Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A new White House fact sheet claims that global warming will have severe effects on health and death rates. My question – why aren’t the alleged serious health issues associated with warmer weather, already occurring in the tropics?
The following appear to be the main claims made by the new paper;
- Air pollution and airborne allergens will likely increase, worsening allergy and asthma conditions. Future ozone-related human health impacts attributable to climate change are projected to lead to hundreds to thousands of premature deaths, hospital admissions, and cases of acute respiratory illnesses each year in the United States by 2030, including increases in asthma episodes and other adverse respiratory effects in children. Ragweed pollen season is longer now in central North America, having increased by as much as 11 to 27 days between 1995 and 2011, which impacts some of the nearly 6.8 million children in the United States affected by asthma and susceptible to allergens due to their immature respiratory and immune systems.
- Extreme heat can be expected to cause an increase in the number of premature deaths, from thousands to tens of thousands, each summer, which will outpace projected decreases in deaths from extreme cold. One model projected an increase, from a 1990 baseline for more than 200 American cities, of more than an additional 11,000 deaths during the summer in 2030 and more than an additional 27,000 deaths during the summer in 2100.
- Warmer winter and spring temperatures are projected to lead to earlier annual onset of Lyme disease cases in the eastern United States and a generally northward expansion of ticks capable of carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Between 2001 and 2014, both the distribution and the number of reported cases of Lyme disease increased in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.
- Increase the risks of water-related illnesses. Runoff from more frequent and intense extreme precipitation events, and increased water temperatures, will increasingly compromise recreational waters, shellfish harvesting waters, and sources of drinking water, increasing risks of waterborne illness.
- Climate change, including rising temperatures and changes in weather extremes, is expected to increase the exposure of food to certain pathogens and toxins. Rising temperature and increases in flooding, runoff events, and drought will likely lead to increases in the occurrence and transport of pathogens in agricultural environments, which will increase the risk of food contamination and human exposure to pathogens and toxins. This will increase health risks and require greater vigilance in food safety practices and regulation.
- Climate change will have the largest health impact on vulnerable populations including those with low incomes, some communities of color, limited English proficiency and immigrant groups, Indigenous peoples, children, pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.
- Extreme weather and other events related to climate change will impact health by exacerbating underlying medical conditions, increasing exposure to foodborne and waterborne illness risks, and disrupting infrastructure, including power, water, transportation, and communication systems, that are essential to maintaining access to health care and emergency response services and safeguarding human health.
I live on the edge of the tropics, in a place which is substantially warmer than most of the USA is likely to become, even if alarmist projections of global warming are correct. Speaking from experience, the claims made in this paper are complete nonsense.
Allergens can trigger asthma, but one of the worst triggers for asthmatics is cold air. One of the main reasons I moved to the edge of the tropics, is the year round mild weather produced life changing relief from my asthma symptoms. The pollen season in tropical climates also seems to be less of an issue. The season seems more spread out, than in colder climates. Perhaps in cold climates, the growing season is shorter, so pollination has to occur on a much stricter timetable – the pollen cycle in cold climates is shorter, but subjectively at least, it seems to be far more intense.
The extreme heat claim is also weak. Humans are one of the most heat adapted species on the planet – our species evolved in steaming tropical jungles and baking savannahs. People retire to places like my hometown, to avoid the cold. On the occasional tropical summer day when the heat gets too much, people turn on the air conditioner, jump in the pool, or visit the beach. Unless you have severe pre-existing health problems, about the only way you can really get into trouble in hot weather, is by not wearing sun screen, or by not drinking enough water.
Tick diseases like Lyme disease are an issue in warm climates, but they are not noticeably worse than anywhere else. The same mild conditions which encourage more ticks, also encourage more predators which eat the ticks. Every night the urban landscape in my hometown is covered with small, harmless nocturnal lizards, running across the outside of house windows, out hunting insects which are drawn by the light.
The claim of an increase in water borne diseases is also just plain wrong. In Summer, the ground warms up, so the water comes out of the cold tap at over 70F. The water is still safe to drink, because the water company adds this chemical called Chlorine. A lot of Chlorine. Chlorination these days is so cheap anyone can afford it. Beaches and lakes are also safe to use, water sport is popular in warm climates. Obviously if you jump into a stagnant swamp, you are taking your chances – but that applies to any climate.
Increased exposure of food to pathogens and toxins? Seriously? Seafood and fishing are popular in my hometown. So far nobody I know has died from eating what they caught.
The claim about increased impact on vulnerable people; Vulnerable old people retire to warm climates, because the continuous warmth tends to alleviate the symptoms of many age related diseases, such as arthritis. Warm weather also reduces the energy required to heat your house – especially important, if you are on a fixed income, and have a politician like President Obama in charge. If you run an air conditioner, that can be expensive – but even in the tropics, an air conditioner is a luxury, not a necessity.
The extreme weather claim just doesn’t hold water. Really extreme weather strikes maybe once per year. People respond by buying more supplies, and by making sure they have enough petrol to run an inexpensive backup generator for a few days, to keep the refrigerator cold, in case of a power cut. I suspect people in the USA, especially in Northern states, suffer far more inconvenience from being snowed in during severe blizzards, than I suffer from occasionally losing power due to a big tropical thunderstorm. A power cut during extreme cold conditions can actually kill you. A power cut during hot weather just makes you sweat.
In my opinion, this White House “fact sheet”, and its weak set of climate claims, is simply a waste of taxpayer’s money.