We know that global warming has already killed people.
The second Climate Vulnerability Monitor estimated that natural disasters due to climate warming were already killing 5000 people a year in 2010. The same report argued that another half million deaths per year are due to climate change-induced infections and hunger. The number is expected to rise somewhat by 2030.
World Health Organization offers a more conservative view of the number of health related deaths due to climate change: “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.”
These estimates are in the same ballpark – In just 16 years between a quarter and a half million people will be dying every year as a result of infections, health problems and starvation due to greenhouse gas emissions.
We don’t have good estimates of the weather-related deaths that climate change will cause. The world health Organization tells us that the number of weather-related natural disasters reported has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60 000 deaths, mainly in developing countries. Only a fraction of these are due to climate change so far, but the number is certain to rise.
I think most Canadians would like to see our country working to prevent further deaths. If we knew that even 5% of the deaths caused by hurricanes in New Orleans and the Philippines could have been prevented by energetic Canadian leadership I think we would have acted. We would be more committed to climate action than we are, say, to bombing ISIS.
Canadian leadership is critical: we may be small emitters compared to the USA but we can make a difference. We can set an example and we can fight on the international scene for treaties that will save lives. This kind of leadership is part of the Canadian tradition.
Maybe our personal New Years resolutions should be about making Canada a lifesaver.