Wrong, The Guardian, Climate Change Isn’t Causing More Climbing Deaths on Mount Everest

An article in The Guardian claims that climate change is killing people on Mount Everest. This is a false. Climate change is not highly localized nor does it occur in a single year. Evidence suggests other factors are behind the recent increase in deaths on Mount Everest.

The Guardian article, titled “Climate change to blame for up to 17 deaths on Mount Everest, experts say,” cites the opinion of the director of Nepal’s tourism department, Yuba Raj Khatiwada as the source for their claim that deaths are increasing on Mount Everest due to climate change. The Guardian writes:

The figure was confirmed by Yuba Raj Khatiwada, the director of Nepal’s tourism department. “Altogether this year we lost 17 people on the mountain this season,” he said. “The main cause is the changing in the weather. This season the weather conditions were not favourable, it was very variable. Climate change is having a big impact in the mountains.”

Confirmation of something climate science related in the Himalayas (where Mount Everest is located) by the tourism director rather than a climate scientist? That’s just as bad as the now retracted claim from 2009 that the glaciers of the Himalayas would be gone by 2035. Even the climate scientists had to apologize for that one. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to warn governments around the world about the effects of climate change, was forced to apologize for claiming that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

Why? They used a report from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) as the basis for the claim—yet the WWF referenced not scientific studies, but reports and magazine stories as a “trusted source” for their claims. Once that became known, the IPCC retracted its claim, issuing an official statement.

It seems like déjà vu all over again with the latest report about Mount Everest and climate change. Ridiculous references aside, there is the unambiguous matter of time as it relates to climate change.

The Guardian’s inference is refuted by the evidence provided in Climate at a Glance: Weather vs. Climate, specifically:

  • The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) defines climate as “…the average weather conditions for a particular location and over a long period of time.”
  • To create a climate record, 30 years of weather data is averaged to create a “normal” climate expectation for a location or region.
  • What we experience on a day-to-day basis are weather events, not climate events. Weather is not climate.

University of Colorado Climatologist Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr. had this to say about this issue:

[I]t is simply incorrect to claim that on climate time scales the frequency or intensity of extreme weather and climate events has increased for: flooding, drought (meteorological or hydrological), tropical cyclones, winter storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, lightning or extreme winds (so, storms of any type).

One can’t scientifically attribute a single year’s weather events to long-term climate change. One must instead look at long-term trends. Neither the Nepal’s tourism director nor The Guardian cited any evidence that weather conditions on Mount Everest have displayed a long-term trend of becoming more erratic, because no such evidence exists.

The Guardian’s own article points to two other factors as being the most likely contributing factors of the increased deaths on Mount Everest this past climbing season:

Those still missing include solo Hungarian climber Suhajda Szilárd, who scaled the mountain without a sherpa guide or additional oxygen, and an Indian-Singaporean climber who is feared to have fallen off the mountain.

This year has been more deadly than 2019, when images went viral of overcrowding and “carnage” on Everest, with hundreds of climbers waiting up to 12 hours to scale the mountain and reports that people were forced to clamber over bodies and incapacitated climbers. A total of 11 people died that year.

The Nepal government has been criticised for issuing 479 permits this year, the highest number ever.

Ang Norbu Sherpa, the president of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association, said “too many” permits were being issued and it was putting environmental pressure on the mountain.

“The climbing has pattern has changed, it used to be hardened climbers but now it is a lot of novice climbers who want to get to the summit of Everest,” said Sherpa.

So, the combination of “too many permits” coupled with an increase in “novice climbers” is likely the core cause of this year’s high number of mountain climbing deaths on Mount Everest. Contra The Guardian’s likely deliberately alarming headline, climate change need not apply as a factor.

It’s incompetent journalism when the headline says one thing, but the article says something else entirely. The Guardian should be ashamed, but they have proven time and again that when it comes to erroneously reporting on climate change, they have no shame.

Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

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