Is Climate Change the "Defining Challenge of Our Age"? Part 1 of 3

Part I: Ranking global warming among present-day risks to public health.

challenges_of_civilization

Guest essay by Indur M. Goklany

There seems to be no limit to the hyperbole surrounding climate change – and that’s no hyperbole. Numerous politicians have informed us over the years that climate change is one of the most important problems facing mankind.  In fact, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called it the defining challenge of our age.”

But is it?

I answer this question in a paper just published in the refereed section of Energy & Environment.

A 2005 review article in Nature on the health impacts of climate change estimated that 166,000 deaths were “attributable” to climate change in 2000. This estimate was derived from a World Health Organization (WHO) sponsored study that even the study’s authors acknowledge may not “accord with the canons of empirical science” (see here). But I will accept this flawed estimate as gospel for the sake of argument.

In the year 2000, however, there were a total of 56 million deaths worldwide. Thus, climate change may be responsible for less than 0.3% of all deaths globally (based on data for the year 2000). This places climate change no higher than 13th among mortality risk factors related to food, nutrition and environment, as shown in the following table.

Specifically, climate change is easily outranked by threats such as hunger, malnutrition and other nutrition-related problems, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, indoor air pollution, malaria, urban air pollution. And had I included other risks to public health beyond environmental, food and nutritional factors (e.g., HIV/AIDS, TB, various cancers, etc.) then climate change would have ranked even lower than 13th.

With respect to biodiversity and ecosystems, today the greatest threat is what it always has been – the conversion of land and water habitat to human uses, i.e., agriculture, forestry, and human habitation and infrastructure. See, e.g., here.

Climate change, contrary to claims, is clearly not the most important environmental, let alone public health, problem facing the world today.

But is it possible that in the foreseeable future, the impact of climate change on public health could outweigh that of other factors?

I will address this question in subsequent blogs.

Risk factor

Ranking

Mortality (millions)

Mortality (%)

Blood pressure 1 7.1 12.8
Cholesterol 2 4.4 7.9
Underweight (hunger) 3 3.7 6.7
Low fruit & vegetables 4 2.7 4.9
Overweight 5 2.6 4.6
Unsafe water, poor sanitation 6 1.7 3.1
Indoor smoke 7 1.6 2.9
Malaria 1.1 2.0
Iron deficiency 8 0.8 1.5
Urban air pollution 9 0.8 1.4
Zinc deficiency 10 0.8 1.4
Vitamin A deficiency 11 0.8 1.4
Lead exposure 12 0.2 0.4
Climate change 13 0.2 0.3
Subtotal 27.6 49.4
TOTAL from all causes 55.8 100.0

Priority ranking of food, nutritional and environmental problems, based on global mortality for 2000. Source: I.M. Goklany, Is Climate Change the “Defining Challenge of Our Age”? Energy & Environment 20(3): 279-302 (2009), based on data from the World Health Organization. Note that malaria isn’t ranked in this table because deaths due to malaria were attributed by WHO to climate change, underweight, and zinc and vitamin A deficiencies.

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Pat

There are close to 1 billion people in this world who are, literally, starving. This has nothing to do with AGW/ACC/Climate Pollution and everything to do with money, politics and power.
How can local (African for example) farmers compete with EU subsidies where imported food is cheaper than locally grown food?
Keep people hungry and in fear and you have total power.

Benjamin P.

“…lack of access to safe water…”
This will be problematic. I imagine this will be the “limiting reagent” on population growth.

J.Hansford

Without cheap energy, you cannot produce cheap and plentiful water and food or build effective industry.

Frank Ravizza

Low fruit and vegetables can kill you ! OMG!

John H

Ok fine but what about the aminals?
Ever heard of Polar Bears?
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Rhys Jaggar

Every generation needs a new ‘idea’ to ‘campaign for’.
When I was growing up in the 1970s I was bombarded with messages about ‘wimmin’s rights’, ‘gay rights’ and ‘black rights’. Whilst the principle was fine, the messages’ total effect on a white straight boy growing up were to place his grouping as the blame for all the world’s ills. With all the attendant emotional issues which will arise as a result……….
It’s the same with climate change. There are relevant issues there, but the fight and the message has distorted the picture beyond repair. There is no longer a worthy cause to fight in my opinion.
But it will still be fought, because the religion has taken hold.
It’s like all religions: slip out the mantras up front, make sure you stack the evidential deck for inexperienced recruits to stop them asking awkward questions and get them on the streets unquestioningly.
There is no conceivable question that there is NOT dangerous climate change currently.
But there is also no doubt that the words ‘dangerous climate change’ now have code status in politics.
So I say: forget all the words and focus on what change is necessary.

crosspatch

Considering that it is estimated that about 2 million children under 5 die from diarrhea every year, I think that “unsafe water” number might be low. Measles kills about 500,000. About the same number die from flu every year.
If we are worried about “climate change” then it means times much really be so good we have no real pressing concerns to occupy ourselves with.

crosspatch

s/means times much really be so good/means time must really be so good/

Evan Jones

Dr. Goklany — perceptive and big-picture oriented as usual. To be commended.
But you did leave out one thing I might have included: Namely how many die from cold.

John F. Hultquist

In the mail today I received a packet (6 pages of inserts plus the large envelop) from Robt. Kennedy and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They also provide a petition for me to sign. Which of the 13 risk factors in the table above do you think they wanted my money to help alleviate?
Ah! Trick question. The answer is “none of the above.” Sarah Palin is the scary witch of the North. OK, so global warming is mentioned.
One of the pages starts with “Polar Bear SOS!” (in large red letters) and continues:
“Dear Friend, The distress signals coming from the Arctic are now loud and clear as polar bears suffer the terrible effects of global warming and melting ice.”
It gets worse. Anyway, the world’s rich & famous have gone crazy. The money spent to prepare, print, and send this packet (if one sends $20 they will send you a tote bag with a print of mama bear and two cubs) — the money spent could probably fix Risk factor #8 world wide.
Knowing that the bears are doing well and the Arctic ice even more so I don’t plan on sending them anything. Over the past few years I have gotten fed-up with these stupendously stupid scams. I now give directly to people I know are in need.
I hope Dr. Goklany’s “challenges of our times” report will cause some of those pushing these false issues to reconsider and take on one of the real problems they can have some success with. Rant over, John

Evan Jones

“Ok fine but what about the aminals?”
You are a human animal,
You are a very special breed.
For you are the only animal
Who can think, who can reason, who can read!

Evan Jones

Low fruit and vegetables can kill you ! OMG!
So can staying up late nights gridding weather stations . . .

Graeme Rodaughan

Such arguments might work on rational people who actually hold general human welfare as a priority value.
However you assume that “Human Welfare” as measured by mortality rates matters to,
[1] The Hard Core Greens,
[2] Committed Malthusians.
[3] People who participated in banning DDT.
[4] Distant corporate shareholders looking for an increased return on invested $$$.
[5] Charlatans and Conmen out to make an easy $$$.
[6] Psychopaths that have charmed their way into positions of power, influence and non-accountability.
However – don’t be discouraged, I’m looking forward to the next installments.

UK Sceptic

The defining challenge of our age is tackling political stupidity and venality. Watts Up With That stands as a shining beacon to reason and common sense. Keep up the good work, guys.

Graeme Rodaughan

evanmjones (23:01:04) :
“Ok fine but what about the aminals?”
You are a human animal,
You are a very special breed.
For you are the only animal
Who can think, who can reason, who can read!

evanmjones – A friend of mine had two German Shephard dogs. An older female and a younger male.
We were sitting in his loungeroom with the young male dog lying on a couch. The female walked into the room, and did the following,
[1] Stopped, looked around, and assessed the situation.
[2] Went over to a corner of the room and picked up a tennis ball with her mouth.
[3] Went with the ball and waved it in front of the young male, who sat up with interest.
[4] Spat the ball back into the corner.
[5] The young male then promptly jumped off the couch to fetch the ball.
[6] She jumped onto the couch and lay down.
[7] The young male returned with the ball looking to play – she ignored him.
[8] The young male lay down on the floor.
Ahhh… wrt “Who can think, who can reason, who can read” she never showed evidence of being able to read – but since that day I have never doubted that a smart dog can both think, and reason.

anna v

I wonder how these risk factor tables are made.
There is no doubt that if we make a table for the year 1900, 100% of people will be dead and the table of cause will not be saying ” his/her oil was finished” as we say in greek. It will be a list of diseases that the doctor signed and then we take that as risk factor.
I would be more interested in deaths below the average expectation. If the average is 75 years, what is the difference in the cause of death between the people dying below 75 and above 75, or between the lowest 20 percentile and the highest 20 percentile. That has a practical meaning. That we will all die of something is inevitable. It is premature deaths that one should compare with, in my opinion.
In this case I believe starvation and malnutrition would be leading.

RE evanmjones (22:56:37) :
This study http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/nr/moderngov/mgConvert2PDF.asp?ID=22183
Notes the following for the UK.
“There are around 40,000 more deaths during winter months December toMarch than expected from death rates in other months of the year”
“Around two thirds of excess winter deaths can be attributed to the effects of cold”
Our housing stock is pretty bad for insulating against cold weather, but “Fuel Poverty” is becoming more of an issue, especially since solid fuel fires in new-build homes are about as common as rocking horse faeces!

AnonyMoose

Note that malaria isn’t ranked in this table because deaths due to malaria were attributed by WHO to climate change, underweight, and zinc and vitamin A deficiencies.

And intentional deficiency of DDT.

Paul R

Well Six Meter Peter, Peter Garret Australia’s environment minister has an affect on my blood pressure. His ridiculous alarmism never fails to aggravate me therefore global warming is the number one killer. The term climate change also affects my BP as it reminds me that we might in fact be living Orwell’s nightmare when Newspeak terms are slipped in so easily.
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25368232-30417,00.html

crosspatch

Maybe it’s just me but from eyeballing the this graph since 2005 it looks like, if I squint really hard, that the average ice area since January 2008 should be much higher than the average from Jan 2005 to December 2007.

Barry Foster

We’ve clearly got more space for another few billion yet, so population is a problem – but not yet (that’s not to trivialise it). We all know climate change isn’t a problem at all. Cancer and heart disease are top of my list.
By the way, everyone here in the UK has gone Swine Flu crazy – or rather the media has, and that has in turn made people worry. The UK government is to issue a leaflet to every home in the country outlining what to do! Seems everyone has stopped worrying about Bird Flu to concentrate on this instead. Climate Change? Oh that’s so last year! But when we get four hot days in a row in the summer (if we do) the BBC will run a piece on it again, and everyone will forget about Swine Flu.
Funny old world, isn’t it?

Barry Foster

Low fruit and vegetables will kill you if they’re flying fast enough.

Keith Minto

With Blood Pressure,Cholesterol and being Overweight contributing 25% of the total mortality factors, CC seems a very minor concern for first world countries.
Seems a problem of sloth and excess,shameful really.
Thanks, Indur, for the reality check.

GeoS

The thing that puzzles me is that if I avoid all the risk factors given in the list am I going to live forever? I mean where does death from old age creep in?

page48

“Defining Challenge of Our Age?”
Climate change can be worked into the factors of other changes, at will – changes like drought, disease, flood – without any kind of real proof.
A few really nasty, world wide natural disasters would wipe out “climate change” effects in a heartbeat.

KimW

“Note that malaria isn’t ranked in this table because deaths due to malaria were attributed by WHO to climate change, underweight, and zinc and vitamin A deficiencies.”
So much for all those stupid theories about mosquitos. And especially having to memorise the Life Cycle of the Malarial Parasite in school.

Bill Jamison

The situation is even worse that expected, at least according to speakers at the meeting called “Melting Ice Regional Dramas, Global Wake-Up Call” in Oslo this week.
“There is indeed a risk that we will be among the last to live in a time of bountiful ice and snow; but such a future is not inevitable. I sincerely believe that today will mark one important step towards a different future, one where longing for the first winter’s snow remains a basic part of the human experience”, Foreign Minister Stoere said during his opening of the conference on Tuesday.
Dorthe Dahl Jensen, an expert from Denmark’s Niels Bohr Institute claimed “Antarctica and Greenland have been sleeping until now, now they are awakening giants.” The flow of melting ice into the oceans has picked up, and at the current pace sea levels will have risen by three feet by the end of the century, she added.

http://www.norwaypost.no/content/view/21953/26/
http://tinyurl.com/cyr8jo
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30460831/

Bill Jamison

The situation is even worse that expected, at least according to speakers at the meeting called “Melting Ice Regional Dramas, Global Wake-Up Call” in Oslo this week.
“There is indeed a risk that we will be among the last to live in a time of bountiful ice and snow; but such a future is not inevitable. I sincerely believe that today will mark one important step towards a different future, one where longing for the first winter’s snow remains a basic part of the human experience”, Foreign Minister Stoere said during his opening of the conference on Tuesday.
Dorthe Dahl Jensen, an expert from Denmark’s Niels Bohr Institute claimed “Antarctica and Greenland have been sleeping until now, now they are awakening giants.” The flow of melting ice into the oceans has picked up, and at the current pace sea levels will have risen by three feet by the end of the century, she added.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30460831/

CodeTech

Wow – that’s quite a list… and for the first time in any such list, Smoking isn’t listed as the biggest killer ever. That must be because those on that particular Crusade have now banned smoking everywhere… isn’t it nice that that worked and stopped all the smoking deaths?
Anyway, this is sounding like what many of us have been saying… do we really need to abandon all of the actual problems in the world to “tackle” the one that we can’t do anything about???

Alan the Brit

Excellent piece of writing. However, as evenmjones says whay about the cold. It may be on its way as I type! What will be the official death toll as a result of the recent winter?
And the WHO can cloud the issues by attributing deaths due to climate change, one can do that with anything one likes, as there is simply no way of disproving it. Also, the WHO has left out that other dramatic dealer in death & distruction, undersea earthquake followed by the resulting tsunami, what was the death toll according to the UN? Wasn’t it around 250,000 as a minimum, which leaves CC deaths way behind & it was all perfectly natural! What are the death tolls for earthquakes this century alone?

Alan the Brit

Sorry that typo should read “destruction”.

Allan M R MacRae

Good report Dr. Goklany – generally consistent with the Copenhagen Consensus.
Also, cold kills more than heat – much more. Global warming, if it were true, would probably improve the lot of humanity. History tells us so.
The reality is Earth is cooling, perhaps severely, and we are unprepared, as we continue to obsess over non-existent humanmade global warming.

vg

OT but good sun site
http://landscheidt.auditblogs.com/
sorry Leif…Unless ALL their graphs are wrong

Robinson

In other news, another Scientist with his snout in the trough has softened his stance on Global Warming. I quote:

Second, burning fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels.

Note the “probably”. It seems the sceptics are having some impact!

Allan M R MacRae

Excerpt from above:
A 2005 review article in Nature on the health impacts of climate change estimated that 166,000 deaths were “attributable” to climate change in 2000. This estimate was derived from a World Health Organization (WHO) sponsored study that even the study’s authors acknowledge may not “accord with the canons of empirical science” (see here). But I will accept this flawed estimate as gospel for the sake of argument.
***************************
OK for the hypothetical basis of this paper, BUT:
In my opinion, this WHO study is completely without merit. In total, more people would have died if Earth had become colder during the study period.

Low fruit and vegetables can kill you ! OMG!
So can staying up late nights gridding weather stations . . .
P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

Didnt the WHO say the biofuels push as a result of global warming alarmism has caused another 30 million to slide into poverty because of rising food prices
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7472532.stm
Also the cold kills many more than the warmth. As I understand it in the UK alone 25,000 people over 65 die every year from cold related causes.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1089933/More-25-000-elderly-die-cold-fuel-poverty-hits-pensioner-households.html
This will only increase as the Green movement seeks to increase the cost of fuel and so fuel poverty will become more widespread and many more will die.
I think if we added the numbers its getitng to the point where we could say more people are dying because of global warming alarmism than actual of any climate change!

Chris Wood

We do not seem to miss the dinosaurs so perhaps we will not miss the polar bears. Lets face it, millions of species have disappeared from earth since life began. Do we have to ‘save’ every single one?

“But you did leave out one thing I might have included: Namely how many die from cold.”
Good point – mortality rates, particularly in the elderly rise substantialy in the winter months. There are other risk factors that need mentioning but in particular modern transport ( motor accidents) should probably be in the top end of environmental risk factors.

Mark N

Funny how the WHOs own data contradicts it’s stand on AGW.

Quote;
“One of the few silver linings of the seasonality of mortality is the impact of global warming on wintertime deaths. One study suggests that an increase in temperature of roughly 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of this century would boost total heat-related deaths in the United Kingdom more than threefold, to just under 3,000, but the number of cold-related deaths would drop by 25 percent, or 20,000, to 60,000.”
http://www.slate.com/id/2088323/
So based on this proportion if Global Warming causes 166,000 deaths every year then it also save more than a millions from dying from the cold.
In reality if the current cold continues to deepen we will see many more of the vulnerable die unnecessarily because of Global Warming alarmism and the failure of governments to prepare.

Mike Nicholson

Without the headline figures issued by the alarmists put into the perspective of percentages, the general public has no way of evaluating true risk, and it’s an unfortunate trend that affects matters beyond the climate change agenda. I first started questioning the whole global warming propaganda when I stumbled on some statistics relating to CO2. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I read, about 95% of the greenhouse effect is created by water vapour, and that only about 3.6% is created by CO2. Given that only 3.2% of all CO2 is produced by mankind, despite all the green lobbies quoting how many millions of tons of CO2 we annually produce, when analysed into percentages, lead me to the conclusion that even if mankind suddenly ceased to exist, the effect on the climate would be ludicrously small. Or have I got it all wrong??

Environmentalism has alread killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s.”
Michael Crichton, Science writer and author ‘State of Fear’.

Nick Yates

OT but we’ve just had our coldest ever April temperature in Australia.
http://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/minus-13-degrees-the-coldest-its-been-in-april/11794

Nick Yates

OT as well, I just found this and it looks like the cold in Australia has taken some wildlife by surprise.
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25392386-30417,00.html

Amabo

Just found a nice picture in an article in my newspaper today;
http://www.vg.no/uploaded/image/bilderigg/2009/04/29/1240994578092_85.jpg
Apparently the picture came from reuters, I’m guessing this article:
http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE53R27V20090428

MattN

Swine flu will very likely kill more people than “climate change”.

MattN

BTW, I’m waiting for the report linking swine flu and “climate change”.

Claude Harvey

The “true believers” already have this line of reasoning covered. It’s the “tipping point”, stupid! Any day now, we’ll reach the CO2 tipping point at which temperature will suddenly skyrocket and beyond which all will be lost. The current global temperature decline can be visualized as a cliff-diver squatting down for leverage just before he leaps off into the abyss. Dr. Hansen proved all this with “new math” and The Goracle has confirmed it with his “third eye”. Better be on the safe side; shut down 52% of all U.S. power plants today and wander the woods naked with a stick, searching for grubs!

Chuck

Sorry OT,
But Australia just had it’s coldest weather recording on record for April today of -13 at Charlotte Pass, in the snowy mountains. But of course weather isn’t climate.
http://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/minus-13-degrees-the-coldest-its-been-in-april/11794