Indur Goklany was involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as an author, U.S. delegate and reviewer since before its inception. His focuses are climate change and economic development, among others, and his presentation at Heartland’s 4th International Climate Change Conference on global warming and mortality was one of the standout presentations in the entire conference. His talk establishes the long-standing fact that cold kills more than warmth and that global warming policies cost more lives than global warming itself.
One of the justifications for combating global warming is that higher temperatures will threaten human health and could cause sweeping epidemics of infectious diseases and ultimately more deaths. But don’t forget a warmer world has benefits as well as costs, as does a cooler one. The empirical data shows that mortality rates rise in colder months, and this is evident across latitudes and well-recognized by the medical community.
As the earth has warmed the extent of malaria and hunger rates have dropped and life expectancy and health-adjusted life expectancy (disability adjusted life years) has increased. Goklany says that “global warming or its underlying human causes, if any, have not increased death or disease. In fact, they are probably responsible for the worldwide decreases in mortality rates and increases in life expectancy over the last century.”
Goklany stresses that there are more important health risks than climate change. According to the World Health Organization, climate change health risks are last out of 24 risk factors- even ignoring the gains in mitigating cold-weather gains. Unsafe sex, unsafe drinking water and vitamin deficiencies are much higher on the list. When it comes to climate change, the real threat to increased death and disease is global warming policies, more specifically biofuel production.
Goklany project 51,000 world-wide excess deaths because of additional poverty from bio-fuel programs alone. While climate change ranks on the WHO’s risk factor’s, being underweight ranks at the top. Biofuel production, which is heavily subsidized in many developing countries, diverts food away to fuel and attempts to address the lowest risk factor at the expense of the most important. To truly help developing countries with the risks associated with climate change as well as the many more important ones, we should shift away from biofuel policies and focus on broader economic development. He writes:
Developing countries are generally deemed to be most vulnerable to climate change, not necessarily because they will experience greater climate change, but because they lack adaptive capacity (that is, financial and human capital) to acquire and use the technologies necessary to cope with its impacts. Hence, another approach to addressing climate change would be to enhance the adaptive capacity of developing countries by promoting broad development, i.e., economic development and human capital formation, which, of course, is the point of sustainable economic development.
The Foundry, 19 May 2010