What Greta Thunberg kept silent about: how the climate actually kills people

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What Greta Thunberg kept silent about: how the climate actually kills people
What Greta Thunberg kept silent about: how the climate actually kills people

Global warming has not only negative consequences: it has markedly reduced human mortality and increased biomass in the wild, triggering the process of global greening.

Greta Thunberg

When we go to school and read science pop, it seems to us that science is simple and cool. But, in fact, this is not the case. Science is hard and that's why it's cool. It can be likened to a street fight: there is nothing interesting in defeating someone who is equal to you in age or strength. It's really fun to beat someone who's hard to beat.

When someone presents a difficult problem to you as something very simple, they are not just misrepresenting actual scientific facts in favor of simplification. In addition, it robs you of the pleasure of understanding things that are not at all obvious to the naked eye.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, fell victim to a scholarly pop who posed the difficult topic of global warming “simple and cool”: as an obvious and undeniable evil threatening the entire planet. We will try to show those aspects of him that are not talked about at school. But, knowing about them, you can look with different eyes at the fiery speeches of a young eco-activist, deceived by simplistic interpretations of warming in popular literature.

How climate makes Russia an endangered country

In 2006-2015, 25.58% of all deaths in Russia occurred in 90 days of December-February, and only 24.46% - in June-August, 92 days. Taking into account the difference in the average length of winter and summer months, the average daily mortality in December-February is 4.58% higher than in June-August. At the same time, the data for this period give a blurry picture: after all, all these years, the mortality rate in Russia has fallen sharply (over ten years - by more than 10%), which could not but distort the indicators of the ten-year cut. Therefore, for insurance, we will take data close to our time. According to Rosstat, 499,932 people died in December-January 2016, and 461,135 people died in June-August. The average daily difference is 8, 41%.

It seems that mortality in winter and summer does not differ much, but this is only as long as we do not translate percentages into human lives. If mortality in winter was like in summer, then in 2016 in our country there would be 39 thousand fewer deaths. Let us make a special reservation: our estimate of excess winter mortality does not include all deaths caused by the cold, since in Russia such events can occur in November and March. But this figure is noticeably more than all the losses of Russia in all wars after 1945. That is, our country loses more from winter excess mortality per year than in three quarters of a century from all those wars about which they talk so much on TV and in the press.


But all those who have written tens of thousands of anti-war articles and dozens of books have never, not once, not a single article urged to somehow fight the huge winter mortality due to which our country is dying out today. Yes, we did not make a reservation. In 2016, in Russia, the natural population decline was about 20 thousand people, almost half the excess winter mortality. Without it, the country's population in recent years would have shown continuous growth. Our cold climate is waging a war against us, the scale of which is incomparably greater than any war after the Great Patriotic War. And while he confidently wins: every year there are fewer of us.

The reasons why the extremely unpleasant influence of the climate on the mass deaths of our fellow citizens is practically not covered in the press, are simple. Few people know about this phenomenon.War and other high-profile events are effectively presented on television, but the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year from the effects of winter are not reported in the media. This is not a fashionable topic, you can't cut hype on it. If so, then no one will figure this out for us - so we will do it without delay, right now.

Colds in Bangladesh: more dangerous than the Russian winter

One could argue that Russia is not an indicator. We have average annual temperatures - minus five degrees, colder only in Canada. So if we have global warming and reduce mortality, then in warm countries it will obviously raise it.

Let's move on from speculative reasoning to dry numbers. They report that in Bangladesh, the maximum death rate occurs in the winter, when temperatures drop from an average 28 degrees to just an average of 17 degrees Celsius. Back in 2012, the peer-reviewed journal Global Health Action showed: with an average weekly temperature below 29.6 degrees, the frequency of deaths for Bangladeshis grew by 2.4% with a drop in temperature for each degree. That is, at 24.6 degrees, mortality was 12% higher than at plus 29.6. This cold excess mortality is even higher than in Russia with its extreme climate. A decrease in average annual temperatures in Bangladesh by only a degree - while more than 750 thousand people die there a year - could mean an increase in mortality by a couple of tens of thousands of people a year. If the winter average 17-18 degrees were equal to the summer 28 degrees, the death rate in this country would be lower by tens of thousands of people per year.

What the work failed to find was a temperature threshold for heat waves, after which deaths in Bangladesh would begin to rise. Apparently, in the country for 1980-2009, the data for which were used in the work, it is simply not hot enough: even in weeks with an average temperature of + 34.3, mortality did not grow, remaining very low. This is interesting because it rains heavily in Bangladesh during the summer, which theoretically makes the heat worse. In addition, summer mortality is exacerbated by the floods that are typical in this part of the world during summer cyclones. But, despite both of these factors, winter mortality is still higher than summer mortality - that is, cold, even such cold as we do not think, is much more dangerous for this country than tropical hurricanes, which are most often recalled by the media and the UN, describing the horrors of the global warming for Bangladesh.

It is worth remembering every time we are informed from another high rostrum that “Bangladesh is considered the most vulnerable country to climate change in the world”. “Warming Bangladesh” is the best illustration for a simple thought: global warming is a multifaceted phenomenon, and you can only judge about it by learning more. Undoubtedly, this country suffers from more frequent hurricanes after warming - only much less than from cold weather, even though global warming has weakened them.

For one beaten, two unbeaten give

The reader has the right to doubt: are not statistics deceiving us? Are there some invisible factors not related to cold weather, but raising winter mortality? Why is there such a huge cold death rate in Bangladesh? Maybe the excesses on New Year's holidays are to blame for everything?

In the scientific community, this question has arisen for a long time. The idea of ​​a high mortality rate in winter has rather unpleasant consequences: the fight against global warming turns out to be a struggle for preservation and even growth - after all, a victory over warming will inevitably result in a drop in the current average temperatures - human mortality. Of course, many scientists have tried to challenge the thesis that winter deaths are caused by cold weather. The idea that winter holidays are to blame for everything has never been seriously discussed: the same Bangladesh is a Muslim and therefore very little drinking country.

Scientists have tried to find more sophisticated explanations.For example, they noted that in winter a person goes out less often, less often goes in for sports and walks in the open air, which is why he gains excess weight, and more often has the flu. Opponents immediately noted that everything is correct, but this is not by chance, but precisely from the action of low temperatures.

Then another elegant hypothesis appeared: ultraviolet light is to blame for everything. In winter, there is a shortage of it in the Northern Hemisphere, and without ultraviolet radiation, the body produces less vitamin D, which makes the immune system weaker. This idea explained everything well, but only until it was compared with empirical data. So, it turned out that in Bangladesh in winter, dry, sunny weather, and the duration of daylight hours is not much lower (tropics) than in summer. Ultraviolet light is very efficiently absorbed by water vapor, so in the cloudless Bangladeshi winter, the local resident receives more of it than in the rainy summer.

Worse, statistics for New Zealand showed that mortality there in winter is 18% higher than in other months (the gap is wider than in Russia). The specificity of this country is that above it and nearby Australia there is a low concentration of ozone and there is almost no industrial air pollution, which is why its inhabitants receive 40% more ultraviolet radiation than the average American or Russian. There is so much of it that it is New Zealand that is the world leader in the incidence of skin cancer (however, it is quite rarely fatal). As a result, in the local winter, the New Zealander receives as much ultraviolet radiation as the typical inhabitant of the Northern Hemisphere in the summer. And, despite this, the gap between winter and summer mortality here is clearly higher than the Russian 8, 41% in 2016.

The real reasons for the increased cold mortality are different. When a person is cold, blood vessels narrow (especially those close to the skin), and in order to pump blood through them, the body has to raise blood pressure, putting more stress on the heart, which maintains this pressure. Higher pressure requires an increase in the viscosity of the blood and an increase in the number of platelets in it. So, cold causes a person to react most of all to ordinary severe stress. As with stress, high blood pressure, blood viscosity and high platelet counts trigger blood clots and then increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. It is these factors, together with respiratory diseases that occur naturally in cold weather, that are the main reason for the high winter mortality rate. Attempts to attribute them to something else have failed to date.

The reasons why New Zealanders and Bangladeshis die from cold weather more often than residents of our country is that the optimal temperatures for a person depend on the climate in which he grew up and lived. “For one beaten two unbeaten people give”: the average Muscovite did not live in a hot climate, so he knows that in winter one should dress warmer. In addition, his house is heated in winter, while in New Zealand or Bangladesh, heating devices often only have air conditioning. Therefore, the cardiovascular system, although it "breaks down" in winter more often than usual, but still not as often as a resident of countries spoiled by heat. For similar reasons, typical cold weather deaths in Europe are much higher than in Russia.


Yes, we didn’t make a reservation. In the winter of 2017-2018, from a relatively harsh winter, excess cold deaths in England and Wales, according to official British data, amounted to 50 thousand people (and this is not counting Scotland and Northern Ireland). Its population is much less than Russian, but the number of excess winter deaths is very similar. In a typical winter, there are 37 thousand excess winter deaths, which is still higher per capita than ours.

England is far from the most cold-affected nation. The European leader in winter mortality is Portugal. There, in winter, the death rate is 28% higher than in the warm season (8,800 excess cold deaths annually). It is followed by Spain (19 thousand deaths a year) and Ireland (21%).Italy in winter showed mortality 16% higher than in summer (27 thousand deaths per year), Greece - by 18% (5,700 per year). Only five EU countries lose 89,300 deaths from the cold each year. For comparison: 87 thousand people died from all wars on the planet in 2016.

Not surprisingly, back in 2002, Western scientific literature concluded: "Cold is likely to remain the most important factor in the environment leading to loss of life …"

How many people are killed by the heat

To date, the largest empirical evidence of increased mortality from heat is the European "wave of 2003", when 70 thousand people died in 16 European countries. A large number, but it is important to remember that this is the peak result in the entire history of observations. Do not forget that in 16 countries, even from such a peak, one-time event, less died than in five of these 16 countries annually die from the cold.

The optimum temperature at which mortality is minimal varies greatly around the world. The cool UK has a mortality minimum at 18.0 degrees. With each degree higher, the mortality rate grows slightly: if there were plus 19 all year, the excess mortality from the heat would be a thousand people a year, and with an average of plus 23 - five thousand people a year. That is, in no foreseeable future will mortality from heat there exceed mortality from cold - even if the population of Britain does not adapt to warmer conditions as temperatures rise.

And this is a very likely scenario. In 2008, the journal Epidemiology analyzed at what temperature in 15 European cities the lowest mortality rate is observed. It turned out that if for Stockholm it is 22 degrees, then in Rome and Athens - above plus 30. In Bangladesh, as we have already noted, the increase in mortality could not be recorded at 34 degrees and high humidity.

The most complete comparison to date of the actual impact of global warming on mortality is also carried out in Britain, one of the most climatically vulnerable countries. They found that in 1978-2005, warming led to an increase in deaths from heat by 0.7 cases per million inhabitants. In other words, rising temperatures have killed about forty Britons a year in three decades. During the same time, global warming has reduced cold deaths in this country by 85 cases per million inhabitants per year, only five thousand people per year. That is, global warming does kill, but in the case of Britain, it is 120 times weaker than it protects against death.


Naturally, such works caused an extremely negative reaction from those researchers who could not come to terms with the idea that global warming could be positive. In 2014, a paper came out according to which warming will not reduce winter mortality in Britain in the future. To reach this conclusion, the authors looked at how winter mortality changes with the number of cold days in the UK. They were able to show that the number of excess "temperature" deaths does not depend on the number of days with temperatures below five degrees in a given winter.


Alas, the authors of the work did not sufficiently address the scientific literature that already existed at that time. Therefore, they did not know that the formal number of cold days in itself is not an indicator of winter mortality. As we have already noted above, in Russia in winter the mortality rate is higher than in summer by 8, 41%, and in New Zealand - by 16%. Moreover, in Bangladesh, even a four-degree drop in the average weekly temperature causes a larger surge in mortality than the Russian winter - in Russia, although our temperature drops by tens of degrees. The more important parameter is not the number of days colder than five degrees (where both frosty and frost-free days fall into one heap), but the average temperature throughout the winter - which their work has not affected. Three years later, another work on the example of the same Britain categorically rejected the idea that warming would not lead to a decrease in mortality among the British in the future.

Using modeling (instead of empirical data), they tried to develop similar ideas for the world as a whole. A survey paper in The Lancet, which tried to predict for 2099, predicted a slight increase in climate deaths - due to the fact that there will be more victims of overheating than those saved from the cold. However, its authors honestly noted that their calculations were made “on the assumption of the lack of adaptation” of the population to the climate.

This assumption is highly dubious - and not only on the basis of the UK experience. A study in 15 major cities in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea shows that adaptation has taken place over the past decade, leading to a drop in heat-related deaths. In addition, work at The Lancet predicts, by 2099, even temperate countries a frequency of heat deaths not currently seen in any other country, including the hottest. To obtain such figures, the authors of the study used only modeling, and not empirical data, since it is impossible to deduce such an exponential increase in mortality with temperature from them.

All these complexities led Veronika Huber, one of the authors of the work, to say bluntly: "It is highly unlikely that this study accurately reflects the real changes in excess mortality from climate change." This is a very honest assessment that distinguishes this work from the ones we quoted above and based on the facts that have already happened, the decrease in mortality due to global warming.

The vulnerability of any forward-looking modeling in the face of empirical evidence showing a decline in mortality due to warming has already occurred, has led to the emergence of another "anti-warming" hypothesis. A number of researchers have tried to challenge the very fact that low temperatures lead to increased winter mortality.

For example, a 2015 study argues that because colder cities have no higher mortality rates in winter than warmer ones, low temperatures are not the main cause of winter mortality. The authors do not even try to put forward any hypothesis about what, in fact, caused the surge in deaths from diseases of the cardiovascular system in winter. Apparently, behind the complexity of this task. As you might guess, such conclusions were subjected to devastating criticism in a later article by another group of scientists, published in the journal Epidemiolgy.


As we have already noted above, such works show that the researchers behind them did not study the entire body of previously written works, which showed long ago and convincingly that the level of cold mortality does not depend on specific temperature figures, but on the adaptation of the population to them - and that is why in In Russia, the winter excess mortality rate is 8%, and in Portugal - 28%.

Mortality will fall, but will habitability decline?

The media often tells us that global warming is making extreme weather more frequent: droughts, rains, high winds, heat waves, and the like. “More and more of the planet is becoming uninhabitable,” they conclude.

With the influence of warming on humans, this is clearly not the case: both the number of people and the part of the land they occupy is constantly growing. The same Bangladesh is a small country with an area of ​​the Vologda Oblast, only there are 140 times more inhabitants than in the Vologda region, and more than in Russia in general. It is obvious that the Vologda region does not particularly suffer from a hot climate, strong winds (their average speed is extremely low there), hurricanes and the like. But any attempt to feed 150 million people on its surface (as many people live in Bangladesh) will lead to a monstrous humanitarian catastrophe. This is no coincidence: hot and humid places, which are often visited by hurricanes, have a significantly higher plant biomass per unit area, because plants grow better in warmth and with an abundance of water. Therefore, in fact - as is observed in the surrounding world - the land area suitable for human habitation does not fall anywhere.


Moreover, scientists from the Krasnoyarsk Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the NASA Research Center in Langley have established that it is thanks to warming that five times more people will be able to live in Siberia by 2080 than now. The main reason is the melting of permafrost, often described as a key threat to Siberia's habitability. Indeed, it reduces the stability of the foundations of houses. But far less often it is remembered that less than two percent of its population lives on the permafrost, which occupies two-thirds of Russia. This means that the population density there is about a hundred times lower than in those parts of Russia where there is no permafrost. The number of houses whose foundations are under threat is very small, but the number of houses that could replace them, if the permafrost melted there, is much greater. Not thawing permafrost reduces the suitability of our country for human habitation, namely the very presence of this permafrost.


A similar situation is observed in warm countries. Warming has already led to an increase in precipitation by two percent - after all, more water evaporates from the oceans, and this makes an increase in rainfall inevitable. Increased rainfall makes the drier parts of the world wetter. In addition, anthropogenic CO2 emissions reduce plants' water requirements: when there is more carbon dioxide in the air, plants lose less moisture through the stomata in the leaves when they are opened to breathe.

Why global warming has led to a rapid increase in biomass on the planet

But what does warming bring to wildlife? We are often told that nature is the main victim of global warming. And the figures indicate something else: for the years 1982-2011, the leaf area index of terrestrial plants increased by more than a third of the planet's area. Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand exactly how much the plant biomass has grown from the leaf area. Perhaps the leaves are growing just like that, for no reason occupying more and more new areas?


There is a more direct way to find out what's really going on. Plants absorb carbonyl sulfide, a compound of carbon, oxygen and sulfur (COS). In the air bubbles from the Arctic and Antarctic ice, it is clearly seen that in the 20th century, the concentration of carbonyl sulfide in the atmosphere dropped noticeably. Therefore, scientists believe that in the last century, the rate of formation of new plant biomass on the planet was 31% higher than the norm. That is, the leaves reflect an objective reality: warming and anthropogenic carbon emissions have already sharply spurred the growth of Earth's biomass.

Predictions for the future in scientific journals also do not coincide with what we see so often in the media. Contrary to popular science publications about the expansion of arid zones as a result of warming, precipitation in the Sahel and in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula is increasing. In a few decades, these deserts will turn into steppes.

Why is the area of ​​tropical land growing during global warming

No less often we are informed that the islands of the Pacific Ocean are about to be flooded due to rising sea levels. The UN, again, is concerned about continental countries such as Bangladesh, which are located low above sea level. Therefore, many predict that it is from these places that many millions of climate refugees will soon rush.

Such stories are rarely accompanied by figures of specific area losses in Tuvalu and Bangladesh. And there is an important reason for that: the land area there is actually growing. In 2018, researchers from New Zealand showed in Nature Communications that the island nation of Tuvalu has grown by 2.9% in satellite images. This happened in spite of the fact that the locals did not put a finger to their finger to build bank protection structures, only because as temperatures rise, the surf becomes stronger and carries more sand to the shores of low coral atolls.

Bangladesh is inhabited by slightly different people, therefore, since 1957, the locals - before they realized that the sea was coming - have been actively expanding their land area. To date, more than a thousand square kilometers have been reclaimed from the sea.Moreover, now a project is being implemented that will allow to get 10 thousand square kilometers at once, increasing the area of ​​the country by 7%. Bangladesh is a poor and technically not the most advanced country. More developed states can do much more in terms of defense against the advancing sea. Moreover, the rate of its rise is 30 centimeters in 100 years. Coastal protection structures of 30 centimeters per century can easily be afforded by a country, even poorer than Bangladesh.


Moreover, neither Bangladesh nor Tuvalu are exceptions to the rule. Dutch researchers back in 2016 on the pages of Nature Climate Change reported: over the past 30 years, the land area on the planet has grown by 58 thousand square kilometers (more than the Tula region). Of these, in coastal areas, where water, logically, comes - on 12, 5 thousand square kilometers. As we can see, the sea advances on land noticeably slower than land at sea. And this is understandable: the rate of rise in ocean level is only three millimeters per year. Even a country with the most primitive technical means can not only resist this, but also go on the offensive, reclaiming new lands from the sea at very reasonable costs.

Why "Greta's Consensus" wins in the information field - in spite of the numbers

So, we have established that heat kills much less than cold, even in places with very hot and humid climates. And that is why global warming reduces mortality and in England alone saves five thousand people a year. We found out that anthropogenic CO2 emissions, along with the same warming, make our planet much greener and sharply - by tens of percent - increased the growth of biomass. Not in a simulated future, but today, by now. We learned that in spite of the rise in sea level, the land is expanding and it makes more sense for ecologists to fight an actually ongoing attack on the sea than with an actually non-ongoing flooding of the land. That the melting of permafrost does not reduce the habitability of Siberia, but increases it many times over. The question arises: why do we hear exactly the opposite in the media?

There are two reasons for this. First, the scientists themselves, engaged in the study of climate, do not have a holistic picture of what is happening. We do not live in the times of Ancient Greece, where Aristotle was engaged in both philosophy and biology, understanding both better than all his contemporaries.

As a prominent modern scientist notes today: “… Science is a set of sandboxes, in each of which dozens of people are poking around. They are all scattered around the world, so if you are developing a topic, you will not have anyone to talk to about it, except for business trips abroad. There is no one to talk to about their topic, not only because they will not understand. When I open the latest issues of scientific journals, there is nothing to catch my eye, the titles of the articles sound so monstrously boring. These are the topics that correspond to them. You are guaranteed a round-the-clock loading of your head, but it is also guaranteed that after half a century of such loading, you will hardly be able to explain the results you came to even to yourself. This is not surprising: in order to publish, you have to do something new, put your reasoning in a very rigid framework and compete. The way out is usually seen in bringing some small technical detail into the discussion."

Fierce competition in science is most easily won by specialization and the refinement of small technical details. This leaves little time for familiarization with the broader picture - the context of the processes being studied. In such an environment, the study of cold mortality work in Bangladesh is not in the interest of scientists who write about cold mortality in England. Researchers writing about the rise in sea level predict the flooding of the land in their works, but at the same time they do not read the works about how, in fact, according to satellite images, its area is growing.

Humanity has developed a scientific apparatus that is ideal in its specialization, in which the average scientist has more chances to learn something outside of his narrow specialization from science pop than from scientific journals. After all, as scientists themselves tell us: "When I open the latest issues of scientific journals, the eye has nothing to catch, the titles of the articles sound so monstrously boring."

This means that even in the scientific community itself, researchers find it difficult to agree on positions: the right hand often does not know what the left is writing. Some parts of this community may not know anything about scientific facts that are well known in other parts of it.

Theoretically, popular science publications, summarizing the results of various works - both about winter mortality in different countries, and about a surge in biomass growth, and about the onset of land - could partially solve the problem.

But this practically does not happen. Pop people live in the media world. Here it is more profitable to write about the coming of a terrible end, that we will soon all die of the heat, that the sea will flood everything. Such non-boring headlines are more often clicked on. Almost no one will click on the headline “Global warming can have mixed consequences, some of which are bad, while others - on the contrary”. Everyone loves the unambiguity, the ease of reading, and finally the chilling details.

We mentioned another big science pop problem at the beginning of this article. He tries to tell the reader "science is simple and cool." Science is certainly cool (without it, we would never have known about the global greening of the Earth, for example), but not very simple. Simplification of scientific works requires “smoothing” of their ambiguities, less coverage of what may confuse the reader (especially if one work contradicts another). Science Pop really makes science easier - but only that which exists within its framework. The scientific picture that exists in objective reality - but outside of the promoted topics - with this approach remains unknown to the general public. And not only to her, but, as we noted, to many scientists.

Most likely, this means that the position of Greta Thunberg will win. Most likely, politicians in most countries will fight global warming. Perhaps they will win.

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