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Global Warming Causing Heat Fatalities

Posted on 24 April 2012 by dana1981

One of the fallback positions of climate denial after the assertions that "It's not happening" and "It's not us" fail is "It's not bad."  The latest incarnation of this myth courtesy of Pat Michaels' serial data deletion colleague Chip Knappenberger argues that those who seek to mitigate global warming are actually endangering public health because, and believe it or not this is a direct quote:

"“longer, more intense and more frequent heat waves” may actually improve the public health and welfare"

Here is the specific argument Knappenberger makes in attempting to defend this seemingly absurd thesis:

"more frequent exposure to heat waves will lead the population to adapt to them, better preparing them for their occurrence, and ultimately reducing the rate of mortality and morbidity."

By this logic gang violence is great because it makes people more adept at dodging bullets. 

Knappenberger cites a paper he co-authored, Davis et al. (2003), which found that heat-related deaths are less common in hotter cities.  This makes sense, as hotter cities have the infrastructure (i.e. air conditioning units) to cope with hotter temperatures.  They do not have to adapt - they are already adapted to the heat, whereas most heat-related deaths come in regions which experience uncommon heat events (but are now experiencing them more and more frequently due to global warming).  Thus this point does not support Knappenberger's argument that more heat waves would be beneficial.

Knappenberger describes the second point in Davis et al. as follows.

"over time, the rates of heat related mortality across virtually all the cities that we studied were declining even in the face of rising summer temperatures"

This point, however, is contradicted by more recent research.

Zanobetti et al. on Short-Term Heat Impacts

Zanobetti et al. (2012) take an interesting approach in investigating the relationship between hot weather events and mortalities.  Since the age group most at risk for heat deaths are the elderly (those over 65 years of age) with predisposed illnesses, Zanobetti compared Medicare data from 1985 to 2006 from 135 U.S. cities to summer temperatures.  The authors explain the reasoning behind their approach:

"By restricting the analysis to within a city, we avoid all confounding by factors that can vary across a city or region. By looking only at year-to-year variations around the city-specific trend in exposure, we eliminate potential confounding by trends in other exposures, such as smoking, and focus on whether essentially random meteorological events are related to health."

Zanobetti et al. find that larger summer temperature variability leads to more deaths among the elderly.  Each 1°C increase in summer temperature variability increased the death rate for elderly with chronic conditions between 2.8% and 4.0%, depending on the condition (emphasis added):

"A 1°C increase in temperature SD [standard deviation] is a plausible increase in some regions. Based on our findings, this increase in temperature SD would increase all-cause mortality in our MI [myocardial infarction] cohort by 5%, for example. Based on an average of 270,000 deaths per year across all four cohorts, a 5% increase in mortality would correspond to 14,000 additional deaths per year due to an increase in temperature variability in the United States."

Sherwood and Huber on Long-Term Heat Impacts

A 2009 paper by Sherwood and Huber examines a worst case scenario in which the average global surface temperature warms in the ballpark of 10°C a few centuries in the future.  They note that a wet-bulb temperature (Tw) exceedence of 35°C for extended periods should induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as they become unable to sufficiently dissipate heat.  In short, if Tw(max) of a particular region were to exceed 35°C for long periods of time, that region would effectively become uninhabitable to mammals.

"A 4°C increase in Tw would then subject over half the world’s population annually to unprecedented values and cut the “safety buffer” that now exists between the highest Tw(max) and 35°C to roughly a quarter. A shift of 5°C would allow Tw(max) to exceed 35°C in some locations, and a shift of 8.5°C would bring the most-common value to 35°C."

Based on their climate model simulations, Sherwood and Huber found that Tw increases somewhat more slowly than the average global surface temperature, such that a 1°C average global warming corresponds to a 0.75 to 1°C Tw increase.  Therefore, an 8.5°C Tw increase would require approximately 11°C global warming.

"We conclude that a global-mean warming of roughly 7°C would create small zones where metabolic heat dissipation would for the first time become impossible, calling into question their suitability for human habitation. A warming of 11–12°C would expand these zones to encompass most of today’s human population."

"A global-mean warming of only 3–4°C would in some locations halve the margin of safety (difference between Tw(max) and 35°C) that now leaves room for additional burdens or limitations to cooling."

"If warmings of 10°C were really to occur in next three centuries, the area of land likely rendered uninhabitable by heat stress would dwarf that affected by rising sea level."

In short, Sherwood and Huber find that there is a limit to what humans and other mammals can adapt to in terms of rising temperatures.  It will likely take a few centuries for global temperatures to reach that limit, but eventually large regions of the planet could become effectively uninhabitable, beyond what mammals can adapt to.

McInerney & Wing (2011) also examined the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM); a period about 56 million years ago during which global temperatures increased 5 to 8°C over a period of about 200,000 years.  They found that most species were able to avoid extinction by adapting to the increasing temperatures, for example by becoming smaller (increasing their surface area to volume ratio and thereby being better able to shed bodyheat).  Secord et al. (2012) similarly concluded that many species became smaller during the PETM and grew larger after the PETM (Figure 1).

Secord Fig 1

Figure 1: Summary of percent mean body size change in genera that exhibit change from the latest Paleocene to the PETM (left), and from the PETM to the post-PETM (right). No genus exhibits a size increase in the PETM or a decrease after the PETM. Compiled from published sources, except for Sifrhippus from this study. Asterisks indicate genera that first appear in the PETM (Secord et al. 2012).

Our problem is that current climate change is occurring much faster, over just centuries rather than the millennia of the PETM, and thus species will not have sufficient time to evolve in this manner.

Warmer is Not Better

The Knappenberger argument that higher temperatures will decrease heat-related deaths and thus benefit humanity thus suffers from two major flaws.  The first is that while fewer heat-related deaths occur when humans are adapted to high local temperatures, heat-related deaths will nevertheless rise in unprepared regions until they become adapted to those rising temperatures (i.e. by installing the necessary cooling infrastructure).  Zanobetti et al. illustrate that increasing heat-related deaths is already a reality.

The argument also neglects the long-term limit - there is a point at which temperatures can become too hot for humans and other mammals to survive.  If we continue on a business-as-usual path as Knappenberger promotes, we will likely reach that point within a few centuries, and the costs of losing the habitability of large regions of the planet are incalculable.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 76:

  1. the costs of losing the habitability of large regions of the planet are incalculable.
    Incalculable, eh? Right there is another reason for not acting too soon, until we can calculate the cost. Those warmist alarmist greenie pinko world dominators are just tryin' to scare ya Mabel. Gimme another beer! </sarc>
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  2. Even in areas accustomed to high temperatures, the effects can be devastating. Everyone knows the high number of spectacularly awful deaths by bushfire in Victoria a couple of years ago. What they overlook is that more people died, quietly and unspectacularly, in the heatwave that made the fires possible.
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  3. Wow, I thought the "heat waves are good for you" argument was relegated to the amateurs in the blogs. Thanks for pointing to and explaining some of the peer reviewed literature on the subject.

    Sad that some will so callously be willing to burden the future with such a risk as reduced inhabitable areas.
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  4. Arguably, the rate of change is the strongest factor creating an imperative for action and negating Knappenberger's arguments.

    As noted in the discussion of the PETM, those changes took place over a period of ~200,000 years (a temperature shift of 2.5*10-3 to 4*10-3 °C per century given a temperature change of 5 to 8 °C).

    In contrast, the shift in modern times thus far ends up being about two orders of magnitude more rapid (if memory serves).
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  5. Since, as the article points out, we can't evolve to deal with the increased heat, the answer is going to be running energy-burning air conditioning to deal with the problem (which will be fine for those of us in First-World cities, I suppose). And that's just going to drain more energy and require investment in infrastructure that may not be the most economically advantageous place to be putting our money--and, since we don't know where the electricity will be coming from, we may be making the matter worse by firing up more fossil-fuel powered plants or bringing old plants back on line to meet the ever-soaring demand for electricity (energy that's not being used to produce goods and grow any economy, but just to keep us from dropping dead).

    Many major cities already experience brownouts or blackouts during the hottest parts of the year. For all the shrieking the deniers do about correlation not implying causation, you'd think they'd do better than this.
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  6. What's the relevance of the Sherwood & Huber? I mean, 10ºC is a huge increase in temperature, not even projected by the most extreme climate models.
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  7. Daneel @6 - not predicted by 2100, no. As the post says, we're talking a few centuries in the future. That's the relevance.
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  8. Of course, if all the people in regions experiencing more frequent and severe heatwaves go out and buy air conditioners, this will increase the use of electricity, and in most instances the production of Carbon Dioxide, since fossil fuels will often need to be burned to power them. Similarly, people will be more prone to remain inside or inactive, and thus obesity rates will tend to increase. Of course, it won't surprise me if I read a skeptic argue that the air conditioners will contribute to global cooling, and that inactive people generate less heat through work . . .
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  9. Don9000 - "...people will be more prone to remain inside or inactive, and thus obesity rates will tend to increase.

    Or perhaps people will be more likely to remain prone in the heat? With the same effect on obesity?
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  10. Friedrich Nietzsche, the renowned philosopher, famously wrote, in 1888:

    What does not kill me, makes me stronger.

    He died twelve years later at the age of 55, after having endured three strokes over three years.
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  11. People need to fully understand what Huber in that National Academy of Sciences paper was talking about. The point is that this is not about thermometer temperatures, but essentially heat indexes, a combination of thermometer temperatures and relative humidity. Heat indexes high enough to kill most everyone do not require thermometer temperatures higher than what we already see regularly. This is important because this is about more and more water vapor in the air as the planet gets hotter and hotter. There is 4% more water vapor in the air now than just 40 years ago.

    The wet-bulb limit Huber talks about below is 35 degrees C or 95 degrees F, which according to him is a 170-196 degrees F heat index. This limit would cause death for most any human within hours, and this would include probably most any modern bird or mammal that lives on the surface. This limit, according to the online heat index calculator below, can be achieved with a thermometer temperature of only 105 degrees F with 75% relative humidity.

    But many if not most people would still not survive a heat index range at lower levels than this. This calculator below shows a thermometer temperature of 100 degrees F with 75% relative humidity gives a heat index of 150 degrees F, still enough to kill pretty quickly probably a high percentage of people or modern birds and mammals that live on the surface.

    Note: Air conditioners would not save us, certainly not the outside animals in question. All it would take is a single power failure at the wrong time.

    At the National Weather Service Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, I encourage everyone to play around with entered data for this online heat index calculator:

    "Meteorological Conversions and Calculations Heat Index Calculator"
    http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/html/heatindex.shtml

    I like what Huber himself said. Here are some quotes of his:

    "The Health Effects of Hotter Days and Nights"
    http://www.gaia-movement-usa.org/?q=node/46

    Quote: ""Most people are more familiar with the heat index, or the feels-like temperature they see on the weather report. The wet-bulb temperatures we are talking about would have a feels-like, or heat-index, temperature of between 170 to 196 degrees Fahrenheit," Huber said.

    "Researchers find future temperatures could exceed livable limits"
    http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2010/100504HuberLimits.html

    Quote: ""The wet-bulb limit is basically the point at which one would overheat even if they were naked in the shade, soaking wet and standing in front of a large fan," Sherwood said. "Although we are very unlikely to reach such temperatures this century, they could happen in the next.""
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  12. dana1981,

    Interesting arguments, but not really where the rubber meets the road.

    Perhaps you could review some papers that actually looked at observed trends in heat-related mortality in the face of global warming.

    Here are a few to get you started:

    Barnett, A.G., 2007. Temperature and cardiovascular deaths in the U.S. Elderly: Changes over time. Epidemiology, 18, 369-372.

    Carson, C., S. Hajat, B. Armstrong, and P. Wilkinson, 2006. Declining vulnerability to temperature-related mortality in London over the 20th century. American Journal of Epidemiology, 164, 77–84.

    Davis, R.E., P.C. Knappenberger, P.J. Michaels, and W.M. Novicoff, 2003. Changing heat-related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111, 1712–1718.

    Donaldson G.C., W.R. Keatinge, S. Nayha, 2003. Changes in summer temperature and heat-related mortality since 1971 in North Carolina, South Finland, and Southeast England. Environ Res 2003;91:1–7.

    Kalkstein, L.S., S. Greene, D.W. Mills, and J. Samenow, 2010. An evaluation of the progress in reducing heat-related human mortality in mjor U.S. cities. Natural Hazards, doi:10.1007/s11069-010-9552-3

    Kyselý, J., and E. Plavocá, 2012. Declining impacts of hot spells on mortality in the Czech Republic, 1986-2009: adaptation to climate change? Climatic Change, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0358-4

    Matzarakis, A., S. Muthers, and E. Koch, 2011. Human biometeorological evaluation of heat-related mortality in Vienna, Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 105, 1-10.


    If you look through these papers, you'll not only see evidence for declining sensitivity (through adaptation) to extreme heat, but also that these adaptations can and do occur rather quickly.

    -Chip
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  13. So let me see Chip (@12) all these people just couldn't be bothered to adapt quick enough.

    Now don't forget that 'rubber meets the road' not only in cities. I realise that US cities in particular have lots of air conditioners, each causing their own increase in CO2 emissions during periods of elevated temperature. If the conditioners are already working, which they often are keeping things unnaturally cool, then they just work harder. That kicks into touch many of those studies, hint we don't all live in cities and those in the sticks are likely to suffer power failures, thus air-conditioner failure, more rapidly and more often.

    As for that third down the list seeing as to who was involved in that then large pinches of salt should be used when perusing it. But don't panic, increased sweating releases more salt.

    I am curious as to why you picked that one and not this one mentioned here ?

    Whatever here is the other side of the coin and be sure to check out 'Related articles...' at the foot of.
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  14. Chip, it would help if you actually point out which of the papers you reference are supposed to support your argument. For example, Kalkstein et al. specifically say they don't know how increased heat events as a result of global warming will impact heat mortalities. You also reference Davis et al. (2003) which I addressed in the post above.

    There's also the problem of the costs of the necessary adaptions to cope with increased heat waves. Somehow people who argue that mitigating global warming will be expensive seem to forget the costs of adapting to global warming if we fail to mitigate it.
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  15. Chip's shotgun approach (a gentler term than the link-vomit term that comes so readily to mind) still lacks any cogent analysis. Conspicuous by its absence is the recent work of Christidis et al, which looked at:
    1. The trends of the changes (if any) in Cold-Related-Mortality (CRM) and Heat-Related-Mortality (HRM)
    2. To see what portion could be explained by human adaption (if any) and what could be attributed to climate change (if any)

    Causes for the recent changes in cold- and heat-related mortality in England and Wales
    Nikolaos Christidis, Gavin C. Donaldson and Peter A. Stott
    Climatic Change
    Volume 102, Numbers 3-4 (2010), 539-553, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-009-9774-0

    Synopsis:

    "Cold related mortality among people aged over 50 in England and Wales has decreased at a rate of 85 deaths per million population per year over the period 1976–2005. This trend is two orders of magnitude higher than the increase in heat-related mortality observed after 1976. Long term changes in temperature-related mortality may be linked to human activity, natural climatic forcings, or to adaptation of the population to a wider range of temperatures.

    The need for a formal statistical tool when one attempts to make attribution statements that link impacts of climate change to possible causes is clear. A less stringent approach could be very misleading. For example, it would be easy to compare the recent decrease in cold-related mortality with the increase in temperature and make the seemingly logical assumption that fewer people have died because of milder winters. Our work, however, shows that this is not the case.

    Here we employ optimal detection, a formal statistical methodology, to carry out an end to end attribution analysis. We find that adaptation is a major influence on changing mortality rates. We also find that adaptation has prevented a significant increase in heat-related mortality and considerably enhanced a significant decrease in cold-related mortality.

    Our analysis suggests that in the absence of adaptation, the human influence on climate would have been the main contributor to increases in heat-related mortality and decreases in cold-related mortality.
    "

    (Emphasis added)
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  16. Chip, I suggest that you familiarize yourself with http://www.limbicnutrition.com/blog/resources/a-code-of-conduct-for-effective-rational-discussion/

    because you're failing to adhere to most of these principles, notably in this case the rebuttal principle.
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  17. Let's not leave out Jacobson 2010, as heat is not the only factor in increasing mortality.

    Jacobson found that domes of increased carbon dioxide concentrations – discovered to form above cities more than a decade ago – cause local temperature increases that in turn increase the amounts of local air pollutants, raising concentrations of health-damaging ground-level ozone as well as particles in urban air.

    Similarly, Jacobson 2007 found

    ... increased water vapor and temperatures from higher CO2 separately increase ozone more with higher ozone; thus, global warming may exacerbate ozone the most in already-polluted areas ... About 40% of the additional deaths may be due to ozone and the rest, to particles, which increase due to CO2-enhanced stability, humidity, and biogenic particle mass.

    I really like the 'adapt and do it quickly' philosophy.
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  18. This dialog between Mr. Knappenburger and blogger "TokyoTom"(self-described as "a right-leaning enviro-libertarian"), in which Mr. Knappenburger freely participated, and agreed to have published on the web, in informative about the usefulness of his research to those seeking the truth (see principle #2 in "A Code of Conduct for Effective Rational Discussion"):

    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/04/02/update-on-science-advocacy-and-pat-michaels-correspondence-with-chip-knappenberger.aspx
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  19. Lionel A (#13):

    No doubt that there will be short-term hardships for places where heat-waves are currently rare. But once adaptation measures start to be adopted, the sensitivity of the population to extreme heat declines rapidly (see Fouillet et al. for a European example)

    Dana1981 (#14),

    All of the papers I referenced support my argument that the sensitivity to heat-related mortality has generally been declining. I am very aware of Kalkstein et al.’s opinion about heat-related mortality in the future, but I don’t think that it fully takes into account the power of adaptation which is apparent from observed trends. As to observed trends, Kalkstein et al. say “Our results generally show a
    reduction in EHE-attributable mortality rates since 1996.”

    Dan Bailey (#15):

    I credit all the decline in heat-related mortality to adaptation!

    muoncounter (#17):

    Here is my opinion about Jacobson 2010.

    jibal (#16, #18),

    Obviously, you are free to judge my arguments/argument style as you see fit.

    -Chip
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  20. I think the argument itself is faulty. Heat-related mortality may be (or may have been in the past) declining in certain areas as those cities implement various measures to address the problem, but you haven't shown that they implemented those measures because of the increased heat wave frequency. Morevoer, most of your references are to very specific and small areas. Zanobetti at least looked at 135 different US cities and found a different story.

    Really what you've shown is that if cities implement measures to reduce heat mortalities, they will reduce heat mortalities. You haven't shown that a higher frequency of heat waves will lead to fewer heat mortalities. And again there's the problem of the cost of those measures, and the cost increases as the frequency of heat waves increases.
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  21. ChipK#19:

    Your opinion piece certainly pokes holes in Jacobson's model, but does not offer any new data of its own. Hardly a strong reference.

    My colleague Pat Michaels refers to this as the EPA’s “whack-a-mole” strategy—while effort is concentrated on trying to beat down one of its pesky and ill-founded CO2-regulating proposals, the EPA pops up another and another and another.

    Basically you've said 'let's not regulate because we don't like regulations.'

    All of Jacobson’s reported changes, with the exception of the transient existence of the CO2 dome itself, are only detectable in computer-model world, where all other factors are controlled for and each model in each step is presumed correct.

    So like all good deniers, your advice is to do nothing, wait and see. In this case, the signal we're talking about will emerge when people start dropping in the streets.

    Oh, I forgot, they can just 'adapt.'
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  22. dana1981,

    Thanks for your response and the discussion.

    Zanobetti et al. looked at temperature variability. And they did not look at trends over time. So, their results are only tangential to the current discussion.

    You are correct that in the series of Davis et al. work we did not specifically examine what was prompting the U.S. population in major cities into becoming less sensitive to extreme high temperature events. However, other papers have suggested that decreased heat-related mortality in subsequent heat-waves (after particularly deadly ones) was directly related to adaptation measures put into place in response to the threat of heat-waves (see the Fouillet paper I mentioned above, or, Tan et al. 2006, or Palecki et al., 2001). And the measures were shown to be effective in reducing heat-related mortality.

    So, I think it quite reasonable to assume that in the face of increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, that adaptations will take place—and the evidence suggests (to me at least) that there is a good chance that these adaptations will be effective. With the probable net impact of reducing heat-related mortality in a standard population (i.e. after changes in demographics/age structure have been accounted for).

    -Chip
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  23. muoncounter (#21),

    Whatever you or I may feel about the need for "regulations," at the very least, we would want them to be effective. It is not obvious to me that GHG emissions regulations in the U.S. would be when it comes to mitigating climate change.

    -Chip
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  24. Chip Knappenberger - Your discussion of Jacobson 2010 is primarily an emphasis on uncertainties. But please note that uncertainties cut in both directions - these CO2 related issues (particulates, ozone, local heat) may just as well have much worse effects as much better.

    Christidis et al 2010 shows that adaptation is reducing both heat and cold related mortality, which is good. But using adaptation to claim that heat events do not increase baseline heat related mortality on those grounds is merely pushing the cost off to adaptation.

    The discussion over whether GHG emissions regulations would be effective is another discussion, and I would suggest taking a look at:

    Northeast USA Carbon Pricing Benefits Exceed Costs
    The economic impacts of carbon pricing
    Monckton Myth #11: Carbon Pricing Costs vs. Benefits

    where these are discussed. The overwhelming conclusion of the studies that I have seen is that GHG mitigation is immensely less expensive, to the point of being quite profitable, than adaptation/fixing it afterwards.

    I realize that you are part of an advocacy group, and that the general thrust of New Hope is towards reducing regulations (as per the group publications) - but even if adaptation reduces the impact of heat event mortality, it's going to be more expensive overall than avoiding the heat increases in the first place.
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  25. Chip is of course, absolutely correct. If we have heat wave after heat wave, the human population will, over time, become adapted to higher temperatures. What he forgot to mention is that this process involves cutting off the non-heat-tolerant part of the population. In other words lots of deaths. Evolution is a remarkably fast process when you apply heavy selection pressure. Look at how fast we have changed wolves into everything from Pekaness to Rotweilers. Has anyone asked the heat intolerant tail of the population if they agree to this process.
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  26. As clearly spelled out in the OP there are two topics in this thread, short term mortality attribution and long term extreme heat impacts. It would be nice if everyone clearly specified which topic they are referring to. (most appear to be addressing the short term attribution issue) Also, needless to say, carbon mitigation economics, regulations, etc is off topic. IMO I think cost of heat adaptation is a separation issue too, but JMO.
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  27. Chip - global warming may very well lead to greater temperature variability, and certainly more heat waves.
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  28. This is probably the first time I've ever heard a suggestion that we sacrifice lives in hopes that adaption down the line will save some lives used as an anti-mitigation argument. This type of thought process is rather dangerous. I would hope it gets ignored. The logic gets even more tortured when saying that attempting to prevent these initial outcomes is dangerous (as in the EPA). Let's all try and imagine this type of thought process being used all types of these situations. We can do better than this. I guess we should learn that they will say almost anything.
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  29. dana1981 (#27)

    "global warming may very well lead to greater temperature variability, and certainly more heat waves."

    That may be true, but 1) Zanobetti et al. did not look at heat waves (but the studies I listed above did), and 2) in the Zanobetti study, the cities in climates with the greatest amount of summer temperature variability were the cities whose populations were the least sensitive to temperature variations.

    So, it follows that if temperature variability increases, then the population's sensitivity to it should decline--just as I expect will happen as heat waves become more frequent.

    As Zanobetti et al. note, "there is strong evidence of adaptation to usual temperatures."

    -Chip
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  30. Again Chip, cities which are already adapted to heat waves and variability aren't the issue. It's the cities which are unaccustomed to high temps, but which will see ever-more frequent heat waves which are the problem.

    As grypo @28 notes, while cities will eventually adapt to the increase in hot weather, in the meantime people will die until they are prepared for the changing climatic conditions. This will particularly be a problem in developing nations where adaption will be more of a challenge, since the necessary adaption measures cost money.
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  31. First, to clear up some confusion (william @25; grypo @28), Knappenberger is not talking about the biological adaption of the human race, but about changes in behaviours to better cope with high heat levels. Such changes include (but are not limited to) stopping strenuous work, staying in shaded areas, drinking plenty of fluids, immersing yourself in water, and air conditioning. As Dana and others point out, such adaptations come at a cost, both in increased electricity and water requirements, and in lost economic productivity.

    What I find odd about Knappenberger's argument is that it shows no recognition of the scale of the problem. Below is a chart comparing a range of temperatures experienced over the 20th century with those expected by the end of the 21st century with Business as usual:



    The image was made by taking Lindzen's image of annual station averages from about 1850-1990 and superimposing a copy of itself in red with a 4 degree higher mean. As can be seen, what we are looking at is current record breaking years becoming the long term mean.

    This graph understates the issue in two ways. First it is a graph of annual averages, and the divergence from the mean of heatwaves will be greater than that for annual averages. Second, as Hansen has shown, the standard deviation of temperatures is increasing so that the maximum temperature and frequency of extreme heat events is increasing faster than the mean.

    So, what we are looking at is the current economic cost of adaption becoming an ongoing, daily cost year in year out, plus an exponentially increased cost of adaption to future heat waves.
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  32. dana1981 (#30),

    You say, "already adapted" but I gave you three examples of cities which in matter of only a couple of years, were able to take measures to reduce the impacts of heat-waves. Adaptations, in many cases, are fairly straightforward.

    Also, earlier in our discussion, you made a point that you thought that some of the adaptations that were taking place (which were responsible for the declining high temperature sensitivity trends over time) were not being driven by climate change. Don’t you reckon that such trends (e.g., improved medical technologies, heat watch/warning systems, etc.) will continue?

    Adaptation to heat takes place somewhat spontaneously, as well as being in a direct response to an increased threat of heat waves. It proceeds gradually over time perhaps accelerated by a wake up call. The net result is a declining sensitivity to heat waves.

    It is hard for me not to view this as a good thing.

    -Chip
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  33. Chip @32 - I do reckon that improved technologies and deployment and communication will continue to improve, but firstly that does not support your argument that a higher frequency of heat waves would be beneficial, nor do I think those advances will keep up with the increased heat wave frequency caused by global warming.

    The reasons it's not a good thing are 1) in the meantime you get events like the 2003 European heat wave and 2) the costs of adaption are not low, and particularly difficult for poorer regions to cope with.

    Doc Ford @33 - nobody claimed that global warming proves human-caused global warming. Causation is discussed in many other posts on this site if you'd like to learn about the subject (i.e. see here and here and here). Regarding the myth that mitigation will be costly, see here. These myths are off-topic in this post.
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  34. Chip K#23: "It is not obvious to me that ..."

    You're entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts (although this isn't the thread for GHG mitigation arguments).

    Doc Ford#33: "... combat any perceived effects of short-term climate change through the use of air-conditioning,"

    Ah, the 'let 'em get air conditioning' response. One can almost hear an echo of the fabled line of Marie Antoinette in that: 'The poor have no fans.... '

    As usual, there is a more complicated response to consider:

    ... cold adaptation is usually more difficult physiologically for humans since we are not subarctic animals by nature. We do not grow dense fur coats nor do we usually have thick layers of fat insulation like polar bears. Despite this reality, more people die from heat than cold in the United States every year. Those who succumb are usually babies left in locked cars on hot days and the elderly poor who cannot afford air conditioning.

    The effect of heat on our bodies varies with the relative humidity of the air. High temperatures with high humidity make it harder to lose excess body heat.


    As for the glib assurance 'we can quickly adapt,' some can, others can't:

    Heat-related deaths among high school and college football players in the United States nearly tripled between 1994 and 2009, according to a new study.
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  35. - Knappenberger is not talking about the biological adaption of the human race, but about changes in behaviours to better cope with high heat levels. -


    Yes, I certainly know what Chip is suggesting. Changes in behavior do not need that we treat the poor and elderly as canaries in the coal mine in order to adapt. We don't need a 'wake up call'. As Chip points out there are fairly well known adaptions that need to take place to deal with rising temperature. It is his twisted logic on mitigation and the EPA that everyone is taking issue with.
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  36. "2C above pre-industrial levels – the limit of safety, scientists say, beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic."

    Can someone tell me where this comes from? We're did we agree that a 2C warming was the right limit to try for? It just seems to have appeared from thin air. How do we know that 2C is safe?
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  37. "more people die from heat than cold in the United States every year."

    It's not that simple. I downloaded the 2006 all causes link from here http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality/gmwkiv.htm and scrolled quickly through the mortality causes by month. Cancers and a host of lesser diseases, alcohol abuse seem to kill with no clear distribution. There is more winter mortality with diabetes, dementia, and Parkinson's, and hypertension has Dec, Jan, and March peaks. Likewise with heart attacks and chronic heart disease (Jan, Mar, Dec peaks while Jun, Aug and Sep have the least). There are fewer strokes in summer. Pneumonia has clear Jan and Mar peaks. I probably have missed some important skewed diseases.
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  38. I read somewhere that humans can tolerate 33 degrees wet bulb temperature but not much above that. ie, while you will be OK at 40 degrees if it is dry and you can ingest enough fluid, at 100% humidity 33 degrees is your upper limit. With the expected added moisture in the atmosphere, if we do warm up one would expect some parts of the world to become uninhabitable except with mechanical aids.
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  39. Chip (#32), No matter how many times you protest otherwise, your position appears to be that "mitigation is too expensive". As many others have pointed out, this myth no longer stands up to scrutiny.

    Therefore, despite your probable antipathy towards him, your position reduces to invocation of Charles Darwin's 'evolution by natural selection' (and to hell with everyone else)... and for what? Just so that your friends in the fossil fuel lobby can continue to sell us the "idea" that it is not yet time to invest in alternatives!

    We have the technology to solve our problems (superconductors instead of copper cables in our electricity transmission systems, etc) but, in order for the political will to emerge to implement the solutions, we must first acknowledge the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we have created (by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere 1000s of times faster than the Earth can recycle it).

    Because you are not doing this, you remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Please stop kidding yourself that CO2 is not the primary cause of the increasingly-obvious climate change we are seeing, put down your shovel, and help us all stop digging this hole any deeper than it already is.

    See also my 'Jared Diamond’s warning from history' (15 Feb 2012).
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Text revised per request.
  40. #39
    William, 33 degrees and 100% humidity is a very common occurance on the equator when it rains. Just check out Jakarta.
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  41. "Knappenberger cites a paper he co-authored, Davis et al. (2003), which found that heat-related deaths are less common in hotter cities. This makes sense"

    Also the most vulnerable have already succumbed to the heat - survival of the fittest.
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  42. Paul Magnus @37 - see here for the 2°C danger limit explanation.
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  43. I am extremely pleased to see this subject addressed, because a few days ago I'd typed a long, long post about exactly this material and then, as I explained on the Eeocene thread, I lost it as a result of an overheated laptop, seconds before submitting. Dana's excellent post addresses a number of the points I made, so I'll be able to sleep tonight without further grinding my teeth.

    There are a few points worth reiterating, in addition to the physiological focus of dana's piece:

    1) agriculture and vital (to Homo sapiens) ecosystem services will collapse at far lower temperature increases than are required to push humans beyond their physiological thermal tolerance

    2) occurences of temperature extremes even just a little greater than have been experienced over the last decade will damage, and possibly beyond repair, transport infrastructure such as rail track. On a country-wide scale, such events could destroy existing infrastructure beyond the capacity of today's strained economies to replace them

    3) similarly, increases in temperature would likely overload the electrical infrastructure of a number of countries, including the USA. Again, the cost of repair/replacement may be greater than could be afforded, especially after the "quantitative easing" spree of the last few years.

    Several decades and more into the future, in the post-peak fossil carbon world, the ability to successfully produce food, and to produce and to deliver energy, on the scale at which we do today, will be a rapidly receding memory*. In such a world the three points mentioned above are not just risks associated with increased temperature, they will be inevitabilities to face, and that will be exacerbated by any increase in temperature.

    Chip Knappenburger's fanciful notions of adaptability to higher temperatures are nothing else but proof of his citizenship of cloud-cuckoo land. Humans have already brought themselves - and much of the global ecosystem integrity - to the edge of functional resilience, and turning up the thermostat will make the consequences worse, not better. Anyone who imagines otherwise has both hands firmly and deeply thrust into his pockets.

    To finish, it's worth adding to William's point... With sufficient selection pressure evolution can operate very fast indeed - by choosing extinction rather than adaptation as an endpoint.


    [*In my lost post I spent some time going into some of the salient thermodynamic points that make it effectively inevitable that humans will not replace, on anywhere near the current scale of usage, fossil energy with any alternative source. However, such discussion is not pertinent to this thread, so anyone who wants to lock horns on the matter should probably post elsewhere.]
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  44. Guys,

    I have pointed to a collection of studies which have found declining sensitivity to extreme heat even in the face of rising temperatures. This adaptation is driven both by spontaneous, background improvements, as well as by climate changes (both local and global).

    I guess our point of departure comes as to what we think will happen in the future.

    In my opinion, the adaptations will continue, to the point that population standardized heat-related mortality may even be lower in the future than it is now (or in the past).

    If I am generalizing the opinions of most everyone else on this thread correctly, you all seem to think that climate driven increases in heat-related mortality will outpace adaptations—an outcome which would buck the current trend.

    But to not even consider an adaptive response—even though it is ongoing and demonstrable—when making a determination as to whether future changes in heat-related mortality will result in a net positive or negative outcome (as the EPA has done) results in an improper, incomplete, and unreliable assessment.

    -Chip
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] And yet you ignore research which points out that, in the absence of adaptation, the human influence on climate would have been the main contributor to increases in heat-related mortality and decreases in cold-related mortality. Remember, adaption has limits. And not all of those affected will be able to adapt (or simply lack the resources/infrastructure to do so)

    In your haste to prosecute your agenda you cherry-pick only evidence which supports your preselected conclusions (you ignore the larch, poplar, birch and oak and state the the forest is full of pine trees).

    Fixed bad link.

  45. Chip,
    Do you have any references that consider how poor countries will respond to higher temperatures? After all, that is the majority of the globe. It seems to me that your references select only developed economies that have the most money to cope. Poor people (like the middle East) do not have the money to make these adaptations.

    Most of the problem will be with agriculture. How do you propose we adapt cattle to higher temperatures? In Texas they exported them. What will we do when there is no-where left to export them to?
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  46. Chip: Please tell me you understand that the two following statements are not contradictory:

    1) Heat mortality will decrease in the future.

    and

    2) Increased temperatures due to AGW will increase heat mortality.

    If you want to be pedantic, I suppose we could add the clause to (2) that, "Increased temperature due to AGW will increase heat mortality compared to a future without increased temperatures".

    Half of your statements seem to revolve around trying to convince us that because our response to heat events will improve in the future, therefore we don't care about increased heat, while most other people are arguing that the number of deaths we'll see in the AGW case are larger than the number we'll see if the climate stayed constant, and your arguments don't seem to bear on that.

    Regarding the Jacobson study: while the study may have been overhyped, your arguments seem somewhat sophomoric. First, the idea that Administrator Jackson has unpublished academic studies sitting in her back pocket is dangerously close to tin-foil hat territory. Second, your objection that the study results were predetermined - eg, that more CO2 equals more deaths - is an odd objection. Perhaps, if you could point at any of the links and show that they were wrong (more CO2 emissions -> more concentration, more concentration -> higher temps, higher temps -> more ozone, more ozone -> more deaths), you'd have something. But all you can do is complain that maybe it isn't 792 deaths, maybe it is 300 deaths, and further complain that we can't observe those deaths because of the noise - which doesn't say that they aren't there (or that they couldn't be 1200 deaths).
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  47. ps. My personal objection the Jacobson study is his statement on policy implications: eg, that a small number of local deaths means that a cap-and-trade is not appropriate.
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  48. Eric#38:

    Here's a NWS graph with some multi-year averages:



    A related table gives annual counts going back to 1986. There are separate columns for 'cold fatalities' and 'winter fatalities,' but even if you combine these two heat wins by nearly 2 to 1.
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  49. Knappenberger's link in #45 is broken.

    Whether Chip or a mod accidentally put in the wrong link, I don't know.
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed, thanks!
  50. Chip (#45),
    Is it my imagination, or are you deliberately dodging the issue that, the longer we wait to take effective avoiding action such as de-carbonising our energy generation systems (since we will remain highly dependent on hydrocarbons in the manufacturing of plastics etc), the more money will have to be spent on the kind of adaptation your laissez-faire attitude is going to make unavoidable?

    Goodness knows, we are already in one hell of a financial mess - a global debt crisis out of which we cannot spend our way... What makes you think we will be any more capable of spending our way out of an environmental crisis if we allow it to overtake us?
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