Guest essay by Jim Steele
Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University and author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism
Historically political failures seek scapegoats. Now such failures are commonly fed to uncritical thinkers and paranoid doomsayers as “global warming tragedies”.
A recent Siberian anthrax outbreak has reportedly killed ~2,000 reindeer and one child and is now being fed to a gullible public as evidence of global warming, as well as an example of the climate change plagues yet to come.
Despite the fact that early 20th century Siberian anthrax outbreaks had killed more than a million reindeer, earning anthrax the nickname the Siberian Plague, climate doomsayers are shamelessly blaming global warming for the reemergence of anthrax in Yamal.
(Perhaps due to racism or lack of permafrost, climate alarmists ignore Zimbabwe’s 1978 anthrax outbreak affecting over 10,000 humans!)
Global warming alarmists similarly attempted to erroneously blame global warming for the extinction of the Golden Toad and other amphibians, when in reality the pet trade and researchers were spreading a novel chytrid fungus against which New World amphibians had not immunity.
Blaming global warming stalled efforts by amphibian experts to prevent the chytrid’s spread, and inhibited captive breeding efforts that could have saved many now extinct species. I can only hope that similar climate change paranoia does not prevent more scientific interventions by more realistic epidemiologists.
Below are 3 more parsimonious explanations for the recent anthrax episode in Siberia.
#1 Alternative explanation: Reduced Vaccinations
In the early 20th century the USSR initiated a widespread vaccination program to end Anthrax (aka the Siberia Plague) to prevent historical epidemics that had devastated humans and reindeer during much colder times. However anthrax vaccinations are only good for one year and must be renewed every year. But such programs are costly.
Thus as reindeer deaths approached zero due to vaccinations, the Russian government deemed the situation under control and the vaccination program was curtailed. But according to Yamal’s governor, a horrible mistake was made. “Russia continued vaccinating the neighboring regions, such as Yurga, Komi, and Nenets, but for some reason it was decided that Yamal, with the largest herds in the world, did not need to vaccinate its reindeer.”
Should anyone be surprised by the re-emergence of anthrax back to pre-vaccination historical levels in the Yamal region?
#2 Alternative explanation: Overgrazing
Anthrax is a bacterium that naturally lives in the soil. Overgrazing increases contact with the bacteria and contribute to outbreaks.
Scientists report, “Anthrax outbreaks often occur following heavy rains, which can push long-hidden spores into new, more accessible grazing locations, or drought, when animals graze closer to the contaminated soil.”
Likewise in the recent Russian outbreak scientists bemoaned, “The excess reindeer population is another problem. More than 700,000 reindeer live in the Yamal region – 44 percent of Russia’s total herd. Scientists say that the region’s pastures are big enough only for 100-150,000 animals.
#3 Alternative explanation: Fallout from “secret” Russian bioweapons facilities
Despite signing the 1972 agreement to end bioweapon production, the government of the Soviet Union had an active bioweapons program that included the production of hundreds of tons of weapons-grade anthrax after this period. On 2 April 1979, some of the over one million people living in Sverdlovsk (now called Ekaterinburg, Russia), about 850 miles east of Moscow, were exposed to an accidental release of anthrax from a biological weapons complex located near there. At least 94 people were infected, of whom at least 68 died.
Extensive cleanup, vaccinations, and medical interventions managed to save about 30 of the victims. Extensive cover-ups and destruction of records by the KGB continued from 1979 until Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted this anthrax accident in 1992.
To support the cover-up story, Soviet medical and legal journals published articles about an outbreak in livestock that caused GI anthrax
At a summit meeting with President George Bush in February 1992, Yeltsin told Bush that he agreed with U.S. accusations regarding Soviet violation of the 1972 biological weapons convention, that the Sverdlovsk incident was the result of an accident at a Soviet biological warfare installation, and promised to clean up this problem. In a May 27th interview, Yeltsin publicly revealed what he had told Bush in private:
“We are still deceiving you, Mr. Bush. We promised to eliminate bacteriological weapons. But some of our experts did everything possible to prevent me from learning the truth. It was not easy, but I outfoxed them. I caught them red-handed. I found two test sites. They are inoculating tracts of land with anthrax, allowing wild animals to go there and observing them…”
I remain flabbergasted by the narrow-minded gullibility and blindness of global warming alarmists who attribute climate change to anthrax. Despite hundreds of years of documented natural anthrax outbreaks, and despite undeniable evidence of Russian bioweaponry development of anthrax and its careless disposal, alarmists now believe any recent anthrax outbreaks must be due to global warming.
Jim Steele is author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism