The occasional claim that hundreds of thousands of people are now dying of climate change runs up against the inconvenient reality that it is impossible to name one, since death certificates record actual causes not theoretical ones. But researchers at The Australian National University want to add climate change to death certificates so they can start saying that people are dying from climate change because it says so on the death certificate. Though if they start doing this it won’t be long before they have to add weather as another cause of death because as we have noted, cold causes more fatalities than heat and according to the game, anything unusually cold is weather, not climate.
You know what else would happen if this recommendation were followed. Deaths to which hot weather contributed would be classified as “climate-change-related” even if there was no evidence that we were getting more hot weather let alone that humans were responsible. (For instance, Ottawa just had its longest run of days with its maximum temperature under 30°C in nearly a decade. But never mind. #hottestyearever.)
The study, published in the otherwise reputable Lancet, wants to throw a bunch of bodies on the pile immediately. “National mortality records in Australia suggest substantial under-reporting of heat-related mortality. Less than 0.1% of 1.7 million deaths between 2006 and 2017 were attributed directly or indirectly to excessive natural heat (table). However, recent research indicates that official records underestimate the association at least 50-fold.”
Note that those would be heat-related deaths. Not “climate-related”. Especially not in the earlier years. Unless the coming climate crisis is already upon us and has been for decades when convenient. But it’s a pretty short step from listing heat-related deaths to calling them climate-related. And of course ignoring any drop in cold-related deaths, to say nothing of crediting climate change for having helped prevent them, even though it is well-established that cold kills a lot more people than heat does.
The article complains that not attributing such deaths to climate is like saying someone was killed by a falling branch without mentioning the lightning strike that caused it to hit them. One is prompted to wonder whether there’s a lot of that sort of thing in Australia. And if we’re going down that route why not also blame the death on overgrown trees, or on the bureaucratic ineptitude that prevented the homeowner from removing the diseased tree from his property? But when it comes to climate-related deaths, the authors are not plagued by uncertainty. They admit that there’s a lot of inaccuracy in death-certificate information especially in parts of the world with “scarcity of resources necessary to maintain or improve the data quality and a lack of physician training in death certificate completion”. But don’t worry. Just list climate change and nobody will ask any questions. Aka “Given the unpredictable nature and global scale of climatic and other environmental events, such as the Australian heatwaves and bushfires of 2019–20, it is imperative that systems designed to monitor national mortality accurately reflect the impact of large-scale environmental events.”
We debunked many of the usual claims regarding the Australian bushfires, including that it was evidence of climate change rather than negligent forest management. The article ends “Climate change is a concern to many people. But if the effect of extreme temperatures is not recorded, its full impact can never be understood. Death certification needs to be modernised, indirect causes should be reported, with all death certification prompting for external factors contributing to death, and these death data must be coupled with large-scale environmental datasets so that impact assessments can be done. We declare no competing interests.”
Certainly not any interest in exaggerating the impact of the “climate crisis”. Heavens no. Perish the thought. Due to heat.