The First Undeniable Climate Change Deaths
Undeniable? Then how come I am denying it?
People in temperate climates regularly die in "heatwaves" -- temperatures that would be unremarkable in the tropics.
So the only thing of interest here is whether the temperatures concerned were unusual. And it does appear that they were. But where do you go from there?
"Attribution science" was enlisted to show a link to global warming. I won't dwell on the impossible task that is attribution science. It defies logic. But even if we accept its conclusions as correct, what was the cause of the global warming? Was it the increased level of CO2 in the atmosphere?
CO2 levels and temperature are poorly correlated so we need to use Occams razor here. And in applying Occams razor we note that the earth has been slowly warming since the Little Ice Age -- long before the modern human activities that Warmists decry. So the simple explanation for increased global temperatures is that they are a continuation of a natural process and have nothing to do with human emissions of CO2
So even if we accept that the deaths were caused by global warming, how do we know what caused global warming? We cannot know that. All we can do is guess. And the influence of CO2 is an implausible guess
In 2018 in Japan, more than 1,000 people died during an unprecedented heat wave. In 2019, scientists proved it would have been impossible without global warming.
July 23, 2018, was a day unlike any seen before in Japan. It was the peak of a weekslong heat wave that smashed previous temperature records across the historically temperate nation. The heat started on July 9, on farms and in cities that only days earlier were fighting deadly rains, mudslides, and floods. As the waters receded, temperatures climbed. By July 15, 200 of the 927 weather stations in Japan recorded temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius, about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher. Food and electricity prices hit multiyear highs as the power grid and water resources were pushed to their limits. Tens of thousands of people were hospitalized due to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. On Monday, July 23, the heat wave reached its zenith. The large Tokyo suburb of Kumagaya was the epicenter, and around 3 p.m., the Kumagaya Meteorological Observatory measured a temperature of 41.1 degrees Celsius, or 106 F. It was the hottest temperature ever recorded in Japan, but the record was more than a statistic. It was a tragedy: Over the course of those few weeks, more than a thousand people died from heat-related illnesses.
On July 24, the day after the peak of the heat wave, the Japan Meteorological Agency declared it a natural disaster. A disaster it was. But a natural one? Not so much.
In early 2019, researchers at the Japan Meteorological Agency started looking into the circumstances that had caused the unprecedented, deadly heat wave. They wanted to consider it through a relatively new lens—through the young branch of meteorology called attribution science, which allows researchers to directly measure the impact of climate change on individual extreme weather events. Attribution science, at its most basic, calculates how likely an extreme weather event is in today’s climate-changed world and compares that with how likely a similar event would be in a world without anthropogenic warming. Any difference between those two probabilities can be attributed to climate change.
Attribution science was first conceived in the early 2000s, and since then, researchers have used it as a lens to understand the influence of climate change on everything from droughts to rainfall to coral bleaching. As scientists have long predicted, the vast majority of extreme weather events studied to date have been made more likely because of climate change. But the 2018 Japan heat wave is different. As people who lived in Japan knew at the time, the oppressive temperatures were more than unusual. They were unprecedented. In fact, without climate change, they would have been impossible.
These people are the first provable deaths of climate change.“We would never have experienced such an event without global warming,” says Yukiko Imada of the Japan Meteorological Agency.
On June 7, 2019, Imada, Masahiro Watanabe, and others published an attribution study of the 2018 Japan heat wave in the journal Scientific Online Letters on the Atmosphere. They found that the deadly event of the previous summer “could not have happened without human-induced global warming.”
This heat wave is not the first extreme event found to be only possible because of climate change. But it is the first short-lived event, and the first to have direct impacts on human health. Given that tens of thousands were hospitalized and more than a thousand died due to the heat wave, in a sense, these people are the first provable deaths of climate change.
For Watanabe, the result wasn’t unexpected. It was more of a grim inevitability. “It was not that surprising,” he says of his unprecedented result. An event like this was “naturally expected as global mean temperature continued to rise.” But for both Watanabe and Imada, it holds real historical significance. “It is very sensational for me because human activity has created a new phenomenon. Human activity has created a new phase of the climate,” says Imada.
You couldn’t live through this heat wave without realizing that something was unusual. Ayako Nomizu lives in Tokyo. “When I was growing up in the ’80s, if we had 31 or 32 degrees centigrade, that was hot,” she says. “We would say ‘Oh, my God, it’s gonna be really 32 degrees?’” Summers recently, and especially 2018’s, concern her. “Now we are seeing 37, 38 [degrees]. It’s crazy. We didn’t really have this kind of heat before.” Nomizu works for Climate Action 100+, a group that helps investors and companies transition to clean energy, so for her, the connection between climate change and the extreme heat in summers is obvious.
Kazuo Ogawa, a 65-year-old landlord who lives in Tokyo, says he has never experienced anything like the heat wave of 2018. His memories of the experience are visceral. “I was so uncomfortable. I took a shower three times a day, I changed my T-shirt three times a day,” he says.
This kind of heat, as the hospitalization numbers and death toll show, is dangerous. Especially so in Japan, where most people didn’t grow up with air conditioning because it was never needed, and where heat exhaustion was basically unknown until recently. To Ogawa and many Japanese, this is a new problem. “Heat exhaustion is called netsuchusho in Japanese. I never heard of this phrase, this illness, 30 years ago,” Ogawa said.
Heat exhaustion and its more deadly version, heatstroke, are simply the physiological changes that occur when someone has an extremely elevated body temperature. There are a lot of mechanisms humans have evolved to prevent dangerous overheating—sweating and other internal changes like increased heart rate and the transfer of blood from organs to the skin can usually keep the body at a safe temperature—but there is a limit to what the body can handle. If the outside temperature gets too intense or high humidity prevents sweat from evaporating and pulling warmth out of the skin, internal body temperature will start to rise. When this happens, blood vessels dilate in an attempt to get rid of more heat, causing a drop in blood pressure that leads to the first symptoms of heat stress—lightheadedness and nausea. As the body continues to heat up, organs swell, and cell-signaling processes, especially in the brain, are disrupted. At this point people begin to fall unconscious, and if their temperature is not lowered quickly, the damage can be fatal.