Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Climate alarmists arriving at the horrified realisation that not everyone sees risk they way they do.
The pandemic taught us how not to deal with climate change.
We must transform the economy, not halt it, to prevent runaway warming. And we’re doing it far, far too slowly today.by
January 1, 2021
There’s a case to be made that 2020, for all the sacrifices it demanded and tragedies it inflicted, could at least mark a turning point on climate change.
But here is what frightens me the most about what happened in 2020.
Researchers and advocates have long assumed, or hoped, that people would start taking climate change seriously as it began to inflict real harms. After all, how could they continue to deny it and refuse to take action once the dangers were upon them and their families?
But what we’ve seen in the pandemic doesn’t bear that out. Even after more than 300,000 Americans have died of covid-19, huge portions of the population continue to deny the threat and refuse to abide by basic public health measures, like wearing masks and canceling holiday travel. Despite waves of infections tied to Thanksgiving gatherings, millions packed the airports the weekend before Christmas.
That’s terrifying in itself, but it’s particularly ominous for climate change.
In an essay in August, when global covid-19 deaths stood at around 600,000, Bill Gates pointed out that climate change fatalities could reach that level by 2060—but as an annual occurrence. By the end of the century, the death toll could be five times that figure.
If the pandemic offers any clear lessons, it’s that even all that loss may not persuade many of the reality of climate change or the necessity to act—particularly since those deaths will tick up gradually. Politicians can still find ways to downplay the dangers and exploit the issue to sow division, rather than seeking common cause. And we may simply learn to live with the elevated risks, particularly since they’ll disproportionately harm those in the poorest, hottest parts of the world who had the least to do with causing climate change.
It should be a call to arms. But it’s hard to look at 2020 and come away feeling optimistic about our collective ability to grapple with complex problems in rational or humane ways—even, or perhaps especially, in the midst of multiple unfolding calamities.
Instead, overlapping climate disasters could poison our politics even further, making all of us more selfish, more focused on our own comfort and safety, and less willing to sacrifice for or invest in a better common future.Read more: https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/01/01/1015533/covid-lessons-for-climate-change-emissions-renewables/
How many people die every year? According to the WHO, 55.4 million people died in 2019. 600,000 additional deaths per annum is a 1% increase in the normal death rate – undesirable, immensely sad for people personally affected, but not a world ending tragedy. To give this number some perspective, it probably wouldn’t even make the WHO top 10 list of causes of death.
The estimate of 600,000 excess climate deaths seems a rather dubious number. Cold weather is a far more prolific killer than warm weather. According to a study published in 2015, cold kills 20x more people than warm. So it seems likely that even if a few degrees of global warming causes a rise in warm weather related deaths, the corresponding reduction in cold weather related deaths due to milder winters would lead to a net reduction in climate related mortality. Global warming would probably save lives.
What about people in the extreme tropics? Global warming if it occurs will affect the tropics far less than than other regions, thanks to polar amplification. But if any mild tropical warming occurs which leads to discomfort, the best solution for low income hot climate countries would be to industrialise, to raise income levels, so ordinary people in those countries can afford air conditioning like the rest of us.
Thankfully poor countries have already thought of this – China is building vast numbers of coal plants throughout Asia and Africa, including many low income hot climate countries.