The myth of an overheated planet

By Alex Epstein

Myth: This year's hot temperatures show that fossil fuels are already making Earth unlivably hot.

Truth: This year's hot temperatures are part of a slow warming trend on a planet where far more people die from cold than from heat, and where we need fossil fuels to protect us from both.

Originally published on Aug 2, 2023

Myth: This year's hot temperatures show that fossil fuels are already making Earth unlivably hot.

Truth: This year's hot temperatures are part of a slow warming trend on a planet where far more people die from cold than from heat, and where we need fossil fuels to protect us from both.

Gitt image overheated planet v2png

  • Leading media outlets are portraying this summer’s temperatures as unlivably hot, and offering the rapid adoption of anti-fossil-fuel policies as a solution.

    In reality, cold is a far bigger problem than heat—and anti-fossil-fuel policies will make us more endangered by both.1

Overheated planet headlines v2

  • Anyone commentating responsibly on summer temps must acknowledge 4 facts:

    1. Cold-related deaths > heat-related deaths
    2. Earth is warming slowly, and less in warm places
    3. Fossil fuels make us safer from dangerous temps
    4. Anti-fossil-fuel policies increase danger from cold and heat
  • 1. Cold-related deaths > heat-related deaths

    When our leaders discuss the warming of the planet, they treat warming as obviously bad. But while they portray the planet as already “too hot,” the fact is that far more human beings die of cold than of heat.

  • Study after study has found that deaths from cold outnumber deaths from heat by 5-15 times. On every continent cold is more dangerous than heat. Even in many countries we think of as especially hot, such as India, cold-related deaths significantly exceed heat-related deaths.2

Lomborg heat deaths 5

  • The fact that far more human beings die of cold than of heat means that for the foreseeable future, even without accounting for the heating and cooling benefits of fossil fuels, fossil-fueled global warming will save more lives from cold than it will take from heat.3

Lomborg Lancet heat vs cold deaths

  • Every story about warming and human mortality should obviously mention that deaths from cold are the biggest source of temperature-related mortality.

    But almost no story about warming mentions this!

    This level of ignorance and/or dishonesty cannot be tolerated.

  • Much of the medical community has been particularly shameful in treating warming as catastrophic.

    Observe how the prestigious journal The Lancet drastically exaggerated the threat of heat death by making each heat death show up 5 times larger than each cold death on this bar chart!4

Lomborg correct heat deaths scale

  • 2. Earth is warming slowly—and less in warm places

    So far we’ve had ~1°C of warming from a cold starting point in Earth's history 150 years ago. And future warming will be limited by the diminishing nature of “the greenhouse effect”—as well as being concentrated in colder places.5

  • If we remember that cold kills more than heat, and we compare the ~1° C (~2° F) average warming that has occurred over the last 150 years with the wide range of temps we deal with every day/month/year, we will not be scared at all.

    So climate catastrophists use deceptions to scare us.6

Central Park temperature range

  • The “compressing the Y-axis” deception

    To make the slow warming we have experienced look scary, climate catastrophists like to show warming, not on a human temperature scale but on a compressed Y-axis where 1°C is huge. This is like measuring weight gain on a scale where 1 pound is huge.

Central Park vs NASA temp

  • The “hottest on record” deception

    We hear constant alarming-sounding claims that we are in or near “the hottest year on record.”

    But given that records began at a cold time and we’re experiencing slow warming, of course any given year we can expect a new record. So what?7

UAH versus NASA gistemp 2023

  • Given our limited temperature records, alarming us about a “hottest year on record” during a slow warming period is like a doctor alarming a patient who gains 1/10th of a pound of muscle that it’s his “heaviest year on record.”
  • The “hottest ever” deception

    Climate catastrophists often absurdly equate a month or year being “the hottest on record”—which refers to the fewer than 200 years we have detailed temperature records—with being “the hottest ever.”

    Even though Earth was 25°F warmer for millions of years!8

Sanders heat hype v2

  • The “treating local extremes as global” deception

    Given the slow pace of global warming, local temp changes tend to be much larger than global ones. To scare us, catastrophists take the hottest local temps and portray them as global so we think everywhere is very hot.

  • An example of treating local extremes as global has been the national media's focus on Texas when Texas has been “abnormally” hot while ignoring the many places that have been “abnormally” cool.9

Maue tweet on local temps

  • For some true perspective on heat waves, look at the US Annual Heat Wave Index from the EPA, which says “Longer-term records show that heat waves in the 1930s remain the most severe in recorded U.S. history”
    Today's “reporting” would give you no indication that this is the case.10

EPA heat wave index v2

  • The “treating El Niño warming as global warming” deception

    On top of slow global warming, we experience additional warming due to the change from La Niña to El Niño. This is a temporary phenomenon, not a climate trend, but catastrophists exploit it to exaggerate global warming.11

CarbonBrief La Nino temps

  • Warming so far has been slow and benign. But will future warming make the world unlivably hot?

    No, given 2 facts almost universally acknowledged by climate scientists: 1) the diminishing warming impact of CO2 and 2) the concentration of warming in colder places.

  • The warming impact of CO2 diminishes (“logarithmically”) as it increases in concentration.

    Every new molecule of CO2 we add to the atmosphere has less of a warming effect than the previous one. Warming will diminish as emissions increase—the only question is at what rate.12


  • Even the most wildly implausible “scenarios” from the anti-fossil-fuel IPCC include diminishing warming and a highly livable world with an increasing population.13

Global temperature change (GSAT)

  • Climate warming is concentrated in colder areas of the world (such as the Arctic), during colder times of day, and during colder seasons.

    This means that future warming will occur more in cold situations where it saves lives than in hot situations where it causes problems.14

Arctic vs global temperatures anomalies

  • All reporting on the warming of the Earth should specify not only that humans are far more endangered by cold than by heat, but also that Earth is warming slowly—and less in warm places.

    That virtually no reporting acknowledges this shows that much “reporting” is propaganda.

  • 3. Fossil fuels make us safer from dangerous temperatures

    Not only is the warming from fossil fuels’ CO2 emissions slow and in many ways beneficial, the uniquely cost-effective energy we get from fossil fuels makes us both safer from cold and heat.

  • The portrayal of warming temperatures as a huge danger is based on the fallacy of only looking at the negative effects of something (in this case, warming), not the benefits.

    Opponents of fossil fuels also commit this fallacy by ignoring the temperature-mastery benefits of fossil fuels.

  • The key to being protected from dangerous temperatures is to master them by producing different forms of temperature protection, such as: insulated buildings, heating, and air-conditioning. All of these things require energy—which means for most people they require fossil fuels.
  • Fossil fuels are the only source of low-cost, reliable energy that for the foreseeable future can provide energy to billions—in a world where 3 billion people still use less electricity than a typical American refrigerator.15
  • The developing world overwhelmingly uses fossil fuels because that is by far the lowest-cost way for them to get reliable energy. Unreliable solar and wind can’t come close. That’s why China and India have hundreds of new coal plants in development.16
  • “Studies” that claim future warming will make the world unlivably hot are denying temperature mastery. E.g., one assessment used by the EPA absurdly assumes that if a city like Chicago got as warm as some of today’s Southern cities, it won’t adapt and just suffer mass heat death!17
  • It should be common sense for reporters and leaders that if we’re going to be looking at the temperature side-effects of fossil fuel use we also need to consider the enormous temperature mastery benefits that come with them.

    But this common sense is almost never practiced.

  • 4. Anti-fossil-fuel policies increase danger from cold and heat

    The number one thing that will determine people’s safety from cold and heat for decades to come is the availability of cost-effective energy.

    Anti-fossil-fuel policies will increase both cold deaths and heat deaths.

  • On a planet where people die much more from cold than from heat, but both are major threats, the key to safety is to have energy be as affordable and plentiful as possible so as many as possible can afford heating and air conditioning. For the foreseeable future, this means more fossil fuels.
  • Even though billions need fossil fuels to protect themselves from cold (above all) and heat, today’s media and leaders pretend that heat is the only problem and the solution is to follow anti-fossil-fuel policies that will supposedly cool the Earth.

    This is breathtakingly dishonest.

  • Not only do anti-fossil-fuel policies deprive people of the energy they need to protect themselves from both cold and heat, these policies cannot cool the Earth for at least several decades, and only then if the whole world, including China, follows them absolutely.
  • Even if 100% net-zero energy is just decades away (absurd) that won’t even have a tiny cooling impact until emissions are zero (or negative) and today’s warming energy dissipates.

    To portray anti-fossil-fuel policies as cooling in any way anytime soon is dishonest.18

IPCC climate inertia

  • Dangerously cold and hot temperatures are by far the most problematic for poor people. What they need is more fossil fuel energy for air conditioning and heating now, not a climate and energy policy that prevents real future low-emission solutions and makes energy expensive now.
  • Anyone offering advice on how to deal with hot temperatures is obligated to give advice that will actually help human beings for the foreseeable future. Pretending that supporting anti-fossil-fuel policies will help people anytime soon by cooling the Earth is a lie.
  • Not only is it a lie that anti-fossil-fuel policies will protect people anytime soon by cooling the Earth, it is a deadly lie—because in practice it means preventing people from acquiring the air conditioning they need to deal with warm temperatures today and in the future.
  • The only moral and practical way to reduce CO2 emissions—a global phenomenon—is innovation that makes low-carbon energy globally cost-competitive. So long as fossil fuels are the most cost-competitive option, especially in developing nations, they will (rightly) choose to emit CO2.19
  • Reducing CO2 emissions in a humane and practical way means focusing on liberating alternatives—especially the most potent, nuclear—to try to truly outcompete fossil fuels in the future.

    Depriving us off fossil fuels now and pretending China will follow suit is immoral and impractical.

  • Hillary Clinton blaming pro-fossil-fuel “MAGA Republicans” for hot temps evades that:

    • cold is more dangerous than heat
    • warming is slow
    • we need fossil fuels to protect us from cold and heat
    • anti-fossil-fuel policies won’t cool the Earth but will kill people
    • CO2 emissions are global

Hillary heat wave quote

  • Many people rightly took Hillary blaming political opponents for hot weather as beyond the pale. And it was. At the same time, she is just regurgitating climate falsehoods that have become commonplace among our leaders.

    Please share these talking points to refute those falsehoods.


  1. NYT - Heat Waves Grip 3 Continents as Climate Change Warms Earth

    WaPo - Floods, fires and deadly heat are the alarm bells of a planet on the brink

    The Atlantic - When Will the Southwest Become Unlivable?

    Guardian - ‘Hell on earth’: Phoenix’s extreme heatwave tests the limits of survival

  2. Zhao et al. (2021)

    Bjorn Lomborg: Climate change and deaths from extreme heat and cold

    Bjorn Lomborg on Twitter

  3. Bjorn Lomborg - Climate Change Saves More Lives Than You’d Think

  4. Masselot et al. (2023) - Excess mortality attributed to heat and cold: a health impact assessment study in 854 cities in Europe

    Bjorn Lomborg on Twitter

  5. NASA - GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP v4)

    U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, - Climate change rule of thumb: cold "things" warming faster than warm things

  6. NASA - GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

    NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information - Daily Summaries Station Details, NY, Central Park

    NASA Climate Change - Vital Signs of the Planet, global temperature

  7. Roy Spencer - UAH Global Temperature Update for June, 2023: +0.38 deg. C

    NASA - GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (v4)

  8. Bernie Sanders on Twitter

    Westerhold et al. (2020) - An astronomically dated record of Earth’s climate and its predictability over the last 66 million years

  9. Ryan Maue on Twitter

  10. U.S. EPA - Climate Change Indicators: Heat Waves

  11. CarbonBrief - Interactive: How much does El Niño affect global temperature?

  12. Equilibrium climate sensitivity defined as a warming in °C per doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The IPCC estimates it to be between 2.5°C and 4°C. Other analysis suggests it to be below 2°C.
    Climate etc. - Important new paper challenges IPCC’s claims about climate sensitivity

    Alex Epstein - Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas–Not Less

  13. IPCC AR6, WG1

  14. NOAA - Climate change rule of thumb: cold "things" warming faster than warm things

  15. Robert Bryce - A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations

  16. Global Coal Plant Tracker by Global Energy Monitor

  17. Testimony of Oren M. Cass before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, May 16, 2018

    Oren Cass - Doomsday Climate Economics Is a Joke

  18. IPCC AR6

  19. Alex Epstein - A pro-human, pro-freedom policy for CO2 emissions