The Washington Post (WaPo) ran a so-called fact check on presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s claim during the recent Republican debate that “The climate change agenda is a hoax … The reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change,” ruling his claims false. WaPo’s “Fact Checker” analysis is almost certainly wrong, since real world data shows a significant decline in deaths linked to non-optimal temperatures and extreme weather events. Also, most of the deaths in developing countries that Ramaswamy was referring to are preventable, but the poor in developing countries continue to die unnecessarily, in part, because of Western governments and institutions climate policies discouraging and preventing the expanded use of fossil fuels for transportation and reliable electricity.
In the WaPo story, “Vivek Ramaswamy says ‘hoax’ agenda kills more people than climate change,” so-called fact checker, Glenn Kessler, wrote:
Many have interpreted Ramaswamy’s comment that the “climate change agenda is a hoax” as a flat statement that climate change is a hoax. But that doesn’t seem accurate, because a moment later he referred to deaths from “actual climate change.” Instead, he appeared to be suggesting that policies used to stem climate change don’t deliver what they promise and thus are a hoax.
Ramaswamy, a business entrepreneur, is a fan of fossil fuels — in his closing statement he asserted that “fossil fuels are a requirement for human prosperity” …”
At The Fact Checker, we’re interested in numbers; in discussing climate change, Ramaswamy offered a big one. He asserted that more people were dying of bad climate policies than climate change itself. What’s that about?
So far, so good. In fact, numbers are precisely how one can best assess premature mortality claims attributed to climate change in comparison to green energy policies. Yet rather than going to the numbers, some of which do exist, Kessler asked purported “experts,” what they thought of Ramaswamy’s claims.
The first expert Kessler quoted obfuscated the issue by suggesting that the woefully mistitle, Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), is relatively new with little of its policies being fully enacted. This is true, but laughably beside the point. The IRA is hardly the first law or treaty adopted in the United States, in developed countries, or by international institutions like the United Nations and various “development” banks, to impose restrictions on fossil fuel use and promote expensive and the use intermittent alternative energy technologies instead. Such policies have been common, in the United States and around the world since the U.N Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was first adopted in 1992, 31 years ago. Thousands of policies and programs discouraging or forcibly limiting fossil fuel use, have been adopted since then, and hundreds of billions of dollars, possibly trillions have been spent fighting climate change.
When looking at deaths “threatened” by climate change, Kessler, in lieu of referencing existing trends grounded in hard data for people dying from, for example, malaria, heat exposure, and childhood undernutrition, he refers to climate model generated projections for the future used by the World Health Organization. Why look at future projections when real world data is available? After all, Ramaswamy was speaking about what has happened, not what might happen based on some computer model scenario.
As Climate Realism has repeatedly pointed out in previous posts, here, here, and here, for example, climate models have gotten neither the basic projection they make, the global average temperature and its rate of rise, right, nor the trends in weather events and their real world impacts. If climate models don’t accurately portray the past and the present correctly without adjustments to basically force them to do so, why should their projections of the future be trusted by anyone, especially by a presumably educated, science savvy person like Kessler.
To be fair, Kessler seemingly recognizes that he should be looking at data concerning past when fact checking Ramaswamy’s claim. He writes:
That’s the future. Looking backward, the World Meteorological Organization in May concluded that extreme weather, climate and water-related events caused 11,000 reported disasters between 1970 and 2021, resulting in just over 2 million deaths. Nine out of 10 deaths took place in developing countries. Economic losses amounted to $4.3 trillion.
Whether all of these deaths are the result of climate change could be subject to dispute. Many of the highest death tolls from extreme weather took place decades ago; better weather forecasting and improved disaster response have helped reduce death tolls. The highest death tolls listed by WMO are 300,000 from a 1983 drought in Ethiopia and 300,000 from a 1970 storm in Bangladesh.
What’s in dispute is whether any of these deaths resulted from human caused climate change, much less all of them.
Most of the deaths cited by Kessler were tied to extreme weather occurred when the earth was in a cooling period, when many scientists were warning of a possible pending ice age, before the modest recent warming now labeled dangerous and attributed to recent causes. One cannot determine whether climate change caused any particular event, but one can look at trends over time so see whether deaths related to extreme weather and temperatures are increasing and coincide with change in climate. Doing so, the evidence is clear and should be convincing to anyone with an open mind, though you wouldn’t know that from reading Kessler’s WaPo article.
Kessler provided a very narrow selection of numbers. What data shows is that during the period of recent warming, deaths related to extreme weather events have declined by more than 99 percent over the past 100 years, as discussed in Climate Realism posts, here and here, for example. Extreme weather events killed nearly 500,000 people annually in the 1920s, but by 2021 only 7,790 deaths were attributable to extreme weather events. Concerning deaths related to extreme temperatures, multiple large scale peer reviewed studies in top journals, perhaps most prominently in The Lancet, show that cold temperatures kill far more people each year than hot temperatures. They also demonstrate that as temperatures have modestly warmed, the number of deaths tied to non-optimum temperatures has declined.
Concerning hunger and malnutrition, research cited in more nearly 200 articles posted at Climate Realism show that as carbon dioxide levels have risen, crop production has boomed for almost every crop one cares to discuss, in nation after nation spanning all parts of the globe. Agronomy explains that a large part of the reason for the crop production and yield increases is due to the improved fertilization effect of rising carbon dioxide levels, a decline in late season frosts, longer growing seasons, generally improved moisture conditions in the worlds major growing regions, and plants’ improved abilities to use water efficiently. Neither Kessler nor the experts he spoke with provided any reason for believing any of these conditions will worsen should the Earth continue its modest trajectory of warming in the foreseeable future.
This CO2 induced increase in crop production has not eliminated hunger and malnutrition, but research shows it has diminished it considerably. Forty-four percent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty in 1981 – 42 years of global warming ago. Since then, the share of people living in such poverty fell below 10 percent by 2015. And although 700 million people worldwide still suffer from persistent hunger, the United Nations reports the number of hungry people has declined by two billion since 1990 – 33 years of global warming ago.
Let’s talk about the second part of Ramaswamy’s claim, that climate policies are killing more people than climate change.
Just as it is impossible to link any particular death to “climate change,” it is equally impossible to link any particular death to a specific climate policy, so hard “data,” which Kessler suddenly places at a premium, is necessarily lacking.
However, common sense and research strongly suggest that policies that slow the introduction and use of modern high yield farming techniques and technologies in developing countries, like restrictions on fossil fuel use and the use of fertilizers and pesticides made from oil and natural gas, result in lower yields and growth, and this contributes to hunger, malnutrition, and in extreme cases deaths from starvation. While we don’t know how many lives of the hundreds of millions of people still suffering from persistent hunger or facing starvation would be saved by improved agricultural production, it is certainly orders of magnitude more than the less than 10,000 who died as a result of extreme weather events in 2021.
How many people died unnecessarily in 2021, and during the more than three decades years since the UNFCCC was adopted, in developing countries due to climate policies that prevented or slowed the construction and operation of modern medical facilities with dependable 24/7 electric power there. Power that is provided best by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. How many women’s and children’s lives were lost during or near birth due to the absence of modern medical facilities and the hundreds of energy intensive technologies and products used daily at hospitals in developed countries, which oil and gas either power or are component parts of. No regular refrigeration keeping medicines and foods usable, no nighttime lighting or power for emergency surgeries and difficult births. When people die due to lack of modern medical care as a result of energy poverty, that’s a death attributable, in many instances in this day and age, to climate policies and restrictions adopted by governments, and international institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank.
Then there is air quality. Indoor air quality is a leading cause premature death in poor countries accounting for more than 2.3 million preventable deaths per year, writes Our World Data, discussing findings from the World Health Organization. Our World Data attributes the cause to the use of renewable fuels in the home, writing:
Indoor air pollution is caused by burning solid fuel sources – such as firewood, crop waste, and dung – for cooking and heating.
The burning of such fuels, particularly in poor households, results in air pollution that leads to respiratory diseases which can result in premature death. The WHO calls indoor air pollution “the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
How many lives would be saved each year if the impoverished households currently burning renewable but dirty wood and dung were plugged into a modern electric power system, fueled by the cleanest, coal, natural gas, or even nuclear plants. Emissions from modern coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants don’t threaten ill health or premature death. They are certainly cleaner sources of heat and light than wood and dung, and they are more reliable than wind and solar.
In short, energy poverty is a killer and climate policies maintain energy poverty in developing countries, while forcing more lower income people into energy poverty due to higher energy prices in developed countries. All things considered, Ramaswamy is almost certainly correct to claim climate policies kill more people each year than climate change, and thus, contrary to Kessler’s assessment, merited no “Pinocchios,” rather than the four Kessler assigned.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute’s Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland’s Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.