The MacDoctor often hears Global Warm-mongers talking about the health effects of global warming. I note that these articles fall mainly into two categories. Those that confuse pollution with global warming, either naively or deliberately, and those that confuse facts with speculation, again, naively or deliberately.
A prime example of the first group is the article in today’s Herald entitled What’s good for the climate is also good for our health. It is an article that one instinctively views with great suspicion simply because the author makes his living out of “sustainable household and personal products”. The article makes two of the three basic mistakes of these types of writings. Firstly, it assumes pollution is equal to global warming/climate change. The only problem with this assumption is that it appears to be scientific nonsense. At one time there was much speculation about the effects of pollution on the climate. However, the current climate change theory revolves around the output of carbon dioxide, not pollution per se. Carbon dioxide causes no health problems in the concentrations required for global warming theory. Although toxic pollution does indeed have dreadful effects on human health, it contributes very little to global warming.
Pollution DOES NOT EQUAL Global Warming.
The second false assumption is that fighting global warming somehow has these amazing health benefits. We will all suddenly be eating less meat, cycling to work , eating organic vegetables and wearing sandals. Presumably we will all be voting for the Greens. Unfortunately for the writer of this, and many other articles, this assumption is exactly backwards. Healthy living may improve our carbon footprint, but that is probably the least important benefit of healthy living. Suggesting that combatting global warming may produce health benefits in this way is a little like suggesting that microchipping dogs will reduce dog attacks and banning smacking with reduce child abuse. In other words, it is a typical policy wonk idea with little basis in reality.
Fighting Global Warming DOES NOT EQUAL Healthy Living
A good example of the other type of article that confuses facts and speculation is the Lancet article Managing the health effects of climate change. [note: you may have to set up a (free) account to read this article]. The article makes the same two mistakes as the first article, but then goes into a long explanation about the actual effects of global warming on the population of the planet. Impressive scenarios of massive drought, cyclones, tsunamis and costal inundation are postulated. Deepening inequalities between the first and third world are hypothesized. Massive public health disasters are posited.
There is one fundamental problem with all of this. It is all speculation. While some of the guesses involved are reasonably informed ones, the reality is that they are really no better than the guesses of science fiction writers. Suggesting we base our health planning on these scenarios is the equivalent of suggesting we base our public health response to contagions on the movie 28 Days Later or that we base our policing on Judge Dredd.
Fact DOES NOT EQUAL Fiction
While the science connecting ill-health to pollution is indisputable, pollution is not global warming. Until the science connecting global warming to public ill heath ceases to be speculative and becomes based in hard fact, we would be stupid to plan for expensive health scenarios that may never eventuate. Future health planning should only be based on known needs and predictable problems. Though there is always a place for crisis planning, it is not appropriate that such planning should dominate our thinking to the detriment of sensible health development.