Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Motion: Global Warming Is NOT a Crisis!

As soon as I decided to try to write something about Global Warming I realized that there might not be anything I could say that hadn’t already been said. But like some of my other posts about controversial subjects, my goal is to shed light on the political and moral agenda of Global Warming rather than on the technical or scientific basis.

The World Health Organization's World Health Statistics 2008 has a chart (below) comparing the leading causes of death in 2004 and 2030.

Some causes of death will climb higher in the list simply because demographic changes and advances in medicine and medical care move some other diseases toward the bottom of the list. Some causes of death are lifestyle related, or are an inherent weakness in the human body, such as cardiovascular disease, which is right at the top and will stay there. WHO predicts death from some diseases will be drastically reduced.

In addition to moving around in the list, the actual number of people killed also changes. Notice that deaths from cardiovascular diseases are expected to increase from 21.9% to 26.3% of the total. This is partly due to the decrease in the percentages of some of the other causes of death. It is also due to anticipated increases in tobacco use and in obesity around the world. Isn't it strange that obesity is a major problem when the most recent estimate (2006) of the FAO says that 854 million people worldwide are undernourished?

"Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition. Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year--five million deaths. Undernutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria. The estimated proportions of deaths in which undernutrition is an underlying cause are roughly similar for diarrhea (61%), malaria (57%), pneumonia (52%), and measles (45%) (Black 2003, Bryce 2005). Malnutrition can also be caused by diseases, such as the diseases that cause diarrhea, by reducing the body's ability to convert food into usable nutrients."

At present diarrhea kills about 1.5 million people a year, mostly children. This is dramatically down from 4.5 million people in 1980, and according to WHO is expected to drop from 5th to 23rd on the list. Tuberculosis kills 1.6 million people each year. This is increasing at present because of all the HIV positive people with weakened immune systems, but is still expected to drop from 7th to 20th on the list. A vastly greater number of people suffer from TB without dying from it. The same is true of Malaria, which kills between 1 and 3 million people a year, but which infects over 500 million people worldwide. Death from Malaria is expected to drop from 13th clear off the list to 41st. But will the suffering caused by Malaria, TB, and diarrhea be reduced?

There is no doubt that the earth is experiencing a rapid increase in temperature. Nobody disagrees with that. What is in doubt is the extent to which man is responsible, and to what extent man could and/or should do something about it. What is the relationship and relative priority of Global Warming to other important global needs? Currently nobody is dying as a direct result of Global Warming. Isn't that the answer?

On March 14, 2007 the Rosenkranz Foundation and the Center for Science and Public Policy hosted an Intelligence Squared debate about Global Warming. You can check out those three entities to see how far right or left they are, since lefties discount out of hand anything said by the right, and vice-versa. And I sure wouldn't want anyone to start thinking for themself and try to actually understand the issues. Good luck finding the Rosenkranz Foundation’s website. Brian Lehrer of NPR’s WNYC was the moderator of the debate. Votes were cast on the motion before and after the debate. Here are the results:

I was commuting when I listened to the NPR broadcast. Later I found the complete audio, excerpts of the audio, and a transcript of the debate. You should listen to this debate.

One of the six panelists, Brenda Ekwurzel, who spoke against the motion, works on the national climate program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Prior to joining UCS, she was on the faculty of the University of Arizona. Her doctorate research was at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and post-doctoral research was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. With all these credentials, you’d think that Brenda would be able to say something compelling and convincing, instead of the utter crap you’ll read or hear if you click on the links above. What a wonderful example of fuzzy thinking. On the other hand, I think the arguments in favor of the motion are compelling. So did the audience, as you can see from the results of the poll. After you read or listen for yourself, I wonder how you'd vote?


I'm not suggesting we stop trying to save the environment. I'm suggesting we put saving the environment into perspective with other global issues and not let that which matters most be at the mercy of that which matters least. As is so often the case!


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