Right-wing media coverage of this year’s COP28 global climate summit included mocking, downplaying, and denying the reality that the climate crisis is increasingly claiming lives through extreme weather and climate-fueled disease — tactics right-wing media figures have deployed for at least the past three years.
On December 4, Hillary Clinton participated in a COP28 panel focused on the key role women play in building a climate-resilient world. During her remarks, Clinton referenced a recent report on deaths related to extreme heat:
“We're seeing and beginning to pay attention and to count and record the deaths that are related to climate, and by far the biggest killer is extreme heat. I mean, even in Europe last summer, which has the ability to count and figure out what happened, they recorded 61,000 deaths because of the heat in Europe. We don't have that kind of number yet from Africa, Asia, Latin America, but we know and estimate that we probably could measure about 500,000 deaths, and the majority of those are women and girls, and particularly pregnant women.”
Right-wing media reacted to her remarks by trying to minimize the impact of our overheated planet, pushing their go-to red herring argument that cold kills more than heat, and suggesting that a warmer planet actually saves lives.
Right-wing media deny, downplay, and mock extreme heat-related deaths
- Fox host Jesse Watters mocked the idea that there’s a high death toll associated with extreme heat and invoked the argument that cold kills more than heat. “But if a 90-year-old Sicilian woman without air conditioning dies one afternoon in August, when it's hot, Hillary's calling that a climate death,” Watters claimed. “This is like when someone with COVID ODs on fentanyl and the hospital calls it a COVID death. Now, if Hillary wants to save hot Italians from dying in August, we could encourage air conditioning instead of spending trillions.” The Fox host went on to say: “And did you know for every one person who dies from the heat, nine die from the cold? … Sounds like warm winters keep more people alive in Europe. Hillary should be pro-climate change if she really cared about saving lives”. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 12/5/23]
- On The Charlie Kirk Show, fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein claimed that more people will likely die from cold than heat and that fossil fuels are “pro-human.” “Even in the extreme warming scenarios we’ll be totally fine, and probably still more people will die from cold than heat,” he claimed. ”When you look at the science and the economics from a pro-human perspective, it's very positive for fossil fuels.” [Salem Media Group, The Charlie Kirk Show, 12/5/23]
- On The Daily Wire’s The Matt Walsh Show, Walsh claimed that none of Clinton’s remarks were true before claiming that extreme cold kills far more than extreme heat. “Just as a factual matter, just so you know, none of that is true. It's not even close. Extreme cold kills far more people than extreme heat,” he said. “But the point of what Hillary Clinton was saying wasn’t really about extreme heat or extreme cold. Her goal is to convince you that a lot of people are dying due to the climate. … Talking about deaths related to climate is like talking about deaths related to physical existence.” [The Daily Wire, The Matt Walsh Show, 12/5/23]
- Rita Panahi, a columnist for Murdoch-owned News Corp.’s Australian paper the Herald Sun, responded on X (formerly Twitter) to a video of Clinton speaking by dismissing heat-related deaths and calling Clinton a liar. She posted: “Where is the @CommunityNotes on this? Cold kills considerably more people than heat...even in warm climates like Australia. Clinton is a pathological liar or ignorant of basic data.” [Twitter/X, 12/4/23]
- The Gateway Pundit claimed that Clinton attended COP28 “to lie about the number of deaths attributed to climate change.” It also argued that climate-related deaths are declining. [The Gateway Pundit, 12/4/23]
Right-wing media’s history of dismissing climate-related deaths
Since at least the summer of 2021, right-wing media figures have been relying on the red herring argument that cold kills more than heat and that somehow global warming saves lives. The claim is most notably associated with climate skeptic and right-wing media darling Bjorn Lomborg, who has published several op-eds making this argument including in USA Today, a piece that was applauded by podcaster and PragerU founder Dennis Prager.
In another 2021 op-ed in the New York Post, Lomborg claimed that global warming saves 166,000 lives each year. The op-ed was intended to downplay the latest warning on the climate crisis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Using a study published by the Lancet which found that about half a million people die from heat per year, but 4.5 million people die from cold, Lomborg claimed:
As temperatures have increased over the past two decades, that has caused an extra 116,000 heat deaths each year. This, of course, fits the narrative and is what we have heard over and over again. But it turns out that because global warming has also reduced cold waves, we now see 283,000 fewer cold deaths.
You don’t hear this, but so far climate change saves 166,000 lives each year.
Lomborg later appeared on Fox News’ The Journal Editorial Report to discuss the IPCC findings and push the argument that cold kills more than heat.
The Wall Street Journal published a similar op-ed by Lomborg on September 16, 2021, titled “Climate Change Saves More Lives Than You’d Think,” in which he again misleadingly claimed that “global warming now prevents more than 166,000 temperature-related fatalities annually.”
Climate Feedback, a collection of climate scientists who review dubious climate claims in various media outlets, debunked his New York Post piece, writing that “Lomborg’s claims are based on a misinterpretation of a scientific study and wrong interpretation of data.” The piece cited Aaron Bernstein of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, who wrote:
The issue with Lomborg’s argument is that he is using cherry-picked data that may be compelling in isolation, but belies a firm grasp of the science, which makes clear that unmitigated climate change is a disaster for human health and welfare, even if we may, in the near term, see reductions in cold deaths.
A recent article in Forbes also pushed back on the the argument that a warming world is better for human life:
However, we shouldn’t read into this that global warming is a good thing. Climate change has long-term impacts on sea levels, animal and plant life, and agriculture, each of which can have lasting deleterious effects on human health and wellbeing. Also, heat exposure deaths disproportionately impact impoverished regions of the world, including poor areas of the U.S. which implies that over time they’re much more affected by temperature-related deaths.
These claims have persisted in right-wing media, however, reemerging in the summer of 2022, when destructive wildfires and deadly heat were concurrently affecting part of the United States, and again this past summer as record heat waves impacted the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia.
- Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro suggested the media downplay cold-related deaths because “the cold narrative doesn’t tend to play into the climate change narrative.” “You always know that it’s the slow season news-wise when you start getting weather reports from Europe,” he said. “The thing that they will never tell you, the media, is that more people die of cold every year than die of heat every year, but the cold narrative doesn’t tend to play into the climate change narrative that they wish to promulgate.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 7/19/22]
- On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Lomborg suggested that climate change is less dire because “many more people die from cold” than heat. “Actually, over the last 20 years at least, we’ve seen more people being saved than extra people dying,” he added. “We need to hear both sides of that story if we’re going to be well-informed.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/20/22]
- Tucker Carlson used this argument the following month during a segment where he claimed the existence of winter disproves the science of climate change. He said: “The real threat to people is global cooling, otherwise known as winter. Far more people freeze to death every year than die of heat. In 2019, for example, four times as many people died of cold as of heat.” [Media Matters, 8/29/22]
- Lomborg appeared on Fox News’ America Reports to push the cold deaths claim. “There is a lot, as you point out, a lot of worry about heat waves, but remember, cold is actually much, much more dangerous,” he said. “So, the Global Burden of Disease estimate that every year about 2,500 Americans die from too hot temperatures, but they estimate that 123,000 people die from too low temperatures. Why are we only hearing about the heat waves and not hearing about a lot of the danger from cold?” [Fox News, America Reports, 7/27/23]
- Scott Shellady (aka the Cow Guy) on Varney & Co. invoked the claim to suggest a warmer world is “actually saving lives.” “Just so everybody knows, cold temperatures kill more people than hot temperatures,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of this hyperbolic, dramatic headline stuff, but at the end of the day — even places like India, Stuart, seven people will die of cold versus one person dying of heat. So as the world gets a little warmer, we are actually saving lives.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 7/25/23]
- According to The Independent, right-wing U.K. politician David Frost used the narrative to argue against climate action, telling Parliament that “rising temperatures are likely to be beneficial” and “a decline in deaths from cold temperature periods has more than offset any increase in the number of deaths associated with warmer temperature over the same period.” [The Independent, 7/24/23]
- Patrick Moore, a climate denier who falsely claims he co-founded Greenpeace, posted on X that the media “are lying about the ‘heat waves’ killing more people than cold.” “Not to belabor the point, but many media, and weather reporters who are supposed to be professional, are not just exaggerating,” he wrote. “They are lying about the ‘heat waves’ killing more people than cold.” [Twitter/X, 7/24/23; Media Matters, 2/27/14]
- Lomborg went on Fox Business’ Kudlow to claim that “in the U.S. about 2,500 people die from heat, but 133,000 people die from cold.” He added: “We've seen about 116,000 extra heat deaths but 283,000 fewer cold deaths because of increasing temperatures.” [Fox Business, Kudlow, 7/21/23]
- Shapiro suggested that climate change saves lives. “Many, many, many more people die of cold than heat,” he said. “If indeed the world is getting warmer on average, … that may mean relief from death.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 7/20/23]
- Far-right radio host Steven Crowder hosted Lomborg, who downplayed the climate crisis by arguing that more people die from cold than heat. “We are not talking about a world where most people die from heat,” he said. “No, most people die from cold. Cold is fantastically more dangerous for a lot of different reasons.” [Rumble, Louder with Crowder, 7/19/23]
- On Fox News' America’s Newsroom, Lomborg suggested that more air conditioning is the way to address extreme heat deaths. “The way to fix this, of course, is to make sure that people get lots of air conditioning and that they can actually afford the energy that they will run their air conditioning on,” he said. “That’s one. The second one is to remember that, yes, there are many people dying from heat, but many, many more people dying from cold.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 7/17/23]
- Right-wing British pundit Brendan O’Neill wrote that “global warming could be good for humankind.” Citing Lomborg, O’Neill claimed “it’s possible that the rising heat of recent years is good for us. For here’s the thing: extreme cold kills far greater numbers than extreme heat.” [Spiked, 7/14/23]