographic changes.
‘Attributing human mortality during extreme heatwaves to anthropogenic climate change’, is by Daniel Mitchell, Clare Heaviside, Sotiris Vardoulakis, Chris Huntingford, Giacomo Masato, Benoit Guillod, Peter Frumhoff, Andy Bowery, David Wallom, and Myles Allen.
Environmental Research Letters. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074006