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Evidence suggests global warming is good for our health

Posted By Joanne Nova On May 21, 2011 @ 1:12 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

While half a million people starve each year we feed 6.5% of the world grain to cars. Image credit: "Corn for cars", From Viv Forbes. Click on the image to read the carbonsense post.

After I wrote Wasting money on climate change betrays sick in The  Weekend Australian, Fiona Armstrong of the Climate and Health Alliance replied with Climate action has clear public health dividend.  Here’s why she’s missing the main point (saving lives).

Fiona Armstrong claims that there are substantial health gains possible from climate action, and waved the banner of scientific integrity and “fact”. Unfortunately for Armstrong, the mortal facts from countries all over the world show that more people die in colder weather. Any statistic that suggests climate change is killing people only survives as long as we ignore the number of people saved.

Medical studies rarely show such unanimity. The results stand whether you look at seasonal or daily temperatures, extremes or averages, cold locations versus warm ones, or the trend in flood deaths and droughts. No matter where you live, whether you ail in your heart, or your lungs: You’re less likely to die in warmer weather.

If we could control the planet’s thermostat, medical groups would surely suggest we ought warm things up.

Armstrong cites a NGO report that guesstimates 300,000 people die each year of climate change, but she doesn’t mention that most of those unnamed people were not struck down by floods, droughts, fires or heatstroke. Instead 95% of them were killed by starvation, diarrhoea or malaria, and a certain percentage of the global death tally in each condition was arbitrarily filed under “climate change”.  Curiously in 2003 the death toll was “calculated” as 150,000 assumed deaths, but by 2009 the assigned percentages were recalculated to get 300,000 deaths pa with a tap of the keyboard. Prof Roger Pielke Jnr summed up the 2009 report as “a methodological embarrassment and poster child for how to lie with statistics.”.

First do no harm?

Speaking of starvation, while nearly half a million people die from a lack of food each year, some 6.5% of the worlds grains, and 8% of the vegetable oils are now fed to cars instead of people. Arguably action against climate change is a net killer, and we’d save people by doing nothing at all to stop carbon dioxide emissions.

The big perspective

Clearly, if we want to save lives, medical research on our vascular system would save more people than buying solar panels in Sydney and hoping they’ll protect people in Cairns from nasty storms.

If Armstrong and the Climate and Health Action (CAHA) were more concerned about health rather than climate, they would know that the largest killer around the world is cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for some 17 million deaths every year. That’s nearly 30% of all deaths, and 500 times larger than the number who die from extreme weather events (which cause about 0.06%). Clearly, if we want to save lives, medical research on our vascular system would save more people than buying solar panels in Sydney and hoping they’ll protect people in Cairns from nasty storms.

The statistics on cardiovascular disease make it clear that cold weather is deadly. In Russia, ischemic stroke is 32% more likely on colder days; in Norway, cardiovascular deaths are 15% higher in winter months; in Israel, cardiovascular deaths were 50% higher in winter, even though Israeli winters are not exactly cold. Likewise in California heart disease mortality in 220,000 deaths was 33% higher in winter. A study in Brazil found that deaths were 2.6% more likely for every degree the temperature fell below 20°C. Need I go on?

Respiratory diseases kill one hundreds times as many people as extreme weather events, and are not called “colds” for nothing. A Norwegian study found that respiratory deaths were fully 47% more likely in winter. There were 5 major population contractions in China in the last 1000 years and all of them occurred in periods with a cold climate.

What about all the disasters this summer?

When it comes to droughts and floods, the news is bad for the Climate Commission but good for the human race. A report published in the American Journal of Physicians and Surgeons by Indur Goklany in 2009 (so not including the last summer) points out that deaths due to droughts peaked in the 1920s and have since declined by a whopping 99%. Likewise, deaths due to floods peaked in the 1930s and have fallen by 98%. The rate per capita figures are even more impressive. Eighty percent of man made emissions of CO2 have been produced since 1940, and deaths from floods and droughts is lower than ever.

And when it comes to Malaria, the IPCC assumes that it will be worse as the world warms, but history tells us otherwise. One of the largest malaria outbreaks was in Siberia early last century, and then there is that awkward point that malaria deaths in England, of all places, were more common, during — by crikey — the little ice age 300 years ago. Paul Reiter reminds us that the entire area under the British Parliamentary Houses was once a notorious malarial swamp.

Possibly the most disturbing aspect of cold related deaths is not just that they kill so many more people than heat related deaths, but that they increase deaths for up to a month after the cold spell. When a heatwave strikes, the death rate increases, but then it’s often followed by lower death rates. Researchers surmise that while cold weather weakens otherwise healthy people, heat waves speed up the deaths of people who were close to dying anyway.

Atmospheric CO2 is handy for growing crops, in the same sense that breathing is handy for your health. In order to feed billions of people without destroying more forests to create farmland, there is no better yield multiplier than CO2. Indeed it’s so good, it is pumped into commercial greenhouses to enhance yields.

It’s like a form of pagan witchcraft to pretend that adding windfarms is the best way to reduce malaria.

And while Armstrong points out that the coal industry has health issues, she forgets that windfarms have their own depressing toll. (Even installing pink batts can be deadly!) Coal provides 80% of our electricity. Sure we can give it up, but every alternative costs at least twice as much. Coal mining is dangerous, but the obvious answer is to make mining safer, not to slap on a carbon tax.

Likewise if we are concerned about deaths (and who isn’t?) the answer is to research the causes and look for cures. It’s like a form of pagan witchcraft to pretend that adding windfarms is the best way to reduce malaria.

The Climate and Health Alliance is clearly not that interested in health per se. They’ve declared their top priority and don’t even bother to disguise their real aim: “1/ Health: Advocate for a strong emissions reduction scheme…”. A health advocacy group would surely list “longer lives” or “less disease”, but not CAHA. They judge their success not by whether they save anyone, but by whether they get legislation about a trace gas passed. CAHA is just another climate propaganda group.

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FURTHER INFORMATION

Climate Change Reconsidered: The Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), June 2009. NIPCC website.

Deaths and Death Rates from Extreme Weather Events: 1900-2008. Indur Golkany, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 14 (4): 102-09 (2009).

Quote from Pielke: “Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who studies disaster trends, said the [GHF] forum’s report was “a methodological embarrassment” because there was no way to distinguish deaths or economic losses related to human-driven global warming amid the much larger losses resulting from the growth in populations and economic development in vulnerable regions. Dr. Pielke said that “climate change is an important problem requiring our utmost attention.” But the report, he said, “will harm the cause for action on both climate change and disasters because it is so deeply flawed.”

See also from Pielke: “However, I cannot express how strongly I feel that this report has done a disservice to both issues. It is a methodological embarrassment and poster child for how to lie with statistics. The report will harm the cause for action on both climate change and disasters because it is so deeply flawed.”

GHF’s report, titled “The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis,”.

My original article on health funding versus solar:  The wrong choice kills us either way (my version of The Australian article.)

H/t to Bulldust, Marc Hendrickx and others for the good links and information.

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