Perhaps you’ve read Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts. More likely you’ve looked at the cover photos, grimaced, and turned away. But do take a look at Our Summer Vacation: 20,000 dead wherein Davis ties this past August’s wave of European heat death to the more routine suffering of the poor and the forgotten, and then shares his personal greenhouse nightmare: a positive feedback caused by the now almost inevitable melting of the Arctic ice cap.
Speaking of August, 2003’s was the Northern hemisphere hottest on record, and according to the Earth Policy Institute’s Janet Larson, whose detailed numbers nice supplement Davis’s, it actually accounted for 35,000 deaths.
Speaking of greenhouse body counts, the estimate of 160,000 deaths a year has been in the news lately, thanks to a new report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The majority of these deaths occur in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, where people are more vulnerable to malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhea as hotter temperatures settle in and floods and droughts become more common.
This figure demands to be put in perspective. Here’s one place to start: the World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes 1.6 million deaths per year. That’s an even power of ten greater than the greenhouse body count, and this time the situation is crystal clear: the killer here is poverty, pure and simple.