Tags: Health | Impacts | the | Global | Warming | Controversy

Health Impacts of the Global Warming Controversy

Wednesday, 24 August 2005 12:00 AM

"What to do?" it is the question.

In the past, humans moved to better climates. At one time, Greenland supported vineyards and thousands of people. Not today. Everybody moved out.

Climate has changed a lot over the last 500,000 years, judging from data encoded in Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, ocean floor sediments, tree rings and other records.

Long cold periods about 100,000 years long interspersed with significantly warmer periods about 15,000 years long dominate the long term climate pattern. Today, we're about 12,000 years into one of these warm periods (appropriately called "interglacial") between long ice ages.

About 15,000 to 100,000 years ago, judging from the Antarctic ice core taken at the Vostok station, Antarctica was more than 5 degrees Centigrade (or 8 degrees Fahrenheit) colder than today. During the Younger Dryas period 12,500 years ago in central Greenland, temperatures averaged about 20 degrees C. colder. Glaciers dominated much of North America, Europe and Asia.

About 12,000 years ago, the average world climate started warming abruptly. Over the last 10,000 years, changes have been less than 2 degrees C. up or down. One thousand years ago, the climate in Europe was about 2 degrees Centigrade warmer than today. 700 years ago, it was several degrees cooler. Over the last 150 years, the world has warmed up about 0.5 degree C. with most of the warming occurring 150 to 60 years ago.

Many factors are important in climate change patterns, including tectonic continental drift, ocean currents, cosmic rays, sunspots, insulating "greenhouse" gases in the atmosphere and other factors. The most important of these greenhouse gases is water vapor. Carbon dioxide is less important.

Most scientists believe that climate will continue to warm up a bit in the next several decades. Given our limited knowledge of the factors causing climate change, no one seems able to predict the degree of future warming or cooling accurately, judging from the different predictions made by different scientists.

Would the suggested treaties and laws cause a significant change in global climate? If the whole world achieved the drastic changes in energy use and lowered carbon dioxide generation to the degree called for by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, scientists estimate the global cooling produced would be less than 0.1 degree C. by the year 2050. This is unlikely to produce a detectable change in the course of future global climate.

But, if fully implemented in the United States, adherence to the Kyoto protocol would cut our GDP by at least $400 billion every year for the foreseeable future, or $1,000 for every man, woman and child. This much money means a lot to most people, especially the poor.

In other words, the Kyoto protocol won't make a significant difference in future climate and therefore doesn't make much sense.

Here in the United States, Senators McCain, Lieberman and Bingaman are pushing for legislation that would cut the projected increase in global warming even less but would cost less. This makes even less sense.

Finally, different states and even cities are proposing legislation to limit carbon dioxide generation; such local efforts can only be expensive in terms of human health and well-being and will have no impact on climate. This is crazy.

Let's get back to square one. Wealthy is healthy. People's health and lives are better, longer, more productive and more fun in wealthy societies than in poor ones.

All the proposed measures to combat global warming are harmful and very expensive. They would diminish the resources available to adapt to climate change or any other new challenge and make us less healthy in the process.

The current controversy is not so much about the history of the world's climate. It's more about what might happen in the future. There's more controversy about what, if anything, human beings can do about this future. The greatest controversy is about how to allocate our available and limited resources.

Should we gamble on the possibility that making ourselves poorer today might make us better off 50 years from now? Or, should we develop and compound our health and wealth to be better able to meet whatever the future might hold?

We find it much better to devote resources to improving human health and economic conditions than to waste them in futile efforts to "save the glaciers."

These climate control proposals can only degrade human health and conditions of life for the foreseeable future.

Someday, our children and grandchildren will look back on these days and see the current global warming scare as another example of the foolishness of humankind, perhaps at the hand of "climatic fundamentalists." Let's hope the global warming scare is just a footnote to history and has not caused another great disaster visited on our children and grandchildren.

Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Senior Fellow and Board Member of the Discovery Institute and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple-award-winning writer who comments on medical-legal issues.


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"What to do?" it is the question. In the past, humans moved to better climates. At one time, Greenland supported vineyards and thousands of people. Not today. Everybody moved out. Climate has changed a lot over the last 500,000 years, judging from data encoded in...
Wednesday, 24 August 2005 12:00 AM
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