Monday, April 7, 2008

More Pressing Issues Than Global Warming

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From Hawaii Reporter, April 7, 2008)

“As often happens—especially these days with Web-based media—contentious issues such as global warming become politicized to the point that the discourse trivializes to an alarming extent. Indeed, all one seems to hear about climate change are essentially useless debates between believers and skeptics, along with unrealistic and grotesquely draconian proposals that would force us back into the Stone Age in an effort to mitigate carbon dioxide production,” says Michael Shaw. He adds, “Assertions by zealots and politicians, who should really know better, that climate change is the ‘most important environmental problem facing the world,’ ought to be subjected to the cold light of reason. Before untold resources are spent, shouldn’t we at least compare climate change to other problems facing mankind?” (1)

Let’s look at some of these other problems facing mankind. Ten of the most serious challenges facing the world today include: access to education, climate change, communicable diseases, conflicts, corruption and governance, financial instability, hunger and malnutrition, migration, sanitation and access to clean water, and subsidies and trade barriers. The Copenhagen Consensus explored opportunities for addressing these issues. This group, organized by Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, is an attempt by leading economists (including three Nobelists) to set priorities for spending using traditional cost-benefit analysis. They were asked to address the challenge areas and to answer the question: ‘What would be the best ways of advancing global welfare, and particularly the welfare of developing countries, supposing that an additional $50 billion of resources were at governments’ disposal?’ Challenge papers, commissioned from acknowledged authorities in each area of policy, set out more than thirty proposals in descending order of desirability. In ordering the proposals the panel was guided predominantly by consideration of economic costs and benefits. (2)

The results? Compared to other issues such as communicable diseases, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water, and the rest, climate change ranked last on the list. Vernon Smith, Professor of Economics and Law, George Mason University, provided this summation: “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favor initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate dangers may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention.”(3) (Smith’s italics, not mine)

Indur M. Goklany, whose resume includes stints with federal and state governments, think tanks, and the private sector for over 30 years, has also analyzed this issue. He examined certain risks to humanity, and compared the contributory effects of climate change to non-climate factors. His most significant conclusion: “Climate change is clearly not the most important environmental, let alone public health problem facing the world today, nor is it likely to be the most important environmental problem confronting human or environmental well-being, at least through the foreseeable future. Hence, the argument that we should shift resources from dealing with the real and urgent problems confronting present generations to solving potential problems of tomorrow’s wealthier and better positioned generations is unpersuasive at best and verging on immoral at worst.” (4)

Goklany provides data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Similar to the conclusions from the Copenhagen Consensus mentioned earlier, climate change doesn’t even make the top ten global health risk factors related to food, nutrition, and environmental occupation exposure. Specifically, the WHO provides the following information:

Malaria (2001) 1.12 million deaths
Malnutrition 3.24 million deaths
Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation,
and hygiene 1.73 million deaths
Indoor air pollution from heating and cooking
with wood, coal, and dung 1.62 million deaths
Urban air pollution 800,000 deaths
Lead exposure 230,000 deaths

How many deaths from climate change? No one knows. However, a review paper published in Nature in 2005 claims that global warming may have been responsible for about 170,000 deaths worldwide in 2000. (5) This estimate is based on an analysis which was put out under the auspices of WHO. However, as Goklany notes, “The 170,000 estimate should be viewed with skepticism since science was admittedly sacrificed in hot pursuit of a predetermined policy objective.” (4)

Let’s look at malaria. Some alarmists promote the idea that tropical diseases like malaria will spread because of global warming. However, the geographical spread of these diseases has very little to do with climate. (6) Throughout the Little Ice Age, malaria was a major epidemic disease in Europe and far into the Arctic Circle. (7) In the nineteenth century, malaria, cholera, and other diarrheal and parasitic diseases were prevalent around the world, including northern Europe. (7) Malaria was endemic in England until the late 1800s and in Finland until after World War II. Malaria in the US was still endemic in 36 states until after World War II. (6) Today this disease is a problem only in countries where the necessary public health measures are unaffordable or have been compromised. Past history reveals that combating malaria is primarily a question of development to ensure efficient monitoring of the disease and resources to secure a strong effort to eradicate the mosquitoes and their breeding grounds. Wealth and a functioning public health system is what matters when it comes to combating tropical diseases. (7)

Malaria is functionally eliminated in a society whose annual per capita income reaches $3,100. Even under the poorest scenario prediction, the average GDP per capita for developing countries is projected to be $11,000. Hence, few, if any countries ought to be below the $3,100 threshold in 2085. (4) According to the UN Millennium project, a 75% reduction in malaria deaths can be achieved for $3 billion/year, with a program focused directly on malaria prevention. Talk about a better bang for your buck! (1)


By focusing our priorities on future generations, we focus less on improving the lives of people who are alive today. These future generations bear no closer relationship to us than those now living in developing countries whose lives we disdain to save. Why are we not feeding people in the world who are hungry? Why are we not giving clean water to the almost one billion people who don’t have clean water? The greatest source of environmental degradation is poverty. Why aren’t we helping eliminate poverty? One answer is that perhaps it is a lot easier worrying about future generations than trying to fix present day problems.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the organization which is providing much of the doom and gloom about global warming, raises the flag about future generations. This is the same IPCC whose scenarios predict that by 2100, nations that are poor today will at least by as rich as we are at present, and more likely will be 2 to 4 times more wealthy. The IPCC makes this important point about developing countries: “If we take aggressive action to limit climate change they may regret that we did not use the funds instead to push ahead development in Africa, to better protect species against the next retrovirus, or to dispose of nuclear materials safely…Alternatively, if the developed countries choose to embark on an aggressive control regime now, and if this cuts into their growth rates, the result will shrink export markets for developing countries and thus reduce growth there. In addition, if developed countries view their greenhouse effects as, in effect, aid to developing countries, they may cut back on other programs (sanitation, education for women, etc.) that have a more immediate impact on life expectancy, health and well-being.” (8)

Bjorn Lomborg observes: “Imagine if you were a rich Chinese or a rich Rwandan or a rich Bolivian in 2100, looking back on 2004, saying how odd that people of 2004 were so concerned about helping me a little bit through climate change and so relatively unconcerned about helping my grandfather and my great-grandfather who needed the help much, much more. (9)


1.Michael D. Shaw, “A Rational Look at Climate Change,”, February 10, 2008
2.Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004) 605
3.Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, 635
4.Indur M. Goklany, “What to do about climate Change,” Policy Analysis No. 609, Cato Institute, February 5, 2008
5.Jonathan A Patz et al., “Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health,” Nature, 438, 310 2005
6.Martin Ague, “Is Kyoto a good idea?” in Adapt or Die, Kendra Okonski, Editor, (London, Profile Books Limited, 2003), 77
7.Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001), 291
8.Wilfred Beckerman, “The precautionary principle and our obligation to future generations,” in Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle, Julian Morris, Editor, (Oxford, Butterworth Heinemann, 2000), 53
9.Marc Morano, “Ignore Global Warming Says Former Greenpeace Member,”, December 14, 2004

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