Ron Johnson believes the globe heating up is actually good, well, unless you’re in Africa.
“You’re concerned if you’re in the really hot region of Africa, but in terms of the United States, and most of Europe, we’re in pretty good shape,” the Wisconsin senator said.
Johnson’s broader point was supposedly about excess death mitigation. During his questioning, Johnson cited a Lancet study that found about 4.6 million worldwide cold-related excess deaths, and 500,000 heat-related ones—so a rapidly warming globe must be good for us.
(Well, good for some of us; he seemed pretty flippant about the notion of more Africans dying.)
Regardless, Johnson’s formulation sounds novel—if one were also a goldfish. There’s quite a few reasons why the logic underneath the notion doesn’t hold, and quite a few reasons why Johnson’s conclusion is ludicrous.
The amount of time people are in extreme cold versus extreme warmth during the calendar year differs. The levels of how much extreme cold or how much extreme warmth is needed to cause death are not equivalent. And the study Johnson cited could not account for other modifiers, including influenzas—which are often much more active and deadly during the winter.
Beyond the structural limitations of the study Johnson is studying, his broader point is illogical.
For one, the goal should be to minimize death in all cases—whether heat or cold-related. And his open-faced admission that places like Africa could be less suited for heat increases than the United States or Europe gets to a deeper issue: Climate change will not affect us equally. Sure, some high-income places may be more equipped to minimize heat-related harm in the short term, but many places will not be—and this says nothing of the long term. Even the study Johnson cited concedes that “in the long run, climate change is expected to increase mortality burden.”
Finally, Johnson’s notion is just as elementary in conceptualizing how the world works. He, as the general conservative mindset operates, has no engagement with broader conditions or systems. Science has exhibited again and again how climate warming will harm habitats, debilitate food systems, and dry out water infrastructure. That all is a recipe for mass death of humans, animals, and plants at an unimaginable scale. And the more that nature is harmed, the quicker those harms get even worse. It’s a snowball effect that transcends simple arithmetic of “temperature go up, death go down.”
All this is to say, if you’re looking for any guidance for how we should consider the risks of climate change, Ron Johnson is not your go-to source.