Monday, June 1, 2009

Report on Climate Change's 300,000 Death Toll is not Grounded in Scientific Analysis

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.

Aside from the New York Times’ DotEarth blog, other newspaper articles on this read like a press release. This is unfortunate, and another example of how the media does not yet have a strong understanding of the problems of climate change: too often they only report what is said, without determining if it is credible or not. They do this with both sides of the debate.

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.


  1. The same Pielke who according to ThinkProgress "has testified at the request of Republicans about the politicization of science, written for the Cato Institute, and whose attacks on climate scientists have been repeatedly cited by Marc Morano’s right-wing climate denial machine."

    Also likes to think of himself as a Blue Dog Democrat. Clearly a man interested in fact and science before politics, right? Just like the Blue Dogs?

  2. Regardless of where Pielke may have testified at other places, he's actually a member of the Breakthrough Institute, hardly a right wing organization. His arguments regarding the GHF's report are still sound though. I suggest you look at exactly how the GHF gets its numbers; it's clear the report's written for a political impact and unfortunately, it's exagerations are being picked up by actual climate change deniers to bolster their case that climate change is exagerated.

    See today's Wall Street Journal Op-ed.