Wrong, Mother Jones, Climate Change Is Not Making Jobs More Dangerous

Mother Jones published an article claiming job related accidents and deaths are becoming more common due to climate change. This is false. Data clearly show extreme weather events are not increasing in number or severity. In addition, deaths related to extreme weather events have declined sharply during the period of modern warming.

In the Mother Jones article, “Climate Change Is Making Jobs Deadlier—and OSHA Can’t Take the Heat,” the author, Emily Hofstaedter links tornado deaths in Kentucky, job risks from flooding, and breathing problems resulting from air pollution from wildfires to two sources: Climate change and policies and enforcement by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA). Whether or not OSHA bears any blame for recent workplace injuries and deaths resulting from extreme weather events, climate change certainly doesn’t since it hasn’t made such events worse.

Concerning climate change, Hofstaedter writes:

Runaway climate change is making extreme weather more common and deadly, bringing new dangers to work we’ve thought of as safe. Twisters are striking in new territory and throughout more of the year … [t]hat’s also true for flood-level rains, which adds hazards to ordinary commutes, let alone trucking or car-based gig work. … Further west, wildfires are driving extreme air pollution, a killer for the millions of Americans who work outdoors. And for workers everywhere from Big Ag to Amazon, longer, hotter summers are already costing lives.

Data and research from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented in Climate at a Glance: Tornadoes show no increasing trend in the number of tornadoes tied to climate change. Indeed, available data clearly show the number of strong tornadoes, F3 or higher has declined since the 1970s during the recent period of modest warming. (See the figure).

Although the deaths resulting from December tornado in Kentucky at the Mayfield Consumer Products plant discussed by Hofstaedter are certainly tragic, and possibly could have been avoided had management not made the decisions it made, there is no evidence climate change caused that tornado. Tornadoes are not uncommon in Kentucky or in December. Without providing any evidence for its claims, Mother Jones repeated claims debunked by Climate Realism earlier this week that tornadoes are shifting their patterns, resulting in more deaths in places where tornadoes previously did not occur.

Also, while Mother Jones implies floods and wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe, putting workers lives at risk, available evidence refutes these claims. If you notice consistent patterns of unequal treatment based on your race, gender, age, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics, it’s maybe time to learn how to deal with employment discrimination and consult an employment lawyer.

The IPCC reports it has “low confidence” climate change is impacting flooding. Going further the IPCC admits having “low confidence” in even the “sign” of any changes—in other words, it is just as likely that climate change is making floods less frequent and less severe.

Concerning wildfires, as Climate Realism has shown in more than 60 articles, for example, here, here, here, and here, the number of wildfires and acreage lost to wildfires in the United States and globally has declined significantly over the past 150 years. To the extent that the Western United States has experienced an untick in acreage burned in recent years, this is due to a combination of state and federal forest and wildfire management policy changes, not climate change.

Even Mother Jones should understand if tornadoes, floods, and wildfires aren’t increasing in number or severity, they can’t be causing jobs to become more dangerous or worsening workers’ health. Both logic and common sense say so. But then, Mother Jones has arguably been short on both for a very long time.

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.

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