Global warming saves lives! Cold kills way more people than heat does.
Gradually rising temperatures across decades will increase the number of hot days and heat waves. If humans make no attempts whatsoever to adapt—a curious assumption that the report inexplicably relies on almost throughout—the total number of heat-related deaths will rise. But correspondingly, climate change will also reduce the number of cold days and cold spells. That will cut the total number of cold-related deaths.
Consider a rigorous study published last year in the journal Lancet that examined temperature-related mortality around the globe. The researchers looked at data on more than 74 million deaths in 384 locations across 13 areas: cold countries like Canada and Sweden, temperate nations like Spain, South Korea and Australia, and subtropical and tropical ones like Brazil and Thailand.
The Lancet researchers found that about 0.5%—half a percent—of all deaths are associated with heat, not only from acute problems like heat stroke, but also increased mortality from cardiac events and dehydration.
But more than 7% of deaths are related to cold—counting hypothermia, as well as increased blood pressure and risk of heart attack that results when the body restricts blood flow in response to frigid temperatures.
In the U.S. about 9,000 people die from heat each year but 144,000 die from cold.
A 2009 paper from the European Union expects that the reduction in cold deaths will definitely outweigh extra heat deaths in the 2020s. Even near the end of the century, in the 2080s, the EU study projects an increase in heat deaths of “between 60,000 and 165,000” and a decrease of cold deaths of “between 60,000 and 250,000.” In other words, the effects will probably balance each other out, but warming could save as many as 85,000 lives each year.
An academic paper published two years ago in Environmental Health Perspectives similarly shows that global warming will lead to a net reduction in deaths in both the U.K. and Australia. In England and Wales today, the authors write, statistics show that heat kills 1,500 people and cold kills 32,000. In the 2080s, they calculate that increased heat will kill an additional 3,500. But they find that cold deaths will drop by 10,000. In Australia the projections suggest 700 more heat deaths but 1,600 fewer cold deaths.
Globally, one estimate of the health effects of climate change, published in 2006 by Ecological Economics, shows 400,000 more respiratory deaths (mostly from heat) by midcentury, but 1.8 million fewer cardiovascular deaths (mostly from cold).