As the United Nations climate summit approached, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a dire warning to the world: global warming will kill an additional 250,000 people a year.
“Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress,” WHO claimed in a report from August 2014, about a month before UN climate delegates met in New York.
But a new report says that WHO claims of massive deaths due to global warming are “exaggerated” and based on flawed assumptions about the climate and human ingenuity.
“[E]ven if one assumes that the relationships between climatic variables and mortality used by the WHO study are valid, the methodologies and assumptions used by WHO inevitably exaggerate future mortality increases attributable to global warming, perhaps several-fold,” Indur Goklany, an independent scholar and former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delegate, wrote in a study published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The basic premise of the WHO study is that global temperature rises will make weather more extreme, causing more heat waves and storms that will increase mortality, especially in poor countries.
A warmer world also means more variable rainfall patterns and droughts, WHO claims, which will exacerbate deaths from diarrhoeal disease and famine. WHO also claims that warmer weather will increase the season in which diseases are most often transmitted, such as malaria and other deadly diseases transmitted through insects.
In total, WHO predicts that every year from 2030 to 2040 will see 38,000 elderly people die from heat exposure, 48,000 people die from diarrhea, 60,000 people die from malaria and 95,000 die die from childhood malnutrition.
“Although global warming may bring some localized benefits, such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas, the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative,” WHO reports. “Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.”
But Goklany said WHO’s claims are based on flawed methodology. He said WHO’s report “uses climate model results that have been shown to run at least three times hotter than empirical reality… despite using 27% lower greenhouse gas forcing.”
Goklany also argues that WHO “ignores the fact that people and societies are not potted plants” and will take steps to adapt to a warmer world. Indeed, humans invented things like air conditioning, heating fuels and better insulation to keep themselves living comfortably in adverse conditions.
“Thus, if the seas rise around them, heatwaves become more prevalent, or malaria, diarrhoeal disease and hunger spread, they will undertake adaptation measures to protect themselves and reduce, if not eliminate, the adverse consequences,” Goklany said. “Consequently, global mortality rates from malaria and extreme weather events, for instance, have been reduced at least five-fold in the past 60 years.”
WHO assumes that poor countries will not take “any commonsense steps” to making their lives better by buying or inventing technologies to insulate themselves from the elements, Goklany argues.
Goklany also points out that WHO’s report assumes that increases in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will not affect crop yields — running counter to scientific evidence that rising carbon dioxide levels improves plant growth. Plants need carbon dioxide to perform photosynthesis.
“[A]ddressing pests, diseases and nutrient limitations are routine challenges for farmers and should be easier for them to address as society becomes more affluent and technology continues to advance,” Goklany argues. “Moreover, higher carbon dioxide levels should reduce ozone damage to crops because such increased levels reduce the size of stomata and this then reduces the exchange of ozone and other gases into and out of the plants, which should reduce ozone damage.”
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