Virginia congressman says warming killed 7,000 in U.S. last year

“More than 7,000 Americans lost their lives to climate change-fueled events last year.”

— Don Beyer on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 in an op-ed.

After a long career as a car dealer, lieutenant governor and ambassador, Democrat Don Beyer was elected to the U.S. of House Representatives last year with a focus on protecting the planet against climate change.

Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia’s 8th District, reiterated his goal in a March 4 column for the Falls Church News-Press, calling global warming the “existential crisis of our generation, and of course the preeminent environmental issue.”

“More than 7,000 Americans lost their lives to climate change-fueled events last year,” he wrote.

Beyer posted a similar statement on his congressional website on Feb. 4, saying climate change caused “almost 7,000” U.S. deaths last year. We wondered whether his claim is correct and asked for the source of Beyer’s information.

Thomas Scanlon, a spokesman for Beyer, said the congressman’s office had made a mistake about the 7,000 deaths. “That number should be globally, not just in the United States,” he emailed. “We made an error in editing this column for FCNP.”

That said, we wondered if there was even proof that 7,000 worldwide deaths were caused by climate change last year. Scanlon referred us to a two-page report on global warming issued in January by the American Academy of Actuaries. It said “global natural loss events” caused 7,700 fatalities last year.

The academy attributed the number to Munich RE, a global insurance company based in Germany that issues an annual report on worldwide losses from natural catastrophes. In a study released in January, the company said 7,700 deaths were caused by global disasters — including earthquakes, storms, floods, landslides, drought, extreme temperatures and wildfires.

But Munich RE doesn’t assess whether whether the natural catastrophes — resulting in $110 billion in financial losses last year — were caused by climate change.

“We do not have the ability to identify the direct impact of global warming on fatalities caused by natural catastrophes, other than to say any fatality caused by the earthquake peril are not due to global warming,” emailed Peter Hoeppe, Munich RE’s head of geo risks research. “Our data indicate an upward trend in regard to losses from weather catastrophes which, over time, have increased in both frequency and severity.”

Of the 7,700 deaths, Munich RE estimated 850 were caused by earthquakes. The remaining 6,850 deaths, the company wrote, were caused by “weather-related” events.

While there’s no precise way to measure the number of deaths caused by global warming, we should note that many experts believe it will be the root of many fatalities in coming decades. The World Health Organization predicts that an additional 250,000 people — largely in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — will die annually between 2030 and 2050 because of conditions caused or exacerbated by climate change.

Our ruling

Beyer wrote, “More than 7,000 Americans lost their lives to climate change-fueled events last year.”

The congressman lacks documentation and admits he got his facts wrong.

That makes our work easy: We rate Beyer’s statement False.