Right and Wrong Deaths from Climate Change

Global warming kills people. Well, of course. If it didn’t, who’d bother about it? No sane person would spend trillions just to iron out a blip on a graph. That’s why everyone likes to cite those WHO stats about 300,000 more people killed a year, without noting how they’re compiled. Many are from malaria, because mosquitoes like it warm. But malaria deaths are falling, maybe due to Bill and Melinda Gates, or maybe due to a million African nurses, (the ones that haven’t been drawn to Europe by salaries that could feed a whole village back home.)

But this is getting political. Let’s talk about hurricanes.

So any evidence that people are being killed in increasing numbers by events induced by global warming is big news for the global warmists, right?

Not exactly. Take Hurricane Maria. According to this article In the New England Journal of Medicine, more than four thousand people perished in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island. The following summary of the paper’s findings is extracted from an article at Zerohedge.

An estimated 4,645 people perished when Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, on September 20, 2017, and in the months after, according to an academic report published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. This shocking estimate dwarfs Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 64, which the researchers called a “substantial underestimate,” mostly due to delayed or interrupted medical services.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes, seeking shelter on higher ground or in the Continental United States. Accurate estimates of deaths, injuries, illness, and displacement have been extremely difficult to evaluate in the aftermath because infrastructure and healthcare systems were severely damaged.

Household members reported nearly one-third of post-hurricane deaths as being caused by delayed or prevented access to medical care, and almost 1 in 10 was attributed directly to the hurricane by respondents, explained the report.

The survey found a strong positive correlation between remoteness on the island and the length of time without essential services. On average, houses went 84 days without electricity, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cellular service after the hurricane and until late December. There was also a significant disruption in medical services, the survey noted. About 14 percent of households surveyed said they were not able to access daily medications, while nearly 10 percent said they needed medical equipment that required electricity. Other problems included the destruction of medical facilities and missing doctors.

Domingo Marqués, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, who was one of the researchers, said, “the difference is that we went out and we had boots on the ground and we did the interviews..”

There’s an article in today’s Guardian of course, filed under world news. It claims that deaths might even be as high as eight thousand. Everyone at the Guardian knows that climate change increases the risks of catastrophic weather events like hurricanes, and that poor countries are the worst affected. Twenty thousand articles on the Guardian’s Climate Change page have been preparing us for precisely this kind of catastrophic event. Yet, strangely, the article isn’t filed under “climate change.” Why not?

The reasons are perhaps to be found within the article:

The report in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that as many as 4,600 “excess deaths” occurred in the aftermath of the storm due to failures of medical and other critical infrastructure.. Researchers said their fresh evaluation was probably an underestimate, too, owing to problems with communications that persist in the storm’s aftermath.. In the days, weeks and months that followed, roads and electrical lines were slow to be restored, grinding much of life to a near halt. There were also severe shortages of food and lack of access to potable water in many areas.. a similar finding from the Center for Investigative Journalism in December.. found that.. due to the severing of critical infrastructure, hundreds of vulnerable people died in hospitals and nursing homes from conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, hypertension, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.

Hurricane Harvey which hit Texas, caused just 68 deaths according to this Guardian article. But these were real hurricane deaths, climate change deaths, trees falling on your head, things like that. No-one in Texas ever died of anything as absurd as Alzheimer’s “due to the severing of critical infrastructure.”

Perhaps by the time you read this the Guardian will have put its article up on its climate change page. But in that case, its readers might possibly put 68 and 4,645 together and realise that climate change deaths can be reduced by a magnitude or two with the right infrastructure. In which case all my snide grumpiness will have been shown to have been unfounded. But then the Guardian’s readers will have been enlightened as to the nature of risk, which would obviously be a Good Thing, even though it would reveal me to be a conspiracy ideational idiot.

Should I be worried? Or should I take solace in Matthew 5:44- 45?

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

It does seem rather unjust that the inhabitants of the US Territory of Puerto Rico should suffer the same amount of rain sendeth from on high, but seventy times more deaths from the effects of global warming than the inhabitants of the Lone Star State.

But then, as stated in Charles Bowen‘s version of St Matthew:

The rain it raineth on the just

And also on the unjust fella;

But chiefly on the just, because

The unjust’s stolen his umbrella.

12 thoughts on “Right and Wrong Deaths from Climate Change

  1. Geoff

    This thread of course builds on your comment elsewhere:

    “Will the Haitians thank us if we spend trillions reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere in order to reduce deadly hurricanes from every five to every fifty years? Wouldn’t it be better to build the hospitals and infrastructure to reduce the fatalities from a weather related disaster from the thousands experienced in Haiti to the dozens experienced in nearby Florida?”

    Which, to my mind, is precisely the point. Should we spend trillions, Canute-like, trying vainly to avert climate change, or should we accept that a substantial increase in GHG emissions is inevitable*, and spend money instead on improving the infrastructure of the developing world?

    *Paul Homewood draws our attention to this:

    https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/05/30/china-co2-carbon-climate-emissions-rise-in-2018/

    “Dramatic surge in China carbon emissions signals climate danger”.

    The other issue of great importance IMO (generally, for the welfare of humankind; and, specifically, if GHG emissions concern you, for its impact on GHG emissions) is the anticipated explosion in human numbers. I’ve just finished reading “Divided: Why We’re Living In An Age Of Walls” by Tim Marshall. In it he makes a couple of pertinent points:

    “A World Bank study in 2016 found that the percentage of Africans living in poverty has declined from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012, but the number of people living in those conditions had actually increased from 280 million to 330 million due to the growth in population.”

    And:

    “The world’s population is still growing:in Africa, already home to widespread poverty, the population is expected to double,from 1.2 billion now to 2.4 billion within about 30 years. So although the poverty rate is decreasing, as the population increases there are likely to be more people trapped in poverty overall, with little hope or opportunity to change their circumstances.”

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  2. Mark. It started partially as humour on an earlier thread, but this focus upon negatives can become overly depressing. Surely there is good news? A link between poverty and increased births has been known for a long time, and claims are made about average incomes increasing, so why is the number of the poor increasing?
    I vow to seek some good news today by researching improving infrastructure in Puerto Rico

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  3. When I started reading this I thought you were going to mention this article in the Times

    Flooding really was worse in the old days

    Since the 1950s the number of lives and the amount of money lost to floods have declined, despite little change to the frequency of catastrophic floods, according to the first comprehensive study of European historical records.

    Which is based on a Nature article

    Trends in flood losses in Europe over the past 150 years

    None of the authors of that paper are familiar names. They are unlikely to get articles in the Guardian or Conversation.

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  4. Am just recovering from watching a simply superb documentary “Ambulance” BBC 1 9pm tonight about the medical emergency services in the Midlands just before Christmas responding to a multiple car crash (perhaps involvng a lorry explosion). All while watching it, the discussion here about deaths in Puerto Rico compared with Texas during hurricanes went through my mind. What the documentary demonstrated so well was the importance, not only of trained medics (doctors, specialized trauma doctors and paramedics with necessary skills) and the required equipment, but of coordinators, calm under stress, ordered and controlling. I wondered if a relatively poor country like Puerto Rico could afford people like medically trained coordinators and thus suffers more as a consequence.
    The programme left me with a feeling of extreme gratitude that I live in a well resourced country like the UK. Even if I never have need of it, the fact that I live in an area where support services are relatively well resourced and organized (and are available upon need) is comforting. I am fortunate to have seen this documentary after considering the situation elsewhere with more constrained circumstances. It puts things into perspective.

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  5. “Many are from malaria, because mosquitoes like it warm.”

    Except, isn’t that another of those contentious topics in the climate change debate, Geoff? (Ref: https://climateaudit.org/2005/08/30/mosquitos-malaria-and-the-ipcc-consensus/).

    Furthermore, the UN Chronicle (“The Magazine of the United Nations”) states:

    “It is estimated that for the cost of saving one life by cutting down on carbon, 78,000 lives may be saved annually by using mosquito nets, environmentally safe indoor DDT sprays, and subsidies for effective, new combination therapies.”

    In stating this, they cite: B. Lomborg, “On Climate Advice to Policy makers”, The Copenhagen Consensus (2009).

    If nothing else, the quote from the UN Chronicle ably illustrates what you and I have recently said regarding the importance of risk efficiency when managing risks. Sometimes it is better to accept a risk and deal with its consequences.

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  6. Last year I worked to deliver disaster relief to both Texas and Puerto Rico. From mid October until late December of last year I was deployed to Puerto Rico to perform inspections of storm damage. It It was an intense and deeply moving experience. It was a privelege to be able to work directly with people who were in true need. I made friends there who are some of the most interesting people I have known in my life. I saw levels of wind and flood damage to boggle the mind. I met people who were tough and resiliant in ways that were astonishing and humbling.
    I learned a great deal about how disaster response should work.
    I did not speak about it much during the time out of discretion. I did not want to possibly write something that could reveal any personal details about the storm victims and survivors I was working with.
    I worked primarily in one of the hardest areas of the island and met over 1000 people impacted by hurricanes Harvey and Maria.
    I met families who lost lost loved ones due to disruption of infrastructure after the storm.
    The most common chain of events was when a person who relied on breathing machines was left without grid or backup power.
    The next most common was due to harsh working/living conditions due to the storms’ damage triggering a heart attack or other medical tragedy.
    If Puerto Rican government had actually folliwed the law and created, trained for, and implemented an effective disaster response plan much suffering woukd have been avoided.
    The infrastructure was already in disarray prior to the storms. Bkackouts were occuting pre hurricane season due to old and badly maintained infrastructure plus the imposition of wind power and other wastes ofcresoyrces.
    Additionally, PR was effectively bankrupt as well as realing from lical investment scams.
    Another thing I learned is that a storm went through PR in the 1920s that was similar to Maria and had a death toll in the range in the 20,000.
    Harvey, which hit my home in Houston, was norhing at all compared to the damage levels of PR.
    While Harvey impacted more people and area the intensity and kevels of damage was far more total in PR.
    And importantly the response of the government organs in Texas was much more effective. Texas and the myriad of County and city government agencies organuze for, practice and coordinate responses. PR did not have well trained and coordinated plans to implement.
    Perhaps this can be discussed mire at another time.
    The bottom line for me is that “climate change” is an excuse for government failure to do basic things like disaster preparedness and infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
    And that money spent on “climate change” as such is money squandered.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Why do 9.5% of Puerto Rican households use medical ventilators at home? According to this survey…

    https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6146a2.htm?s_cid=mm6146a2_w

    …Puerto Rico has a lower prevalence of breathing disorders than any US state: 3.1% have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (versus 9.3% in Kentucky). The survey didn’t mention ventilators but it did look at medication: 48% of the 3.1% use daily medication to ameliorate it. Let’s assume that those people all use ventilators (unlikely) and that they all use them at home rather than in a hospital or nursing home (ditto). The average household size in PR is 2.8 people (US census), so 3.1 x 0.48 x 2.8 = 4.2% of households could be expected to need a ventilator – and that is probably a huge exaggeration.

    So what’s with the 9.5%? Are there really 114,000 domiciliary ventilators in Puerto Rico?

    (The New York Times’ report of the survey talks about people on ventilators in hospitals and nursing homes but I’m fairly sure the survey was solely about conditions at home* – and even if it wasn’t, the numbers above still show that something odd is going on.)

    ===
    *Else why correlate households’ access to ventilators with remoteness from urban centres, which is what the survey did? If your granny is in a hospital or nursing home in a town, whether or not you live on the top of a remote mountain has no bearing on the probability of her ventilator losing its power supply.

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  8. Vinny,
    There was a total loss of power across the entire Territory until late October.
    As I recall there was over 90% blackout when I arrived mid October.
    Many of us who were sent to assist with disaster relief had to live on ships in the Port of San Juan until about Halloween due to lack of hotels with stand alone generators. I was ship board fot two weeks.
    Many in PR used home health care, with various breathing machines for asthma, COPD, apnea, etc.
    Additionally, even urbanized areas like Toa Baja only miles from San Juan suffered from floods and debris blocking access to roads and complete outage of landline and cellphone communications for the days and weeks after the storm.
    Hospitals were highest priority, but it still took over a month to get them all back up.
    Ambulances were either out of service or unable to get to many people due to roads being washed out or blocked.
    And many people were isolated from even calling for help due to the same.
    Under FEMA guidelines, the lical governments are to train and empower first responders and volunteers who are able to identify the needy and infirm *before* the disaster and have plans to provide assistance quickly after the disaster.
    FEMA does not take over.
    FEMA works with and enhances the local resources that are supposed to be in place prior to the disaster.
    This broke down, tragically, in PR.
    Working around this breakdown took precious time.
    In Houston, the breakdown was due to decades of hubris and a “round2it” culture that focused on rapid growth over quality growth and believed that aging poorly planned infrastructure was not really a pressing issue.
    This led to crazy things like building large neighborhoods *inside* the fill pools of resevoirs. With no disclosure of flood risk. And the exclusion of other neighborhoods from flood zones even though they were less than a kilometer from large bayous or even rivers.
    Except for some clusters if tornadoes, Harvey brought nearly zero wind damage Houston.
    The large scale wind damage was primarily isolated to the hurricane phase of Harvey in the South Texas region between Port Aransas and Rockport.
    But Harvey crept up the Texas coast over about 5 days leaving severe damage from Corpus Christi in South Texas to the Louisiana state line in the East.
    Neither Maria or Harvey was historically unprecedented as a storm. They were unprecedented in property damage due to more property being in the respective paths of the storms.
    A great deal of the damage was preventable if local governments had done their jobs.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hunter, you obviously know what you’re talking about and I get what you’re saying re Puerto Rico and you have my – sincere – admiration for what you did there. Maybe more on that later.

    But for now I’m going to stick with my perhaps somewhat callously nitpicking point: why did the NEJM survey find at least 9.5% of PR households using powered breathing apparatuses when the CDC survey suggests there should be, at the very most, 4.2%?

    Or, with statistics and doubt about statistics stripped out, why do so many Puerto Ricans use powered ventilators at home? You say that ‘Many in PR used home health care, with various breathing machines for asthma, COPD, apnea, etc.’ Why? Do one in ten households in your area use such machines? I’m pretty sure they don’t in mine. If they do in Puerto Rico, why? If they don’t, there’s something wrong with the NEJM survey or with the CDC’s.

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  10. Vinny,
    You ask a good question.
    I was a bit surprised as to the number of people I met who were using medical breathing devices, but I have never surveyed the issue formally. So my impressions are strictly anecdotal.
    I am not a Public Health professional, but part of it could be due to aggressive use of the medical system. Another could be aggressive medical professionals.
    Breathing machines are an important aspect of qualifying for disability and a lot of people come to PR to retire due to the low cost of living and generally amazing tropical weather.

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  11. HUNTER
    Many thanks for your valuable and moving testimony. Here I am, spouting away about things I know nothing about, and occasionally a response such as yours makes it seem worthwhile.

    VINNY
    The figure of 6000+ and the other details I quote comes from a random survey. The researchers claim that their sample was sufficiently large that “it was like talking to the whole population” (I quote from memory.) I wondered about the ventilator story too, though I have no figures to work on. I wonder whether it may not have been that the idea of choking to death because of a lack of power was something that particularly horrified people, so survey respondents over-responded when asked e.g. if someone in their family was in this situation. It’s well-known that after elections more people claim to have voted for the winning party than in fact did; that thousands claim to have been present at significant events where in fact only dozens attended, etc. There were serious doubts about a survey of deaths due to the Iraq invasion published in the Lancet, since their total of deaths far exceeded those recorded in morgues etc. The researchers insisted that their large sample meant that their results were statistically irreproachable, but how do you allow for the fluid, fuzzy intangible effects of mass psychology?

    [Note what I’m doing here; developing a hypothesis that runs counter to the thesis I’m developing. This is what prissy nit-picking scientists used to do in the old days, when Darwin would append to every tentative hypothesis twenty pages of argument as to why he might be wrong. But he didn’t have a target number of peer reviewed papers to publish in order to obtain tenure.]

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  12. Thanks for you responses, Hunter and Geoff. All your suggestions seem plausible and may indeed have played a part in inflating actual and reported use of home-based ventilators.

    I have found another possible contributor: asthma. Puerto Rico has high childhood asthma rates (about the same as the UK’s). The COPD prevalence I quoted – 3.1%-of-people – didn’t include asthma (though the report it came from looked at asthma as a factor in COPD) whereas the Harvard survey’s 9.5%-of-households included nebulisers and other powered breathing machines that are used by people with severe asthma. So that probably explains some of the discrepancy. Add over-reporting and over-diagnosis, et voila!

    Now for the 4,645. There’s been a lot of scepticism about that, some of it quite rude. The fiskers’ gist is that, yes, the official death toll from Hurricane Maria was far too low but it’s just not plausible that there are thousands of missing bodies. The real number of those killed, directly and indirectly, is reckoned to be ~1,000.

    Others support the study’s s headline figure but criticise the press for making a big deal out of it without mentioning the study’s weaknesses, not least its deafening noisiness, with a 95% confidence interval of 793 to 8498 fatalities.

    Some polite scepticism:

    http://andrewgelman.com/2018/06/01/data-code-study-puerto-rico-deaths/

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