“How many people does climate change kill, and what proportion is the United Kingdom responsible for?”

Originally from the Guardian.

In April last year, a group of environmentalists shut down the energy company E.ON’s coal-fired power station in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, in the English Midlands. The goal: to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, in their words, “save lives”. On February 25, 2008, Judge Morris Cooper presented a 20-page ruling accepting that there was an “urgent need for drastic action”, but convicted the protestors of aggravated trespass, saying their defence — that their crime was necessary to save lives — could not be substantiated.

In the trial, for which I was an expert witness, crucial questions were: how many people does climate change kill, and what proportion is the United Kingdom responsible for? I was surprised to discover that nobody knows. Scientists such as me are involved in programmes to measure CO2 emissions, air temperatures, sea-ice loss and the much more complex impacts on birds, rainforest trees and coral reefs. We know that climate change-related events are killing people, yet there is no comprehensive global monitoring program to document the lives lost due to climate change. There is no official climate-change body count.

The author, Simon Lewis, is, at least, kind enough to offer a concession, that “Admittedly, the impact of climate change on human health and mortality is difficult to quantify.” No kidding.

Lewis’ position is a little at odds with that of George Monbiot, but I suffer a Health Economist’s prejudice: I will take quantification of any and every outcome I can. Even if it means we go about comparing victims of climate change to victims of queues in airports.

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