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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Anthony Watts: culture kills. The European heat wave 2003

Sou | 1:27 AM Go to the first of 5 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts has written a very long article about the 2003 European heat wave and its deadly effect (archived here, latest here). Actually, he didn't write most of it. Anthony doesn't write much these days (did he ever?). He just copied huge slabs of text from Wikipedia, followed by a copy of a press release about a new paper in Environmental Research Letters.

Death spike in the European heat wave

In the paper, the UK team of authors wrote about the impact of the 2003 European heat wave on mortality. Below is a chart from the paper, showing the unreal temperatures in June July and August. The only comparable summer so far was that in 2012.

Figure 1 | Mean summer temperature anomaly (relative to 1985–2010) in observations (CRUTEM4; black line) averaged over a region covering the Mediterranean [21]. The box and whisker plots show the median, interquartile range, 5%–95% range and more extreme data as + symbols over the same region for the (red) Actual scenario and (blue) Natural scenario. Horizontal dashed lines show the 5%–95% range of the modelled data. Year 2003 is marked with an orange arrow. Source: Mitchell16

Daniel Mitchell from Oxford, the lead author, and his colleagues wrote:
While heatwaves have occurred subsequently [4], none have reached the level of impact on human health observed in 2003, in part because of the improved emergency response plans from national governments [5, 6], but also due to extremely high temperatures during the 2003 heatwave (figure 1). 

The authors explained that you can't just go to death certificates to work out how heat may have contributed, so they took a different approach, comparing the deaths to a baseline of what would be expected under normal circumstances:
All-cause mortality is recorded daily, along with the specific cause of death (for example cardiovascular disease or cancer) but there is no way to make a direct connection between deaths recorded during a heat wave and exposure to heat specifically, since the deaths could be related to a range of factors. To estimate the number of deaths which were attributable to heat, therefore, we use a relationship which relates a change in apparent temperature (AT) with a change in the baseline mortality rate, taking account of confounding factors [17].
Below is a chart that shows quite clearly how deaths spiked in London and particularly in Paris during the summer of 2003:
Figure 2 | Daily time series of heat-related mortality. Estimated mortality throughout the summer period calculated from observed AT in London (top) and Paris (bottom). The thin lines are heat-related mortality calculated from AT observations covering 1993–2002. The thick line is the same but for 2003. Mortality counts are expressed per 100 000 population of each city. Note how the event, although extreme in London, was much less out of the ordinary than in Paris. Source: Mitchell16

Anthony Watts' cultural garbage

Anthony Watts won't have a bar of it. He doesn't say why, except that culture kills. He's probably right, but not so much in the way he thinks. Our reluctance to shift away from fossil fuels could in part be explained as being rooted in culture. Anyway, what it boils down to is that Anthony doesn't "believe" that hundreds of people in Paris died as a result of the human activity, which exacerbated the heat wave. He seems to think that they just died from the unrelenting heat.

Yes, really! Anthony's headline was:
Garbage Climate Science: Modeling  ≠ Data when it comes to 2003 Paris heat wave deaths
Then he launched into his copy and paste from Wikipedia, which described how Parisians were unable to cope with the record heat. He missed out the first paragraph, which is (my emphasis):
The 2003 European heat wave led to the hottest summer on record in Europe since at least 1540.[1] France was hit especially hard. The heat wave led to health crises in several countries and combined with drought to create a crop shortfall in parts of Southern Europe. Peer-reviewed analysis places the European death toll at more than 70,000.[2] The predominant heat was recorded in late summer, partly a result of the western European seasonal lag from the maritime influence of the Atlantic warm waters in combination with hot continental air and strong southerly winds.

It's European culture that killed so many people, sez Anthony Watts

Anthony puts the problem down to culture, writing:
But, that data aside, there was a strong cultural component to the excess deaths that climate models don’t capture.
Is he arguing that if only Parisians had anticipated global warming, knocked down all the buildings and redesigned for global warming heat waves, not as many people would have died? If so, he could be right, however that only underlines how we're changing climates. It's hard to say because Anthony didn't. He just copied slabs from Wikipedia, which indicated that it was the lack of cooling at night that contributed a lot. It's well known that if your body can't cool down for a few hours, people suffer more from heat.

In any case, while climate models might not capture cultural components (whatever they may be), and while Anthony Watts himself couldn't put into words what he thought, the authors could. They wrote:
There are a number of factors which may modify or contribute to the mortality risk from heat [9, 10], including social status, individual behaviour, the extent of urbanisation, and the influence of increased air pollution which may occur during hot periods [11]. Given the complex interaction of these factors, the mortality count of each heatwave is very dependent on the event location, timing and past experiences of the local populations.
In other words, it's not just the temperature (by night and by day) that kills, it's how prepared people in a particular locality are, and the extent to which they've experienced that sort of heat before. In the case of Europe in 2003, the populations were not prepared and had never in living memory been exposed to a summer like it.

These effects were also shown in a study published in The Lancet, which I wrote about some time ago. The right hand side of the chart below shows how quickly the London death rate spikes as temperatures rise. The slope on the right of the U-curve (higher temperatures) is steeper than the slope on the left (cold temperatures):

Figure 3 | Overall cumulative exposure–response associations in London. Exposure–response associations as best linear unbiased prediction (with 95% empirical CI, shaded grey) in London, with related temperature distributions. Solid grey lines are minimum mortality temperatures and dashed grey lines are the 2·5th and 97·5th percentiles. RR=relative risk. Source: Gasparrini15

How many deaths were caused by the heat wave?

Overall, the heat wave was said to have killed around 70,000 people in Europe that year. The authors of the new paper just looked at London and Paris and found that it was heat that killed around 64 more people in London and about 506 more people in Paris than would have died if there'd not been such a stinking hot summer:
We find large-scale dynamical modes of atmospheric variability remain largely unchanged under anthropogenic climate change, and hence the direct thermodynamical response is mainly responsible for the increased mortality. In summer 2003, anthropogenic climate change increased the risk of heat-related mortality in Central Paris by ~70% and by ~20% in London, which experienced lower extreme heat. Out of the estimated ~315 and ~735 summer deaths attributed to the heatwave event in Greater London and Central Paris, respectively, 64 (±3) deaths were attributable to anthropogenic climate change in London, and 506 (±51) in Paris. Such an ability to robustly attribute specific damages to anthropogenic drivers of increased extreme heat can inform societal responses to, and responsibilities for, climate change.

WUWT crimes against humanity

Deniers do nothing but protest science and dream up conspiracy theories. People like Anthony Watts are more than happy to condemn people to ever rising temperatures. They don't want to lift a finger to mitigate global warming. Anthony Watts has been campaigning against science for some years now. He and his fans are committing a crime against humanity in their opposition to mitigating global warming.

From the WUWT comments

As usual, Anthony's band of deniers are as bad as Anthony and don't bother to critique the paper, they just protest against science.

Mark - Helsinki can't say why he thinks the paper is "junk". He's a scientifically illiterate conspiracy theorist, like most of Anthony's fans.
July 8, 2016 at 2:21 am
Peer review is very broken. How on earth does junk like this get published.. on yes I forgot silly me

MikeB is anxiously waiting for more hot weather. He forgot about the European summer of 2012 (see Figure 1 above). BTW, December 2010 wasn't the coldest since records began, it was the coldest in 100 years and the coldest across central England since 1890.
July 8, 2016 at 2:43 am
Wasn’t the heat wave of 2003 supposed to be repeated more and more frequently in subsequent years as global warming accelerated? 2003 seems a long time ago now, and since then the UK has had the coldest December since records began.
France is said to be the country which suffered most under the ‘European heatwave’. However, if we look at the mortality statistics for France during 2003 we see nothing exceptional.

Terry Warner goes well for two paragraphs, then goes off the rails in the last paragraph. As is typical of deniers, he doesn't explain why he thinks it's intellectually questionable to report research showing how hot weather caused more deaths. (There was no extreme other than heat in the European summer of 2013.)
July 8, 2016 at 3:40 am
All societies adapt their local behaviours, infrastructure and actions to meet locally “normal” conditions.

Any extremes when compared to those norms will inevitably have an impact on mortality and injuries – cold, heat, rain, air pollution etc. It is the inability to adapt that causes the problem, not the absolute value of the extreme event. Societies function quite adequately where the extremes are normal – eg: Canada (-40C) Saudi Arabia (+50C)

To attribute additional deaths to a heatwave and by association to climate change is intellectually questionable. To do so without identifying the impact on other extremes renders the analysis one sided and largely worthless.

Lawrence George Ayres  says "let them buy air-conditioners". He goes further and says that if the EU doesn't mandate home air-conditioners it proves it doesn't "believe in" global warming:
July 8, 2016 at 4:03 amSo now the French government or the EU perhaps will mandate A/C in every home. If they don’t it will be obvious they do not take the threat seriously.

Reality check points out that there's another positive feedback on global warming. All the more reason to shift to clean energy:
July 8, 2016 at 5:18 am
No, A/C takes fossil fuel to run. You cannot install something that only makes things worse. Isn’t that the point? We are simply frying ourselves and we have to stop using A/C to save ourselves. (It’s not supposed to make sense—if it did, it would be real science, unlike climate alarmism.)

Chris Lynch wrongly claims that temperatures were below average in the "rest of Europe". Again, he offers no evidence:
July 8, 2016 at 5:45 am
The most noteworthy aspect of the 2003 heatwave was how limited it was geographically and how significantly below average temperatures were in the rest of Europe. There is something compulsively dishonest in seeking to attribute a man made global warming influence on this event accordingly. And hypocritical given the rabbbiting of the “weather is not climate” mantra by the very same people at anyone who draws attention to localised extreme cold events in winter
Chris won't provide evidence for his claim, so I'll let you decide. The map below is from NASA GISS and is for the month of August 2003. Click to enlarge it:

Figure 4 | Global temperature anomalies August 2003. Anomaly from the 1951-1980 mean. Smoothing radius 250 km. Source: GISS NASA

Ivor Ward falsely accuses the researchers of fraud and of doing "corrupt science", because their findings don't fit with Ivor's "climate hoax" conpiracy theory. He doesn't accept the greenhouse effect, and almost every word he wrote is wrong. Oddly he picks on Myles Allen, who one would be hard-pressed to describe as an "alarmist" scientist.
July 8, 2016 at 6:27 am
Looking at the average annual deaths per thousand it appears that a similar number of people died that year but maybe more died during the heatwave. So essentially those who were destined to die anyway died. As the same applies to cold snaps where the old succumb more easily it would seem that the cause is extreme weather. As extreme weather has not changed on average then there is no link to climate change. Even if that link could be proven they would still have to prove a link to CO2 and even if that link were proven they would still have to prove a link to the man made tiny percentage of CO2. There can be no other conclusion here than that they decided on a result and tried to fiddle stats to suit. It is not bad science, it is corrupt science.

Why am I not surprised to see Myles Allen’s name in the list of authors? Obviously not saying he is corrupt, but why am I not surprised?

References and further reading

Daniel Mitchell, Clare Heaviside, Sotiris Vardoulakis, Chris Huntingford, Giacomo Masato, Benoit Guillod, Peter Frumhoff, Andy Bowery, David Wallom, and Myles Allen. Attributing human mortality during extreme heatwaves to anthropogenic climate change. Environmental Research Letters, 2016 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074006 (open access)

Antonio Gasparrini, Yuming Guo, Masahiro Hashizume, Eric Lavigne, Antonella Zanobetti, Joel Schwartz, Aurelio Tobias, Shilu Tong, Joacim Rocklöv, Bertil Forsberg, Michela Leone, Manuela De Sario, Michelle L Bell, Yue-Liang Leon Guo, Chang-fu Wu, Haidong Kan, Seung-Muk Yi, Micheline de Sousa Zanotti Stagliorio Coelho, Paulo Hilario Nascimento Saldiva, Yasushi Honda, Ho Kim, Ben Armstrong. "Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multicountry observational study." The Lancet online (2015) DOI: (open access)

Sherwood, Steven C., and Matthew Huber. "An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, no. 21 (2010): 9552-9555. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0913352107 (open access)

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. Judging from the average Wattie age and the fact that many of them live in hot parts of the U.S. you'd think they'd be a little more careful about what they mock, like the elderly dying in severe heat waves.

    But you'd be wrong.

    1. But, but, they all have A/C.

    2. And when they retire to Florida they will be up to their knees in nice cooling seawater.

  2. Didn't Anthony think to check if the prevailing wind direction meant all that hot air had been warmed up by Russian steam pipes?

  3. Actually MikeB is saying also that there is nothing exceptional with the mortality rate, and no increase, in France, but I don't know where its link, indexmundi, get the data. Mortality rate in France is quite on the increase and there was other months with high summer mortality, like 2006, 2010 or 2015. And about the "culture of the heat", en España también mortality skyrocketed in 2003. And en España about every house has A/C and we can't say España don't know what calor es.

    Pour la France:

    Y en España, increase also of the mortality rate:

    And about the title and the complains of Watts, you rarely die directly from heat (excepted if you are put in an oven without flames, et encore...). The cause “hyperthermia” is rare on certificate of death. You die from a stroke, dehydration, hyponatremia, edema, perhaps even from a bad fall due to exhaustion. Rarely from an hyperthermia, body being unable to keep the temperature at 37°C. Generally, at this point, you are already totally dehydrated and good for the mortuary. So yes you have to model data and estimates the excess due to heat wave. On certificate of death there is not a check box “death due to the heat wave”... And contrary to what said Ferdinand Engelbeen, “What the researchers “forget” to mention is that death rates increase during a heatwave, but are lower in the months after the heat wave. That points to persons with already weak health which would decease only a few weeks to a few months later…”, there was no rebound effect after the heat waves (plural needed).


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