Outtasite (Outta Mind)

Hot Topic has frequently given credence and drawn attention to Oxfam’s reports on how climate change is already seriously affecting populations in developing countries.  (Some examples here and here and here.) It is therefore pleasing to see that a complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding an Oxfam poster has been rejected.

The poster stated “People dying thanks to climate change is a long way off. About 5000 miles, give or take… Our politicians have the power to help get a climate deal back on track… Let’s sort it here and now.” Four people challenged the poster on the grounds that it was misleading and could not be substantiated. They did not believe it had been proven that people were dying as a result of climate change.


Asked by the Authority to respond, Oxfam said research had been published by reputable organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institute of Medicine (the health arm of the US National Academy of Sciences), the Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission that showed people had died, and were currently dying, as a result of climate change. In particular, they cited three WHO publications which they considered backed up Oxfam’s claim. In addition, they said Oxfam’s own experiences bore out ways in which climate change, manifesting as trends towards increased temperatures, disrupted seasons, droughts and intense rainfall events created additional health hazards for vulnerable populations in the countries in which Oxfam worked.

The ASA in its adjudication referred first to the IPCC and other national and international bodies with expertise in climate science and concluded there was a robust consensus amongst them that there was extremely strong evidence for human induced climate change. The ASA noted that the part of Oxfam’s claim that stated “Our politicians have the power to help get a climate deal back on track … let’s sort it here and now” made a link between human action and climate change.

The ASA then turned to the question of whether there was a similar consensus that people were now dying as a result of climate change. They referred to several WHO reports. One was the 2009 publication Global Health Risks – Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks [PDF], which stated “Climate change was estimated to be already responsible for 3% of diarrhoea, 3% of malaria and 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide in 2004. Total attributable mortality was about 0.2% of deaths in 2004; of these, 85% were child deaths”.

Satisfied that there was a consensus that deaths were now being caused by climate change, the ASA finally noted that Oxfam’s claim was reasonably restrained in that it stated deaths were occurring at the present time as a result of climate change but that it did not claim specific numbers of deaths were attributable and it did not speculate about future numbers of deaths.

The ad was judged not misleading.  (The full text of the adjudication is on the ASA’s website.)

Oxfam is not pushing the envelope in its reports and claims of what climate change is already meaning for some populations in the developing world. It is well within the limits of the science. It may be a shock to some to realise that, and there are always those ready to discount it as alarmism aimed at increasing the organisation’s income.  But it is no more of an exaggeration to say that people are already dying as a result of climate change, than to say that people die as a result of tobacco smoking. Those of us who have lived long enough may remember how long and hard the latter conclusion was resisted by the counter-claims of the industry and the widespread public unwillingness to face the reality. Fifty years ago when as a young man I took up tobacco smoking for a period of some years I assumed the medical warnings which were beginning to be sounded were bound to be overstated. The very normalcy of smoking made it easy not to take them seriously. And there were plenty of assurances abroad that there was little to be concerned about. I shudder now to think how easily we blinded ourselves.

The analogies with the far greater issue of climate change are all too apparent. The efforts of Oxfam and others to puncture our complacency are justified and necessary. May they not have to wait decades to succeed.


43 thoughts on “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”

  1. Yes climate change is causing deaths. When the climate changes and it doesn’t rain as much as it used to for a prolonged period people will die. Or when a storm comes through that wasn’t there yesterday deaths may occur. And that is what Oxfam have shown. But does this prove people are dying due to human caused climate change? If Oxfam have proven this I would like to see it.

    1. Carol, R2D2 isn’t here to follow links. His function is to keep saying the same thing over and over again in not too different ways and hopefully leave casual readers with the impression that there are things we haven’t thought about. He’s on duty. I don’t intend to respond to him.

    2. As usual its the poor who suffer first and most. While the richer western nation whinge about the price of oil and how switching from coal to clean energy is going to be ruinous the people on the fringes are starting to die.

    3. What I find really sickening about the attitude of people like R2 is the refusal to take responsibility. Oxfam are simply pointing out that this is a problem that all of us are responsible for, and the mature thing to do is accept responsibility.

      R2 is like a spoilt 4-year-old, throwing a tanty when you take away his toy. People are dying, R2. Grow up.

      1. CTG: Yes this is a serious issue with serious consequences. But the risks do not only fall on those who argue for limited action. If AGW does in fact happen as predicted and cause flooding and drought in the future people will die. On the other hand if it doesn’t happen as predicted but the world takes the actions you would prescribe then reduction in output due to not using fuels like coal and oil will also cause death.

        My attitude is only to look at the issue in a non-emotive way and to try and draw the most rational conclusions. The conclusion that AGW is causing deaths already is unproven. This attitude that if you ‘deny’ global warming you don’t care for human life simply is an attempt to make the debate emotive rather than science based.

        1. R2D2 – The link to Pielke’s blog posted by Australis is worth a read.

          I think RP Jnr’s comment that the statement is neither right nor wrong is fair.

          I don’t think the figures are particularly helpful from a policy perspective, and tend to get picked up as gospel by advocacy groups and NGOs.

        2. You, non-emotive?

          I posted a link to words from Kevin Trenberth to show why you were so wrong, and your only response was to accuse him of fraud.

          You call that non-emotive? Yeah, right.

  2. A very understated claim by Oxfam one would have thought, and certainly not alarmist – just chipping away at the block.
    Peoples behaviour will not change until their attitudes change. Attitudes are formed very early in life. To bring about any major shift in appreciation in later life, requires a good deal of ‘education’.

  3. @R2D2 – the ‘balance of evidence’ clearly implicates anthropocentric climate interference in these deaths.

    The earth’s systems are complex, shades of grey are the norm, not black and white.

    And besides, the absence of ‘absolute proof’ of a causal link does not provide absolute proof of the absence of a causal link.

    So would you like to provide proof that anthropocentric climate interference is not causing deaths in developing countries?

    Time to wake up to complexity R2D2 – perhaps you need an upgrade?

    1. If shades of grey are the norm, why does the report state:

      Climate change was estimated to be already responsible for… 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide in 2004

      That seems like a very high degree of precision for such a vague concept such as “climate change”

      1. … because you can blame the advance of Dengue fever into new areas on climate change which allows the carrier mosquitoes to become endemic where they have not been in the past and that relates to a fairly clear picture in regards to new victims of the disease.
        And as others here have pointed out to you this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in regards of what is in store for future generations.

    2. “And besides, the absence of ‘absolute proof’ of a causal link does not provide absolute proof of the absence of a causal link.”

      So a link has now become the null hypothesis? Every weather event is caused by AGW unless proven otherwise?

  4. The ASA was told by Oxfam, which was told by WHO, that they had been told by somebody (unidentified) that 0.2% of deaths in 2004 (down from 0.4% in 2000) was estimated to be caused by weather.

    This could scarcely be described as hard evidence. Or even as “a robust consensus”.

  5. R2D2… you say you would like to see the evidence that humans are causing the climate change … I’m sure you would, there IS plenty of evidence, you need to open your mind to see it, no one else can do that for you …

    1. No thats not what I say.

      Lets assume the following as true.

      The world has warmed. This is mainly caused by changes in GHGs. These changes have been mainly caused by people. Therefore the warming has been caused by people.

      A storm occurs and causes damage. Is this weather event natural or human caused?

      In the case of the Pakistani floods the immediate response was ‘this is the result of climate change’. But there is evidence that they were caused by a blocking event in the jet stream that was in turn caused by solar forces. Just because you believe people have warmed the planet is not a reason to believe every extreme weather event is caused by people.

      1. No R2, you misrepresent what people were saying. Climate change manifests through weather events, changes in frequency and intensity are both important. The Russian heatwave and Pakistan floods were made worse by climate change. Would they have been impossible without the climate change that’s taken place? Perhaps not, but they would have been spectacularly unlikely to have been as bad. For some figures on the Russian heatwave, see Climate Central, and this graphic:

        BTW the NH polar jetstream/stratospheric solar forcing relationship is interesting, but as yet far from proven (two papers by Mike Lockwood, IIRC).

        1. Gareth. You misrepresent me and the evidence once again. First off I was talking about the Pakistani floods, but yes you are right they are related.

          Second, so the existence of a trend proves human causation? There could be a trend for increased solar blocking events. You seem to draw strong conclusions with casual evidence. You first claim that the floods were caused by increased evaporation. Then when it is understood it was likely due to a blocking event you claim that the event was made worse by warming. You are searching for a human cause in every disaster!
          ”Solar forcing relationship is interesting, but as yet far from proven”
          Exactly! I agree 100%. But the ‘these events would not have happened without human interference’ (Trenberth) is also far from proven (now has become ‘made worse by human interference’. And the statements by yourself and Oxfam proclaiming they are is simply using human suffering to promote your own environmental cause.

          1. R2, you’re a lost cause. You don’t want to understand. That makes it impossible to have a meaningful discussion with you (as I’ve noted before), so I’ll not bother.

      2. Still a false dichotomy, R2.

        You can’t say that any weather event is “human caused” as opposed to “natural”, as you would have discovered if you had actually read that Trenberth article I linked last time you came up with this nonsense.

        What science tells us is that “there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere”.

        Which bit of “systematic influence” do you not understand, R2?

        1. Well yet another theory that is impossible to measure and test, but we are all to somehow hold it as science anyway. Is the increase in water vapour 1%, 0.1% or 0.000001%? Is the increase in rain 10%, 1% or 0.01%? I understand the basic relationship, but I don’t jump to the conclusion that warming is therefore causing flooding and death in Pakistan.

      3. Also, it’s hilarious how you lot accuse climate scientists of not adequately expressing uncertainty, and then you speak in absolute black and white terms yourselves.

        Like this: “a blocking event in the jet stream that was in turn caused by solar forces”.

        Really? That has been 100% absolutely proved, has it?

        Odd, because Jeff Masters has a very different view of what caused the blocking event: he says that it’s highly likely that it is the unusually warm SSTs in the Arctic that caused the blocking event. And what is causing the warm seas in the Arctic? Answers on a postcard, please.

        1. It is more hilarious how everytime I post something I get it read back to me in a slightly different way,

          “But there is evidence that they were caused by a blocking event in the jet stream that was in turn caused by solar forces.”

          I agree this by no means proven. It is just evidence. Observations of solar activity and jet stream activity at the time. But this evidence is more meaningful than the immidiate response from this blog. The cause remains uncertain and likely forever will.

          1. The cause remains uncertain and likely forever will.

            Wishful thinking I’m afraid. Moves are already afoot in the climate science community to assign anthropogenic influence values to extreme weather events.

            Now that may give you apoplectic fits, but hey, science moves on.

  6. The WHO, around since 1948, is responsible for eradicating smallpox, and polio is nearly gone thanks to them. Millions of lives saved through vaccines, health programmes etc. If I need advice on global health issues I’ll stick with them as the experts with a track record if you dont mind.

    ASA quite rightly felt the same way. Note that the ASA itself isnt saying that climate change is causing human deaths. Its just saying that Oxfam can advertise in this way because a whole heap of experts worldwide say that there is a very very very high level of certainty that climate change is causing deaths.

    Who will these complainants target next? Anti-tobacco advertisers? Adverts that suggest diseases are caused by germs? Anything that suggests that people landed on the moon? The newspapers for publishing next week’s tide tables and times of sunrise and sunset?

  7. See: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2010/10/if-it-is-not-true-and-not-flase-then.html

    “In The Climate Fix, I discuss the WHO claims in some detail, and point out that the WHO itself explains that their findings do not accord with the canons of empirical science (see p. 177). I argue that the WHO results are a guess on top of speculation. They are not true.

    Well, if the WHO claims are not true, and the ASA says that they are not false, then what is their epistemological state? They are, I suppose, whatever you want them to be. Welcome to post-normal science. From where I sit, seeking to justify action on emissions or even adaptation based on allegations that people are dying of climate change today is both wrong and wrongheaded, for reasons that I describe in some depth in TCF. Was the ASA decision wrong? No. But it wasn’t right either”

    1. WHO is responsible for one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century, the eradication of smallpox. It may eradicate the vile pestilence of polio within not many years from now.

      I’m inclined to take whatever their methods and approaches might be as probably high value.

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