Congressman Makes Wildly Untrue Claim About Global Warming Killing 7,000 Americans

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer repeated the claim that more than 7,000 Americans were killed by “climate change-fueled” natural disasters last year in an attempt to tie burning fossil fuels with extreme weather.

The claim, however, is patently false, according to Politifact. It’s also a horribly misleading based on the data.

Beyer has at least twice this year made the claim that “more than 7,000 Americans lost their lives to climate change-fueled events last year.” Politifact took a close look at Beyer’s claim and rated it “false.” Beyer’s staff even admitted making an error in the claim, saying it should have referred to global deaths from natural disasters, and not just U.S. deaths. (The number cited by Beyer also includes earthquakes… which aren’t related to climate)

The misleading nature of Beyer’s claim goes even further; to the heart of the global warming debate. Democrats and environmentalists have been working hard to try and tie in nearly every natural disaster or severe weather event to global warming.

Indeed, Beyer himself argued that “[g]lobal temperature changes are causing prolonged droughts, extreme weather events and rising sea levels” adding that “[m]illions more are at risk unless we act to reverse the disastrous effects.” But such claims are dangerously misleading.

First off, there is no evidence that natural disasters have gotten more severe due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels or warmer temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself says there’s “limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century.”

IPCC data shows “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century. … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”

“In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale,” the IPCC found, adding that “that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century due to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends.”

Not only has weather not been getting more “extreme” in the last century, mankind’s ability to withstand extreme weather events has increased globally. The International Disaster Database reports that more than 3.5 million people were killed by natural disasters in the early 1930s when the world population was about half what it is today. Fast forward to 2014 and only 7,700 people worldwide were killed by natural disasters (which includes earthquakes), according to Munich Re.

Many countries are wealthier today than they were in the 1930s, meaning they have the resources to withstand natural disasters. Global warming or no, mankind’s ability to handle disasters has and continues to improve.

Even the IPCC says that “[l]ong-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded.”

But there’s a more serious point to blaming natural disasters on global warming. It’s a political move to further vilify the burning of fossil fuels. Environmentalists and Democrats have latched onto the argument in order to give voters something tangible to illustrate the alleged impacts of warming.

The IPCC says the globe has heated 0.85 degrees Celsius since the mid-1800s. It’s hard to argue that people have felt this nearly imperceptible change in average global temperature. But weather is something people can see and feel — especially when a hurricane bears down on your home town.

But is it fair to blame every weather event on global warming? Not really, and even climate scientists are hesitant to draw a direct link between individual weather events and global warming.

Take the recent cyclone that hit the island nation of Vanuatu. Environmentalists are treating it as a ground-zero for global warming. But scientists are much more cautious in their claims.

“There is no clear evidence that climate change affected the formation or intensity of Cyclone Pam,” Nick Klingaman, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, told the Science Media Centre.

Peter Stott, a climate scientist with the U.K.’s Met Office, said the “impact of anthropogenic climate change on tropical cyclones themselves is more uncertain.”

“It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally,” University of Colorado climate scientist Roger Pielke Jr. told the Senate in 2013. “It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”

So how many people are actually dying in the U.S. from natural disasters? The National Weather Service says that natural disasters caused 446 fatalities in 2013, the latest year for data. But the 446 deaths also include those killed things like avalanches, fog and rip tides.

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