Written by Bjorn Lomborg
Fewer and fewer people die from climate-related natural disasters. This is even true of 2021 — despite breathless climate reporting, almost 99 percent fewer people died that year than a hundred years ago.
Why is this consistently not reported?
Over the past hundred years, annual climate-related deaths have declined by more than 96 percent. 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 percent lower.
In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the number of dead was even lower at 14,885 — 97 perent lower than the 1920s average.
For 2021, which is now complete, we see an even lower total of 6,134 dead or a reduction since the 1920s of 98.7 percent.
You heard a lot about some deadly climate catastrophes in 2021 — the US/Canada heat dome, the floodings in Germany and Belgium, the US February winter storm. All of these deaths are included in the graph.
Possibly not surprising, most people never heard of the disastrous floods in India during the monsoon, killing more than a thousand people across India, two flash floods in Afghanistan killing 376 people, hurricanes hitting China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, killing 776 people, and more than 200 other catastrophes.
All of these catastrophes are measured by the most respected global database, the International Disaster Database.
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.
Also, the database has big problems with heat and cold deaths, where there is much more reporting on heat deaths (which it includes), but globally, cold deaths outweigh heat deaths 9:1.
That climate deaths are becoming much rarer is 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, better accessibility (the CNN effect), [and better technology]. 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.).
If we look at the absolute number of people dying from climate-related disasters, it is simply incontrovertible that these have declined dramatically. This is because richer and more resilient societies are much better able to protect their citizens.
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, scaring kids and adults alike, does not help us be smart.
The graph below 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 which you can read for free here.
See more here: climatechangedispatch.com
Header image: BBC
Editor’s note: If this is mentioned in the mainstream media at all, which it probably won’t be, it will be to say Bjorn’s chart is incorrect. They will then go on to tell you climate-related deaths are increasing every year.
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