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Darwin (AGW) Awards vs. The Tragedy Of Cold-Related Deaths

(note: I wrote most of the below last night…as it happens, Indur M. Goklany has just published a blog on similar topics, “Winter kills: Excess Deaths in the Winter Months” on WUWT)

Tragic as it is, the death at the age of 70 of Canon Hereward Cooke on Dec 15 in Copenhagen after having cycled in a snowstorm is the stuff of a Darwin Award. One might even be forgiven if thinking of it as foretold by the near-misses of failed Polar kayaker Lewis Pugh in September 2008, and of the cold and starving Catlin Survey team almost stranded in atrocious Arctic weather in April 2009.

Is this a way to confirm Timpanogos/Ed Darrell‘s suggestion that “you guys cheer at train wrecks and hit-and-run auto-pedestrian accidents, too“? I think not (even if I should thank Ed for comparing the lesser Milliband and Gordon Brown to train wrecks and hit-and-run accidents). There is something enormously serious about climate-related deaths. Compared to that, the misadventures of True (AGW) Believers getting themselves and others in trouble for almost no reason at all, well, those become laughable indeed.

Remember the infamous 2003 Summer Heatwave in Europe? Wikipedia claims it killed “more than 37,451” people (the Earth Policy Institute sums up a toll of  “more than 52,000“) across the Continent.  Now take “excess winter mortality” in England and Wales alone, and despair: according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2008/2009 the number of additional deaths “compared with the average for the non-winter period” was 36,700.

One can only imagine a grand total of excess winter deaths for the whole of Europe in the hundreds of thousands. And that happens every single year, whilst the 2003 Heatwave is just an exceptional event that caused for example a total of 2,139 excess deaths in England and Wales.

Notably, in England and Wales even the 2003/2004 winter saw more than 20,000 excess deaths compared to a non-winter period that included…the August 2003 heatwave.

Excess winter mortality, England and Wales, 1999/2000 to 2008/2009
Excess winter mortality, England and Wales, 1999/2000 to 2008/2009 (original from the UK "Office for National Statistics")

Given the way things are shaping up at the moment, the 2009/2010 numbers will likely be in the 30,000-40,000 range too…I am perfectly sure if we had tens of thousands of excess deaths during a hot summer in the UK, even the rocks would be yelling out about the perils of Global Warming. But since those people are dying because of the cold, one might have to guess it must be alright..

0 replies on “Darwin (AGW) Awards vs. The Tragedy Of Cold-Related Deaths”

There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes discussion on the CO2 issue.

Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



PS In my country a porky is not a fat person but refers to a statement or assertion of gross falsehood or extreme exaggeration.

On the subject of wildlife deaths, the RSPB (not known for their scepticism of AGW) have published an article entitled “Icy blast set to be millennium’s greatest wildlife disaster”:

‘Dr Mark Avery is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. He said: “The extremely hard winter spanning 1962 and 1963 was arguably the single event that had the greatest impact on Britain’s wildlife within living memory. With the icy weather predicted to last at least another week, this winter could be the single greatest wildlife killer of the new millennium.”‘

In terms of impact on humans and wildlife, if climate change “could”, “may or “might”, it seems that big bad weather “can” and “does.”

PKD, there are several scorpion colonies in southern England, and what’s interesting is that they appear to have been here for well over a century (at least since the 1860s, according to one source.) There’s a long-established population in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey and others reported at Ongar Station (Essex) and Colchester. The Sheerness colony at least would have survived winters much harsher than this one (e.g., 1947, 1963); I think they’ve managed to keep going mainly because of the otherwise generally mild English climate but note that they haven’t spread very far geographically in all this time, unlike some other exotics.

Frankly if this one winters weather (you appreciate the difference between weather and climate I hope) manages to kill off the scorpions and other animals that have been migrating in from Europe and taking advantage of the climate trend of milder and shorter winters in the UK, then it’ll have achieved some good…

PKD – if all it takes is one cold winter or two “to kill off the scorpions and other animals that have been migrating in from Europe and taking advantage of the climate trend of milder and shorter winters in the UK“, given that everybody agrees that one cold winter or two is/are compatible with AGW theory, then I do not understand why we should be worried about animals “migrating in from Europe and taking advantage of the climate trend of milder and shorter winters in the UK

Because the migrants from warmer Europe are animals that never stood a chance previously. Every winter would guarantee they would all perish.
But with the long run of milder winters these animals have been starting to survive the winters and get a foothold in the UK ecology.

That this has been is is well documented, and with luck this one winters weather should set them back for a bit. Unless you actually think that AGW-enabled migrations are a good thing in general?

This BBC article makes similar points to those you’ve made, Maurizio.

“Studies of weather-related mortality have found that with heat-related deaths there tends to be a significant level of death “displacement” – put bluntly those who were likely to die anyway simply died sooner, so the period after a heat wave tends to see fewer than average deaths.

‘But this doesn’t appear to be the case with winter deaths,’ says Dr Gavin Donaldson, a specialist in respiratory medicine at University College London.

‘There has been much focus on hot weather and global warming, but in this country we see many more days of cooler temperatures. It really does need highlighting that winter can take its toll in this way, particularly on the elderly.'”

The article quotes Yvonne Doyle at the Department of Health, who in the online Independent today is said to be anticipating up to 40,000 excess winter deaths this year.

The Indy also quotes LSHTM epidemiologist Paul Wilkinson: “The number of deaths a day is directly related to how cold it is. For each degree colder it gets there is a corresponding 2 per cent rise in the number of deaths which occur.”

I agree with Ed Darrell on the point that some measures to protect against excess heat and excess cold will overlap – loft insulation is a good example of this. And having better and more reliable roads, hospitals, communication systems, energy supplies, etc., will help in both cases. But I think that in the UK at least (other regions of the world may well differ) the disparity between cold and heat related excess mortality is so extreme that it would be unwise to spend equal sums of money to protect people and infrastructure against both cold winters and hot summers (and, in the case of hot summers, on what, specifically, should the money be spent? Painting rooftops white? Subsidised air conditioning? Non-melting tarmac on the roads?)

In the UK, it seems clear to me that cold winters have always cost us much more than hot summers, whether we’re talking about human lives, injuries and inconvenience, or the financial cost to businesses and taxpayers. There’s a nasty synergy at work – the factor of low temperatures (increase in illnesses, and a higher demand for energy) plus the factor of snow and ice on the roads, railway lines, runways and pavements (increase in accidents of many kinds, transport systems paralysed and an increase in demand on emergency services) plus the factor of heavy snow damaging power lines and destroying crops, plus the factor of limited daylight hours.

Money spent on preparedness for these conditions, will I think be money well spent, if this winter is an indication that we are entering a climatic pattern similar to that experienced for much of the 1960s and 1970s (dominant negative NAO and AO indices, etc.) We’re still likely to get the occasional heat wave (1976, 2003) and it would be wise to have measures in place for these (especially when we consider that the 1976 heat wave was accompanied by a severe drought) but I think logic and common sense suggest that the emphasis (here in Britain anyway) should be on mitigating against the misery and damage wrought by cold winters.

I’m trying to think of what sort of roadwork and mitigation would the government take due to sunny weather.
Swimming pools? Community fountains? Trafalgar square has a nice pond. Does that count?

You know here in Sacramento two summers ago, we had a stretch of warm weather accompanied by smoke from forest fires… and the authorities closed the public pools. Claimed it was too dangerous to breath in the air. Of course that meant people had to sweat it out while still breathing the air.

Fighting forest fires. You could call that gov expense of warm weather.

Glad we talked.

papertiger – for example, the materials used in road pavements must be adequate not to crack too often under the expected local temperature range

Here in the U.S. the opponents of doing anything about global warming are the same Scrooges who oppose money to heat cold houses for the poor in winter. From what I know of British politics, it’s the same there. If you’re proposing to make a trade-off, to spend money to help freezing people today, that’s a major political shift, and a welcome one.

Now all you need to do is go convince your colleagues who oppose spending the money.

The action is the same: You guys work hard to act as a cork in the pipeline of spending to save humans.

The paper you refer to talks about spending years out to work against climate change. If I were to go back 30 years, I’d find papers by other crabs, maybe the same guys, arguing that we can’t afford to spend anything to help freezing people and it’s not a job for the government. In any case, it’s an inappropriate comparison, money not yet even a gleam in the eye of the most saintly budgeteer, with money we spend now.

I think you’re crying crocodile tears, and it irritates me. Should we spend more money to save people from freezing? I’m for it. I’ve worked for it, I’ve even convinced conservative senators here to change their votes, providing the margin to get the programs going in this country. We made the case on the same science that now makes the case for doing something about global warming. Action saves lives, inaction costs lives. If we’re crass, we can put a dollar figure on the lives to be lost, and make a case that we can’t afford to do anything to help them now, because it will cost even more in the future. Someone who doesn’t freeze this winter will need aid again next winter. When does it end? the conservatives want to know.

What are you doing about it other than pointing a finger misaimed at scientists?

The UK government spends every year £1.7B to combat cooling (“winter fuel payments”), and an uncomputable sum to combat warming (it is actually too difficult to sum up what is spent on AGW by all the various branches).

That’s sorta the indicator I mean: You assume that payments for heating are all it takes to mitigate damage from cold, failing to account for shelter costs, health care costs, road maintenance costs and countless other costs; but you assume any money spent to save lives due to excess heat is unwarranted, and you claim without any justification (nor accuracy, I suspect) that the sum is massive and uncountable.

Facts help us understand the problem. Fables based on bias may not even give us good myth.

Summer deaths to excess heat, winter deaths to excess cold — similar causes. Inadequate housing, working conditions and education.

Why not combat them?

Oh, that’s right: If we worry about these issues we’ll bankrupt the world. Isn’t that the claim?

Ed – I am not sure we are on the same wavelength…by definition, the “winter deaths to excess cold” already discount the “summer deaths to excess heat”.

The 36,700 figure for 2008/2009 for example is the number of additional deaths in the winter period compared to the non-winter period. However many people have died of “excess heat” in August 2008, September 2008 or July 2009, thirty-six thousand seven hundred more died between December 2008 and February 2009.

In other words, during the past winter alone in England and Wales there have been as many “excess deaths” as in 36,700/2,139=17 (seventeen!) 2003-type heatwave events.

Now, imagine one is placed in front of two problems:

(a) problem S happens every once in a long while
(b) problem W happens every year and kills between 10 and 20 times as many people as problem S

who in their right mind would prioritise problem S? Or even consider it in any way equivalent to problem W?

The UK government spends every year £1.7B to combat cooling (“winter fuel payments”), and an uncomputable sum to combat warming (it is actually too difficult to sum up what is spent on AGW by all the various branches). But AGW is so pumped up by Brown and colleagues, it is rather difficult to think they only spend £1.7B about it.

(of course, if we place any value on human life, they should spend anyway far less than £1.7B about warming, or far more than £1.7B about cooling)

Therefore yes, the best way to bankrupt the world is to spend money unwisely and with distorted priorities.

I think your assumption that record cold does not share a cause with record heat is unjustified and unwarranted. What a superheated atmosphere struggling to achieve equilibrium may do is swing more wildly. The record colds and record snows (especially the lake effect snows) are predicted by the global warming models a few claim are inaccurate.

You also assume, again without justification, that the solutions don’t overlap. Improving the weather-fighting ability of housing may take the same steps to protect from cold that it takes to protect from heat.

If you think it’s okay to try to mitigate the damage, no problem. I can’t understand why you’d advocate mitigating damage from cold and not heat, and I hope you won’t back off from mitigation either way knowing that mitigation for one is often mitigation for the other.

If we placed sufficient value on human life, we’d not dither with climate change denialists, but would instead act to save life. Don’t pretend that climate change denialists give a damn about brown people in odd corners of the world, nor even about non-brown people in more famous places. They do all they can to stop mitigation of human-threatening phenomena.

Ed – If you read all the historical statistics, you’ll find the number of people dying from cold have come down a lot in the recent decades. “Wild swings” in of the atmosphere have nothing to do with that, and besides, there is no way to link any particular episode of cold or of heatwave to any model’s “prediction”. In other words, people die on a particular day because of the weather on that particular day, not because of the statistical properties of the atmosphere across the decades needed to talk about “climate”.

(your misuse of the term “prediction” is actually quite telling. As everybody should well know by now, climate models are not in the “prediction” business).

Why are people dying less from the cold? It is a matter of improved conditions, yes. I say, well done to the British Governments during all these years, let’s continue in that direction. If AGW-related work might prevent deaths in the year 2050, that’s a good thing to, but of course it should take at least a tad less effort than trying to prevent deaths now. That’s what I’d call “act to save life“. Wouldn’t you?

(I am not sure why you assume that I don’t believe solutions might overlap. It’s the focus of the main thrust of effort that I am interested in)

As for what “climate change denialists” might or might not care about brown people, it’s a question you should put to them. In both the AGW believer and skeptical camps, there is plenty of opportunists.

You assume that payments for heating are all it takes to mitigate damage from cold

Payments for heating are the main reasons why fewer people are dying now thatn in the past

you claim without any justification (nor accuracy, I suspect) that the sum is massive and uncountable

It’s not my claim. Read pages 43-45 of this document. (looks like I was actually misled by a Government representative in another document about the actual figures…but still, the main point remains: we should be spending a lot more to prevent deaths that are happening today than to prevent the deaths that might or might now happen in the future. But we don’t).

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