This story on WUWT last week was so absurd, I felt like it needed a strong rebuttal.
A November 4th article in the Canadian newspaper, Victoria Times Colonist, reported, B.C. doctor clinically diagnoses patient as suffering from ‘climate change’
On the face of it, one doesn’t need to be a climate scientist to know this is an absurd claim, because the doctor is simply making the mistake of conflating short-term weather events with long-term climate change.
Obviously, Doctor Merritt hasn’t learned what the definition of climate is. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) clearly defines it:
Weather reflects short-term conditions of the atmosphere while climate is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location. … Weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season.
In the case of Dr. Merritt, he is citing a record heat wave and wildfires as creating health problems for his patients.
From the article:
“It was late June, and British Columbia was consumed under a heat wave that would soon go down as both the hottest and deadliest in Canadian history.
The head of the hospital’s emergency department, Merritt could see the aggravated toll the extreme heat took on patients battling multiple health problems at once, often with little money.”
Like death by heat, doctors have traditionally struggled to clinically attribute mortality and severe illness to air pollution. For Merritt, this summer’s wildfire season changed all that.
When a patient came in struggling to breathe, Merritt knew the smoke — that hadn’t lifted from the region for days on end — had made a case of asthma worse.
For the first time in his 10 years as a physician, the ER doctor picked up his patient’s chart and penned in the words “climate change.”
“If we’re not looking at the underlying cause, and we’re just treating the symptoms, we’re just gonna keep falling further and further behind,” he told Glacier Media when asked why he did it.
While I certainly have compassion for the people afflicted, the bottom line is that these health issues are short-term events driven by weather, not climate.
The record heat wave was clearly a weather event, lasting about 3 days as the high pressure dome moved from west to east over the Pacific Northwest, and was driven by a unique set of meteorological conditions. Cliff Mass, Ph.D, an expert on meteorology at the University of Washington studied the heat wave event extensively in his article Was Global Warming The Cause of the Great Northwest Heatwave? Science Says No.
As a result of his study, Dr. Mass found no trend consistent with “climate change” aka “global warming” and came to this conclusion:
If global warming was producing extreme heatwaves in our region, such as the event last week, there would be a long-term trend towards more extreme high temperatures. A single event does not reflect climate, only a trend or changes in long-term average do.
Mass went on to examine the long-term temperature data and adds, “…there IS NO INCREASING TREND for more record high temperatures over our region during the past century. “
That rules out Dr. Merritt’s claim of “climate change” driving health issues he witnessed, which was little more than conjecture, with no science applied at all. His diagnosis seems more like “political popular science”, as opposed to real science citing data and linking causation.
On the issues of wildfire smoke and health, Dr. Merritt disproves his own claims about a linkage with climate change with his statement to the newspaper:
“This past summer, it was so bad for about three weeks,” says Merritt.
Again, three weeks is a short-term event, not a long-term climate trend. The main flaw in Dr. Merritt’s claim is that he erroneously conflates weather with climate. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). A heat wave and the resultant fires is a short-term weather phenomenon. And, as Dr. mass points out, it would only become an indicator of climate change if it persisted for 30 years and showed an increased trend.
The wildfires were a temporary phenomenon, likely related to the short-term heat wave. NASA satellites have documented a global long-term decline in wildfires. NASA reports satellites have measured a 25-percent decrease in global lands burned since 2003.
Neither the temperature data or the wildfire data show an upward trend, rendering Merritt’s opinion of a climate change connection as flat wrong.
Dr. Merritt should stick to treating patients, and leave meteorology and climatology to experts trained in those sciences. After all, you certainly don’t see meteorologists and climatologists posing as medical professionals.