Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Q: Has more human production-and-use of energy made us more or less safe?


Here's a question: has more human production and use of energy made us safer? Or less safe?

If warmists are to be believed, recent natural disasters are all the result of our enormously increased production and use of energy. So they would (and do) answer 'No!' But what's the evidence here?

Over the last century-and-a-bit, global energy production-and-use went up by more than fourteen times, from 7.000 to 22.400 kWh/Capita with a trend to reach 40.000 kWh/Capita in the future -- most of that after 1950. And over that period, global temperatures went up by less than 1 degree C -- and most of that before 1950. It's this warming that the warmists say coyly suggest is causing so many of the recently-reported disasters.

But what's the truth? This vast outpouring of human-produced energy has certainly made us more productive; which has made us all more comfortable, and able to enjoy much longer lives. But has it made our climate safer? What's the evidence here?

To find out, let's look at Bjorn Lomborg's peer-reviewed* summary:

Graph by Bjorn Lomborg, updated from his 2020 article 'Welfare in the 21st Century'

The evidence is clear. Over the period of increasing energy production, fewer and fewer people have been dying from climate-related natural disasters:

This is even true of 2021, despite breathless climate reporting.

This shouldn't be any kind of surprise. Increasing use of energy allows us to leverage our puny human efforts to do things vastly greater than we could manage under our own steam.  As writer Alex Epstein has been saying for at least a decade, the availability of abundant energy has allowed humans to change the environment in our favour. “We don’t take a safe environment and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous environment and make it far safer.” The production of abundant energy hasn't caused environmental disasters, its abundance has instead allowed human beings to begin avoiding their worst effects. Lomborg summarises the result:

Over the past hundred years, annual climate-related deaths have declined by more than 96%. In the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,362 dead per year, or 96.2% lower.
    In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the number of dead was even lower at 14,893 — 97% lower than the 1920s average.
    You hear a lot about all the deadly climate catastrophes in 2021 — the US/Canada heat dome, the floodings in Germany and Belgium, or the US February winter storm. All of these deaths are included in the graph.
    Also included are the 559 dead from India (incl a February glacial lake outburst in Uttarakhand killing 234 and a May hurricane killing 198) and more than a thousand others.  Many of these you probably haven't heard about, possibly because they're not first-world, photogenic catastrophes.
    2021 is not over so the actual graph shows the likely number of dead, based on the historical ratio of climate-related deaths in Jan-Jul to the full year. This gives a preliminary estimate of 2021 climate-related deaths at 5,569 or 98.9% lower than the 1920s.
    This is clearly the opposite of what you hear, but that is because we're often just being told of one disaster after another – telling us how many events are happening. The number of reported events are increasing, but that is mainly due to better reporting, lower thresholds, and better accessibility (the CNN effect). For instance, for Denmark, the database only shows events starting from 1976.
    Instead, look at the number of dead per year, which is much harder to fudge. Given that these numbers fluctuate enormously from year to year (especially in the past, with huge droughts and floods in China and elsewhere), they are here presented as averages of each decade (1920-29, 1930-39 etc.). The data is from the most respected global database, the International Disaster Database (https://public.emdat.be/). There is some uncertainty about complete reporting from the early decades, which is why this graph starts in 1920, and if anything this uncertainty means the graph underestimates the reduction in deaths.
    We are not well-informed when the media doesn't actually give us an overview of the data, but instead, just inundates us with one catastrophic story after another without context.
    Notice, this does not mean that there is no global warming or that possibly a climate signal could eventually lead to further deaths. Global warming is a real problem that we should fix smartly. But panic from bad media reporting does not help us being smart. This graph shows us that our increased wealth and increased adaptive capacity has vastly overshadowed any potential negative impact from climate when it comes to human climate vulnerability.
Despite the scare-mongers, increased energy use has made us less vulnerable to disaster, not more.

* The graph is an update of the one appearing in his 2020 peer-reviewed article in Science Direct

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