Wall Street Journal Get the Facts About Temperature Related Deaths Straight

A Google Search of the term “climate change” today turns up a Wall Street Journal story which reports the good news that the recent modest warming of the earth has resulted in fewer deaths related to extreme temperatures.

In the Wall Street Journal story, titled “Climate Change Saves More Lives Than You’d Think,” the author Bjorn Lomborg notes data proves premature mortality tied to extreme temperatures has fallen dramatically as a result of climate change. Lomborg says:

In their call for “emergency action” on climate change last week, editors of the world’s leading medical journals relied in large part on a misleading claim that heat deaths are rising rapidly. … [T]he editors’ statistic is deceptive. They say global heat deaths have gone up by 54 percent among old people in the past 20 years, but they fail to mention that the number of old people has risen by almost as much. Demographics drove most of the rise, not climate change.

They also leave out that climate change has saved more lives from temperature-related deaths than it has taken. Heat deaths make up about 1% of global fatalities a year—almost 600,000 deaths—but cold kills eight times as many people, totaling 4.5 million deaths annually. As temperatures have risen since 2000, heat deaths have increased 0.21%, while cold deaths have dropped 0.51%.

Lomborg is correct. Data consistently show premature deaths from extreme temperatures have declined dramatically, and should continue to do so if earth continues its modest warming trend.

On July 1, The Lancet published what is arguably the largest study ever to examine excess mortality associated with temperature. The study’s authors, 68 scientists representing universities and research institutes in 33 countries spanning all regions of the world, came to two very clear conclusions:

  1. Cold temperatures contribute to far more deaths each year than warmer temperatures.
  2. Deaths associated with extreme temperatures, hot or cold, are declining.

In a previous Climate Realism story breaking down The Lancet’s data, my colleague meteorologist Anthony Watts provides telling table (below) on global deaths tied to temperature extremes, demonstrating clearly excess cold causes far more premature deaths than excess warming.

By the way, The Lancet report actually says cold related deaths are nearly 10 times greater than heat related deaths, not eight times greater as claimed by the alarmist medical journals.

 Africa 1.18 million  Africa 25,550
 Asia 2.4 million  Asia 224,000
 Europe 657,000  Europe 178,700
 South America 116,000  South America 25,250
 UK 44,600  UK 8000
 US 154,800  US 18,750
 China 967,000  China 71,300
 India 655,400  India 83,700
 Australia 14,200  Australia 2300
Total: 6,189,000 Total: 637,550


Previously published research in The Lancet, the Southern Medical Journal, and other outlets, has consistently shown: Cold is the biggest temperature related killer, not heat, and as the earth warms the number of deaths related to extreme temperatures is falling dramatically.

Lomborg doesn’t, nor should anyone else, ignore the recent rise in heat related deaths, but he provides the appropriate answer for it: increase the use of fossil fuels globally, so people can inexpensively cool their homes and places of business in the summer, and heat their homes during the winter, cutting down on all deaths associated with temperatures. Lomborg writes:

Heat is typically easier to mitigate than cold. Heat advisories, drinking fluids and access to shaded, cooler areas help protect people from the hottest days of the year. Heat deaths in rich countries have generally declined in recent decades because of air conditioning.

Cold is much harder to deal with. Heating a home well all through the winter can be prohibitively expensive for poorer households, even in developed nations. Fracking drove down American natural gas prices. One study estimates that the resulting cheaper heat saved more than 11,000 lives annually by 2010.

The best way to protect people from heat or cold is access to plentiful, cheap energy, though that often means fossil fuels. Funny, that didn’t make it into the editors’ recommendations.

The fact that greater use of fossil fuels reduces deaths is borne out by the copious peer reviewed research cited in Fossil Fuels Reconsidered: Fossil Fuels assembled by the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change.

Climate Realism is quick to castigate the mainstream media when it publicizes false claims made by climate alarmists that climate change is a catastrophe. We should be just as quick to praise mainstream media outlets when they get climate science right, as the Wall Street Journal has done today. Bravo!

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Reads

Latest Publication