One of the worst arguments against addressing climate change in world history was offered on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2015.
Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) appeared in the chamber holding a snowball.
“It’s very, very cold out,” Inhofe argued, tossing the snowball to the sitting Senate president. This despite all of the discussion about how 2014 had been the warmest year on record.
Of course, it was February at the time, a month when it is often very, very cold. 2015 would go on to be one of the warmest years on record — as would each of the following seven years. Last winter, you’d have been hard-pressed to conjure up a snowball in D.C.
It was a bad argument that somehow has gotten worse over time. But there is some good news for Inhofe’s legacy: An argument made by another senator this week probably surpasses the Senate snowball for sheer rhetorical cringeworthiness.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was interrogating Michael Greenstone, an economics professor from the University of Chicago at a Senate Budget Committee hearing centered on “Diagnosing the Health Costs of Climate Change.” (Democrats have a majority in the Senate, you’ll remember; a hearing on the subject in the Republican-controlled House would focus on how climate change isn’t caused by humans, but if it were, the human responsible would be Hunter Biden.)
Greenstone was one of a group of more than a dozen researchers who contributed to a 2019 paper titled “Valuing the Global Mortality Consequences of Climate Change Accounting for Adaptation Costs and Benefits.” In essence, the paper attempted to calculate just how deadly increased global warming would prove to be. In prepared testimony, Greenstone explained one “especially striking finding”: that “the damages from climate-induced temperature changes … will be unevenly distributed both globally and within the United States.” Poorer and hotter places would see more climate-related deaths.
It seems that Johnson didn’t get that far in the testimony. Instead, he seized upon a map included in both the report (as below) and what Greenstone provided to the committee. On these maps, blue areas are expected to see a net decrease in mortality due to climate change. You’ll notice they’re mostly in more-northern areas, which is to say colder areas — and that’s why. A 2015 Lancet study found that cold weather is deadlier than warm weather, so cold areas getting a bit warmer helps decrease cold-related deaths in those places.