Climate change saved over half a million people in England and Wales alone
By Alex Reichmuth
If climate change has saved half a million lives in England and Wales alone in the last two decades, it can be deduced that it must be many millions in temperate countries.
British authorities estimate that over 550,000 fewer people have died than could be expected in the last 20 years due to higher temperatures – in England and Wales alone. Global warming is becoming a blessing in temperate zones.
Anyone who relies on media reports must come to the conclusion that countless people are dying because of climate change. “More and more heat deaths due to the climate crisis in Germany,” headlined the “Spiegel.” The magazine “Geo” wrote: Without rigid measures to protect the climate, “an additional 83 million people could die by the end of the century.” A study involving the University of Bern also made headlines last year, according to which 37 percent of heat-related deaths can be attributed to man-made global warming.
Such reports often only focus on a small section of the effects of global warming. For example, people fail to appreciate that fewer cold-related deaths are to be expected as temperatures rise, or that people are generally very adept at adapting to changing climatic conditions.
The British Office for National Statistics (ONS) has now come to interesting results in a report that was published a few days ago. The ONS analysed how climate-related mortality developed in England and Wales between 2001 and 2020. It recorded all deaths whose cause showed a temperature dependency. In particular, these are respiratory diseases and infections, which become more important in the cold, as well as cardiovascular problems and heart attacks, which become more frequent in the heat (see here).
The ONS notes that the average temperatures during the period studied were higher than they used to be. From 1991 to 2020 it was 0.9 degrees warmer than from 1961 to 1990. From the prevailing temperatures, the office estimated how many deaths were recorded each year due to cold or heat.
Annually 27,755 fewer fatalities
The result: while in 2001 there were still 993 climate-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, in 2019 there were only 771. (In 2020 it was slightly more with 830 due to the pandemic). Overall, according to the ONS, 555,103 fewer people died in England and Wales from 2001 to 2020 due to cold or heat. That’s an average of 27,755 per year.
The strong decrease in climate-related deaths is also due to better adaptation to temperature extremes and better health care.
What is remarkable is that the increase in warm days during the months of June to September led to a total of 1,643 additional heat-related deaths. However, this number lags behind the decrease in deaths due to fewer cold days by orders of magnitude. This finding also contradicts the assertion that has been made time and again that the number of heat deaths is increasing faster than the number of cold deaths is decreasing.
In short, global warming has saved well over half a million lives. However, the strong decrease in climate-related deaths is not only due to higher temperatures, but also, according to the ONS, to better adaptation to temperature extremes, better health care and “improvements in socio-economic circumstances”.
People are getting better and better at protecting themselves
At the same time, the ONS warns that the trend towards fewer climate-related deaths could reverse in the coming decades if the UK is increasingly hit by extreme heat. However, there are several studies that show that even heat-related deaths have tended to decrease in recent years – despite rising temperatures. In concrete terms, people are becoming better and better at protecting themselves from heat waves, for example with insulating construction, planning more green spaces or using air conditioning more often.
If climate change has saved half a million lives in England and Wales alone in the last two decades, it can be deduced that it must be many millions in temperate countries. The effect that cold-related deaths are falling more than heat-related deaths is likely to also play a role in other European countries, in America and in large parts of Asia. Higher crop yields are also expected in these climate zones due to rising temperatures, so overall climate change should prove to be a boon.