Professor Paunio has enjoyed a distinguished career in global public health, both in Europe and the USA. He has a proven record of countering medical falsehoods, based more on environmental propaganda than on scientific evidence.
He certainly adds to that reputation in this hard-hitting and evidence-based paper. It focusses on two recent reports published (to its discredit) in the medical journal The Lancet. They have been widely quoted in the British Parliament and in the popular media. They were predictably trumpeted by climate alarmists at the 23rd UN Convention on Climate Change, clearly their target political audience.
This reports’ conclusions are supportive of the familiar climate-campaign claims that industrial development, and especially pollution derived from coal-fired power generation, are the main cause of much ill health and mortality in the world. Their political purpose is to convince global policy makers to take radical environmental action, for example by regulating and restructuring our energy economy, however inefficiently and expensively, in order to serve the noble cause of saving lives and improving health. There may be a case for that, if based on scientific facts, but Professor Paunio shows that The Lancet does not respectably advance that cause.
The Lancet’s political activism is apparently part of a wider political environmental campaign to blame almost any issue of current public and media concern on climate change (which is happening and always has): mass migration, floods, droughts, storms (now conveniently named to make a greater impact on public memory), and (allegedly) disappearing animal species such as Al Gore’s polar bears – now interestingly at a near peak of population. Professor Paunio writes clinically and factually to demonstrate the errors, exaggerations, distortions, misquotations and suppressions of established evidence which pervade The Lancet reports. Focussing on their misrepresentation of the latest factual evidence relating to the health factors involving air pollution and water supplies, he demonstrates how the main cause of global pollution deaths is from open-fire cooking and heating in the less-developed world, which causes ten times as much health damage in China and India than do their coal-fired power plants, which the climate alarmists so hate.
He also points out that global health has in fact dramatically improved during the past near two centuries of modest global warming. This is mainly due to economic development and especially because of improvements in institutional health provision in the developed world, something which the climate alarmists choose to ignore since it does not fit in with their ideological position.
Interestingly in this debate, it should be noted that modest global warming of the degree we have enjoyed is actually less health-threatening than global cooling. Warming does not significantly increase mortality; it does reduce temperature-related deaths. It is officially estimated that in the UK only 3 deaths per 100,000 of the population are heat related. However, 61 deaths per 100,000, twenty times as many, are cold related. So a cooling cycle, should it reappear, would be intrinsically more threatening to health than a warming one. This is not just in the UK. Stanford University research estimates that an increase of warming temperatures of 2.5◦C would reduce mortality in the USA by 40,000 deaths a year and so greatly reduce medical costs.
Most global ill health and mortality derives, not from industrial development and related climate matters, but from underdevelopment, especially domestic pollution and the malnutrition that can render it fatal. This does not mean that there are not serious concerns over climate change, where properly evidenced. But they should be address rationally, and not dogmatically.
Professor Paunio’s well researched paper shows that The Lancet’s concerns are not properly evidenced. His facts and arguments are vitally important and should be widely read, especially by policy makers and media commentators, not just for exposing the particular falsehoods in the reports, but also for demonstrating the dangers lying in the wider climate change debate of political groupthink.
Bernard Donoughue MA, D.Phil (Oxon)
Senior Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister 1974–79
Minister for Farming and Food 1997–99