FeatureWorld Climate Report
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white1.GIF (834 bytes) Clinton's Stealth Care Bomb: Warming and Disease

With every passing month, the Administration's prospects of getting the Senate to pass the Kyoto agreement grow dimmer.

Yet their pundits persist. When one argument fizzles, they ignite another, attempting to make the treaty's phenomenal emissions reductions—down to 41 percent below where they would otherwise be in 2010—somehow seem necessary, if not downright reasonable.

The Administration's "stealth care" approach—sneaking reductions through as a matter of health—continues to seek its target.

Economic arguments such as those recently made by Federal Reserve Governor Janet T. Yellen are so optimistic as to be impossible (see "Janet in Wonderland," page 6).

Yellen claims the cost of these emissions reductions would be a mere $100 per capita(!). Turns out that's about the net benefit that El Niņo has showered upon the nation this go-'round, thanks to lower gas prices, heating costs, the recent housing boom, and related stock changes. Does anyone seriously think that the cost of effectively turning off 41 percent of the lights for decades—from an energy point of view—equals the benefits of one warm winter?

The Administration's hopes of selling the Senate with a fancy emissions-trading program between nations just got quashed, too. Earlier this month, the U.N.'s head climate bureaucrat, Argentina's Raul Estrada, said he doesn't want emissions trading to go on for more than eight years. "We want to make sure we're not creating a new crop for nations to sell," he explained. Perhaps he doesn't understand that this is precisely the point.

Then there's something called reality. Satellite and weather balloon temperatures measured simultaneously since 1979 have refused to show a warming trend (although, as noted in Earth Track, February was quite warm indeed). The ground-based record shows almost all of its warming in the coldest, most obnoxious airmasses: Dead-of-winter Siberia and northwestern North America.

The Clinton Stealth Care Bomb to the rescue! "If we can show global warming is a hazard to public health," the Administration war cry goes, "we don't need the Senate's approval to command drastic emission reductions." This plan has been hatching for several years now, since the Administration discovered some scientific allies who have been very vocal in humming the Commander in Chief's battle hymn.

In support, the Environmental Protection Agency has thrown millions of dollars at the University of Delaware, funding work specifically designed to equate death with global warming. When that work showed that the fraction of people who will die in the heat (when adjusted for expected increases in population) was too small to be spectacular, the EPA decided to ignore natural population growth when they made public presentations. Death projections are a relative thing. Their recent pronouncements are a little like saying that two times as many Americans are going to die in the year 2075 without pointing out that the population will be twice as large by then.

The Administration's most vocal idealogue, though, is Harvard's Paul Epstein, who writes and speaks voluminously about global warming already causing the spread of malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever.

The case for this is typically made in a two-part study. Part 1: Find a person in the high latitudes or high altitudes with malaria. Part 2: Proclaim that this disease was caused by global warming.

The facts usually are 1) Most of these regions are not warming, 2) Most of these regions are projected to warm very little even if you do believe the projections, and 3) Most of these regions had these diseases before the term fossil fuel even existed. But these facts seem to matter little.

In a recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet, Paul Reiter, Chief Scientist of the Dengue Fever branch of the Centers for Disease Control, takes Epstein to task. Citing historical data, Reiter notes that malaria is not really a tropical disease, since it has occurred north of the Arctic circle as well as in Holland, Poland, and Finland prior to 1950. Similarly, Reiter notes that high-altitude malaria cases were common prior to the widespread use of DDT. Recently, high- altitude malaria epidemics in Madagascar have been blamed on global warming, despite similar epidemics in the same regions in 1878 and 1895—the tail end of the Little Ice Age!

Blaming Madagascar's 1987 high-altitude epidemic of malaria on global warming is a routine maneuver on this battleground. In his Lancet article, Reiter plotted the maximum altitude of malaria transmission vs. latitude for various countries, based on data from the first part of this century (before any possible anthropogenic effects). Figure 1 shows that the upper limit of transmission in a recent (1987) malaria outbreak in Madagascar is far below the established maximum altitude.

Figure 1 (3625 bytes)

Figure 1. Maximum elevation of malaria outbreaks vs. latitude, based on data from the first half of this century (open circles). Recent outbreaks (closed circles) have occurred at altitudes that are not that unusual.

In closing, Reiter writes:

"The distortion of science to make predictions of unlikely public-health disasters diverts attention from the true reasons for the recrudescence of vector-borne diseases. These include large-scale resettlement of people, rampant urbanisition without adequate infrastructure, high mobility through air travel, resistance to antimalarial drugs, insecticide resistance, and the deterioration of vector-control operations and other public-health practices."

So much for the Administration's environmental Stealth Care Bomb.


Reiter, P., 1998, Global warming and vector-borne disease in temperate regions and at high altitude, The Lancet, 351.

EPA presentation to Union Of Concerned Scientists pre-Kyoto Conference, J.W. Marriott Hotel, Washington D.C., Oct. 30, 1997.


Journal of the Plague

The federal government's hyping of a supposed global warming-dengue fever connection—when it surely knows better—reminds us of British novelist Daniel Defoe's observations on witch doctors and the plague, from his classic work, A Journal of the Plague Year:

"Our mischief was, that if the poor people asked these mock astrologers whether there would be a plague or no, they all agreed in general to answer 'Yes' for that kept up their trade. And had the people not been kept in a fright about that, the wizards would presently have been rendered useless, and their craft had been at an end. But they always talked to them about such-and-such influences of the stars, of the conjunctions of such-and-such planets, which must necessarily bring sickness and distempers, and consequently the plague."

Any of this sound familiar?