Last Friday, the Global Humanitarian Forum, a think tank led by Kofi Annan, released a report alleging that climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths and $125 billion in economic losses a year. This generated many headlines in major newspapers because someone had finally quantified the “precise” death toll resulting from climate change.
Political scientist Roger Pielke Jr was quoted in the New York Times as calling the report a “methodological embarrassment”. On his blog, Pielke details the many reasons why the “300,000” death toll figure is completely unscientific.
In reading the report, it clearly assumes that climate change is solely responsible for the increase in weather related natural disasters since 1980 and then concludes that the increase in death tolls due to weather related disasters since 1980 to the present must also be the sole result of climate change.
It is true that a changing climate will (and may already have) harmed the quality of life of millions of people in many developing nations – this presents an risk to international stability. However, the way to change public opinion is to make honest and sound arguments; not publishing hyperbolic and ungrounded claims. Reports like this only serve to help deniers of climate change, such as the Telegraph’s James Delingpole, who uses this report to undermine the scientific credibility of other science. He calls climate change a “good scare story”.
Credibility is important, especially when dealing with something as complex as climate change. Oversimplifying the truth just undermines it.