Ramaswamy’s Climate Change Spin

Climate Change Spin

Self-described as a “unapologetic proponent of greater use of fossil fuels,” Republican contender for president Vivek Ramaswamy has frequently used erroneous or misleading data to minimize the risks associated with climate change.

Former biotech businessman Ramaswamy gained notoriety for his remarks during the first Republican primary debate, particularly when he claimed that the climate change agenda was a hoax because he was “the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for.” “More people are dying from bad climate change policies than from actual climate change,” he continued.

As we stated at the time, there is proof that the effects of climate change have already taken lives, but there is no proof that the policies resulting from them have killed people. It is also true that Ramaswamy has a financial interest in fossil fuels. He owns a $50 million stake in an investment firm called DRLL, whose flagship fund is largely composed of oil and gas companies.

Ramaswamy has reiterated his claim that climate change is a hoax since the debate. In order to support his claims, he has also regularly included additional climate-related data.

In early September, Ramaswamy posted on X, the platform that was formerly known as Twitter, saying, “Today, 8x as many people die of cold temperatures as warm ones.” “Because carbon is plant food, the death rate from climate-related disasters has decreased by 98% over the past century, and Earth now has more green surface area.”

Each of these claims may be true in theory, but as we’ll see, they all leave out crucial context and give false information about the very real risks associated with climate change.

Regarding Ramaswamy’s claims, Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler told us, “It’s classic what they call cherry-picking.” You know, you look through a really large dataset and select the very few facts that provide the opposite information as the dataset as a whole.

While repeating each of these alleged “hard facts” in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on August 29, Ramaswamy also added an explicitly false statement, stating that “carbon dioxide as a percentage of the atmosphere is still at a relative low through human history.” A few days later, at a town hall in Hampton, New Hampshire, he repeated that false assertion.

Ramaswamy has declared himself to be an environmentalist and “a staunch advocate for clean air and clean water” on multiple occasions. However, aside from supporting nuclear energy, we couldn’t find any mention of how he would safeguard the environment in his website or recent interviews.

Although they do produce radioactive waste and some designs have the potential to harm aquatic life by discharging heat into bodies of water, nuclear power plants do not emit any air pollution when they are operating. More fossil fuel combustion would not help the environment because fossil fuels are a major source of pollution in the air and water.

When asked for more details about each of Ramaswamy’s four main climate change claims or how he would protect the air and water, the campaign did not reply.

Carbon Dioxide Levels at Record High in Human History

Measurements reveal that carbon dioxide concentrations are higher now than they have been in more than 4 million years, refuting Ramaswamy’s assertion that they are at a “relative low” in human history.

The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is “now comparable to the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when they were close to, or above 400 ppm,” according to measurements taken at the Mauna Loa observatory, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained when CO2 levels peaked in 2022 at 421 parts per million.

The agency states that compared to now, sea levels were between 16 and 82 feet higher, the Arctic was covered in forests, and temperatures were much warmer.

Republican Vivek Ramaswamy addresses the crowd in Salem, New Hampshire, on September 4, 2023. Scott Eisen/Getty Images photo..
Although there were some early humans at that time, millions of years would pass before modern humans emerged. Homo sapiens, our species, dates back approximately 300,000 years. Furthermore, human civilization as we know it has only been around for 12,000 years, with larger populations made possible by agriculture.

According to Michael Mann, a professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania, “his claim is completely false. The reality is that CO2 levels today are higher than they’ve been in millions of years.” Furthermore, he continued, “the real threat is not the absolute level of CO2 or the absolute warmth anyway; rather, it is the unprecedented rate of increase that we are currently witnessing.”

The main heat-trapping greenhouse gas responsible for global warming is carbon dioxide. It is released, among other things, during the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. Ice core data reveals that CO2 levels had been stable for thousands of years, averaging 280 parts per million, prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Temperature-Related Deaths

The statistic that eight times as many people die from the cold as from the heat is one of Ramaswamy’s favorite quotes. Like he did on X, he frequently combines the statistic with his assertion that “greater access to fossil fuels is the right answer to all temperature-related deaths.”

The figure is mostly accurate and seems to have originated from a 2021 Lancet Planetary Health paper. However, it is false to say that climate change is not a problem and will not have any negative effects in the future.

A Danish political scientist with a track record of downplaying the dangers of climate change, Bjorn Lomborg, is fond of the idea that rising temperatures could actually be beneficial for an increase in global mortality rates.

Notably, Lomborg claimed that “[c]old kills eight times as many” as heat in an April 2023 piece in the conservative publication National Review, citing a Lancet Planetary Health study. (Since then, he has cited the study nine times in an August commentary in a Canadian newspaper. The New York Post, where he made reference to the study, had our colleagues at Climate Feedback fact-check it.) He has also mentioned the New York study in opinion pieces for the Wall Street Journal. In each instance, Lomborg misrepresented the study’s publication as appearing in a specialty journal published by the same publishing group, not in the Lancet, one of the most prominent medical journals in the world.)

The number of excess deaths attributed to non-ideal temperatures between 2000 and 2019 was estimated using a statistical technique in the Lancet Planetary Health study. It was discovered that deaths caused by temperatures below the optimal range occurred much more frequently worldwide than those caused by temperatures above the optimal range. However, Ramaswamy and Lomborg fail to mention that the study itself issues a warning that this might not always be the case.

The study states, “Global warming appears to have the potential to somewhat mitigate net temperature-related deaths in the near future, but long-term climate change is anticipated to increase the mortality burden.”

According to Shanshan Li, the senior author of the study and an associate professor of environmental change and global health at Monash University in Australia, her findings are “commonly misinterpreted by climate deniers.”

It is true that deaths from the cold are typically far higher than deaths from the heat in many temperate regions, like Europe. This primarily relates to the definition of such excess mortality, which is typically determined by contrasting the observed temperatures with the minimum mortality temperature (MMT), the value at which the mortality risk is lowest. The majority of the days have temperatures below the MMT and result in excess deaths from the cold, she said. The MMT is typically between the 75th and 95th percentiles of the temperature distribution.

“Just because there are more deaths from the cold than from the heat does not mean that fewer deaths from the former will equal more deaths from the latter. In fact, the data appears to point to the opposite, particularly in the case of severe climate change scenarios, she continued. This has to do with the fact that, while risks associated with cold weather show close-to-linear increases, risks associated with heat rise sharply for even small temperature increases above the MMT.

It’s crucial to understand that the great majority of deaths in these estimates of temperature-related mortality do not clearly result from extreme heat or cold. According to Dessler, it’s a statistical excess death method that records a lot of deaths from the cold, for instance, even at warm temperatures like 65 degrees.

According to government data, the number of deaths in the United States that can be attributed to extreme temperatures—that is, when heat or cold is determined to be a contributing factor—has already surpassed that of deaths from cold. Naturally, more extreme heat-related deaths are predicted as a result of climate change.

In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent assessment report, which states that “heat-related morbidity and mortality as well as population exposure to heatwaves… are expected to significantly increase due to climate change.” “[F]uture increases in heat-related deaths are expected to outweigh those related to cold,” the authors concluded with high confidence.

Whether heat or cold deaths, as determined by the excess death method, outweigh the other in the future will depend on a number of factors, including location, rate of warming, and degree of adaptation, as Dessler has discussed in two Substack posts. The worst outcomes are probably going to occur in poorer, already hotter places, which emphasizes the significance of equity issues in addressing climate change.

Scientists argue that while there may be short-term benefits to climate change in terms of fewer deaths from heat-related causes, global warming should not be promoted. Li pointed out that in addition to temperature, other effects of climate change include drought, air pollution from wildfire smoke, floods, and cyclones, all of which have “serious

Climate-Related Disaster Deaths

The statistic that deaths from climate-related disasters have decreased by 98% over the past 100 years is another of Ramaswamy’s favorite talking points.

In his MSNBC interview, Ramaswamy stated, “For every 100 people who died then from hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, and other weather-related events, two die today.” “And the reason for that is because fossil fuels are more plentiful and abundant and because fossil fuels power technology.”

It appears that the International Disaster Database provided the data used to compile this statistic. Where Ramaswamy first encountered it is unknown, but Lomborg has previously brought it up, most notably in a 2020 paper where he labeled weather-related disaster deaths as “climate-related” when they involved events “that could be affected by the changing climate.” Droughts, storms, wildfires, floods, and extremely high temperatures were among them. The figure has also been cited by the libertarian think tank The Reason Foundation.

Ramaswamy is right when he says that compared to a century ago, far fewer people perish in climate-related disasters today. And a lot of fossil fuels were burned by society during that time. However, scientists argue that the world shouldn’t continue burning fossil fuels because it doesn’t make sense.

Dessler remarked, “That I think is 100% wrong,” adding that there are now viable alternatives in the form of solar and wind energy.

“We are aware that renewable energy is free from all of these additional issues that fossil fuels do. Therefore, there’s really no justification to keep burning fossil fuels in the future,” he continued.

Fossil fuel-related particle air pollution, for instance, is thought to have contributed up to 18% of all deaths worldwide in 2018; this percentage is far higher than the losses resulting from climate-related catastrophes. Naturally, burning more fossil fuels will increase global warming and exacerbate climate change.

After examining the data from the International Disaster Database, we discovered that fewer significant famines—which were far more common in the first half of the 20th century and frequently claimed hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives at a time—are mostly to blame for the drop in disaster-related deaths during this time. These famines occur far less frequently now. A smaller portion of the drop is also caused by fewer storm and flood fatalities.

It is arguable whether fossil fuels in and of themselves are the primary cause of the drop in disaster-related fatalities. According to Kristie L. Ebi, a University of Washington expert on the health risks associated with climate change, it would be more accurate to state that the declines were caused by

to resources like improved infrastructure, early warning systems, and research supported by the World Meteorological Organization and NOAA.

The World Meteorological Organization found in a report using data from the International Disaster Database that while weather-related disasters increased approximately five times between 1970 and 2019 (probably as a result of extreme weather brought on by climate change and improved reporting), the number of deaths decreased by nearly three times. The group attributed this decrease to better disaster management and early warning systems.

Dessler agreed that the drop could be explained by inexpensive energy, but he pointed out that Ramaswamy was wrong to imply that this meant society should keep using fossil fuels.

In his Substack fact-check of Ramaswamy, he stated, “The availability of cheap energy is due to the decline in deaths, not fossil fuels.” According to him, fossil fuels don’t have to be what we use going forward; they just so happened to be what was available in the past.

Green Surface Area

In terms of details, Ramaswamy’s most recent argument against climate change is accurate, but it is misleadingly suggestive.

“It turns out that carbon dioxide is plant food, which is why the Earth is covered with more green surface area today than it was a century ago,” Ramaswamy stated at the town hall in New Hampshire. That’s how it kind of operates. It was expected.

The “CO2 is plant food” and “global greening” arguments have long been used by those who oppose addressing climate change as justification for inaction. Notably, Lomborg has recently reiterated this notion.

Naturally, carbon dioxide is food for plants. Ebi stated, “Every plant uses a photosynthetic pathway to extract atmospheric carbon dioxide, break it down into carbon and oxygen, and use the carbon to grow.”

Because of human activity, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased, allowing many plants to grow faster than they otherwise would have. Studies that measure leaf cover with satellites have confirmed this. A 2016 satellite study found that between 1982 and 2009, increased CO2 was roughly 70% of the reason for the planet’s “greening.”

In addition to having some beneficial effects on plants, this increased growth has helped somewhat slow global warming. However, it is implied that CO2 is inherently beneficial to plants or the environment.

For starters, plants generally grow larger in response to elevated CO2 levels, though this is not always the case. This comprises other so-called C4 plants as well as corn, a significant food staple. Second, plants require more than just CO2 to flourish. In fact, many of the changes associated with increased global warming, such as drought and higher temperatures, are predicted to be detrimental to plants and crops.

According to Ebi, field experiments growing crops like wheat and rice at twice the CO2 concentration also revealed that the plants had lower levels of micronutrients, B vitamins, and protein. She said, “So yeah, those specific plants might be growing, but the nutrient density is decreasing.”

She continued, “Basically, higher carbon dioxide is affecting the internal physiology of plants.” “It alters the chemical balance of plants, not for the betterment of human health and welfare.”

Ramaswamy’s Climate Change Spin

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