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Bjorn Lomborg: The Inconvenient Truth About Extreme Weather Events

weather collage

Fewer and fewer people die from climate-related natural disasters.

This is even true of 2021, despite breathless climate reporting.

Over the past hundred years, annual climate-related deaths have declined by more than 96%.

In the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,362 dead per year—or 96.2% lower.

In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the number of dead was even lower at 14,893 — 97% lower than the 1920s average.

You hear a lot about all the deadly climate catastrophes in 2021 — the US/Canada heat dome, the floodings in Germany and Belgium, or the US February winter storm. All of these deaths are included in the graph.

Also included are the 559 dead from India (incl a February glacial lake outburst in Uttarakhand killing 234 and a May hurricane killing 198) and more than a thousand others.

Many of these you probably haven’t heard about, possibly because they’re not first-world photogenic catastrophes.

The year 2021 is not over so the actual graph shows the likely number of dead, based on the historical ratio of climate-related deaths in Jan-Jul to the full year.

This gives a preliminary estimate of 2021 climate-related deaths at 5,569 or 98.9% lower than the 1920s.

This is clearly the opposite of what you hear, but that is because we’re often just being told of one disaster after another – telling us how many events are happening.

The number of reported events is increasing, but that is mainly due to better reporting, lower thresholds, and better accessibility (the CNN effect). For instance, for Denmark, the database only shows events starting from 1976.

Instead, look at the number of dead per year, which is much harder to fudge. Given that these numbers fluctuate enormously from year to year (especially in the past, with huge droughts and floods in China and elsewhere), they are here presented as averages of each decade (1920-29, 1930-39, etc.).

The data is from the most respected global database, the International Disaster Database (https://public.emdat.be/).

There is some uncertainty about complete reporting from the early decades, which is why this graph starts in 1920, and if anything this uncertainty means the graph underestimates the reduction in deaths.

We are not well-informed when the media doesn’t actually give us an overview of the data, but instead, just inundates us with one catastrophic story after another without context.

Notice, this does not mean that there is no global warming or that possibly a climate signal could eventually lead to further deaths.

Global warming is a real problem that we should fix smartly. But panic from bad media reporting does not help us being smart.

This graph shows us that our increased wealth and increased adaptive capacity has vastly overshadowed any potential negative impact from the climate when it comes to human climate vulnerability.

This is an update of my graph in my 2020 peer-reviewed article:  https://www.sciencedirect.com/…/artic…/pii/S0040162520304157.

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