Pruitt Said a Warming Planet Might Be Good for Us. Really?

Here's why the EPA chief is wrong. 

Mitchell Resnick / White House

Scott Pruitt hates hot weather. When asked what he hates most about living in Oklahoma, he answered: "The 105-degree temperatures are pretty tough for me to handle."

Nonetheless, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator seems to think the world will thrive if the temperature soars.

Pruitt has tried a variety of anti-science arguments on for size since he took the helm of the EPA. His latest pet talking point is to ask, “How do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?” 

Now he has ventured to answer his own question, asserting in an interview on KSNV in Nevada that humans will be better off on a hotter planet. "I think there's assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing," Pruitt ventured. "We know that humans have most flourished during times of, what, warming trends?"

Pruitt’s faith that hotter is better ignores decades of peer-reviewed studies about the perils of extreme heat—some of which come from his own agency’s scientists.

So, Administrator Pruitt, here’s a quick reading list for the next time you jet overseas on the taxpayer dime to promote dirty sources of energy. Maybe they’ll help you sort out another question you posed during the KSNV interview: “What kind of effect or harm is [climate change] going to have?”

1. 27 Ways a Heat Wave Can Kill You

This peer-reviewed article in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes isn’t for the faint of heart—but neither is deadly heat.

Did you know extreme heat (the definition of which depends on humidity and other factors) can cause clots that prevent blood flow to your vital organs? Or make your intestinal lining leaky, so toxins creep into your blood stream? Or clog up your kidneys with proteins released by damaged muscle cells?

Yuck.

2.  The National Weather Service’s Natural Hazard Statistics
 

OK, but how about some actual data from the United States? The National Weather Service has you covered with its database of weather-related deaths.

National Weather Service

Over the last 30 years, heat has been deadlier than floods, hurricanes, or even tornadoes. And extreme heat has been a lot deadlier than extreme cold.

3. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States

But the National Weather Service underestimates heat-related deaths—in part because there are so many ways heat can kill. (See #1.)

The true number of annual heat-related deaths in the United States is likely in the thousands, not the hundreds, according to a landmark 2016 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Heat also sends tens of thousands of Americans to emergency rooms every year when it exacerbates chronic conditions like asthma or increases the odds of birth abnormalities.

And if we keep polluting like usual? The report concludes with “high confidence” that thousands to tens of thousands more Americans will perish each year from extreme heat.

4. EPA’s Technical Report for the Fourth National Climate Assessment

Finally, there’s the economic toll of heat-related health impacts. In 2017, the EPA submitted the latest results from the Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis project to the USGCRP for inclusion in the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment.

Their findings are eye-popping.

Under continued high levels of climate-warming pollution, 49 U.S. cities could see about 3,500 more heat-related deaths each year by the 2050s and 9,300 deaths each year by the 2090s. Once the (very small) decrease in cold-related deaths is factored in, these premature deaths could cost $140 billion each year by the end of the century (based on the “value of statistical life”).

Extreme heat will also make outdoor labor more dangerous—potentially resulting in the loss of 1.9 billion labor hours and $160 billion in lost U.S. wages by the 2090s.

But wait, there’s more! Climate change isn’t just slapping us around with higher temperatures. It also threatens our health with more tick- and mosquito-borne diseases, water- and food-borne illnesses, choking wildfire smoke, deadly storms, and mental health issues.

Here’s the bottom line: There isn’t one “ideal” temperature for humans. We do, however, have upper limits dictated by our biology. And if people keep pumping climate-changing pollution into the air, more and more days each year will exceed those upper limits.

If Pruitt can’t grasp these basic facts about biology and physics, it’s no wonder he’s failing at his job of protecting human health. Maybe he’s overheated.

About the Authors

Juanita Constible

Senior Advocate, Climate and Health, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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