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Brown: An unhealthy obsession with climate change

Posted: June 4, 2017 - 1:01am

On June 1 the encouraging news that President Trump has decided the United States will exit the Paris climate agreement. The agreement imposes huge burdens while producing little or no impact on the global climate.

From the outrage shared by the media, one would think Trump has doomed the world to certain destruction. Signs are clear the noise will continue, in one form or another: In March, just two months after Trump took office, a "Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health" was launched to advise the American public about global warming.

The consortium published, "Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health." In contrast to the public perception that climate change is in the future, the "alert" declares "The reality, however, is starkly different: Climate change is already causing problems in communities in every region of our nation, and from a doctor's perspective, it's harming our health."

The consortium of nine organizations includes the American academies of Pediatrics, of Family Physicians, of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, and the American College of Physicians. The alert lists calamities already occurring.

The first is "more very hot days; greater humidity; and longer, hotter and more frequent heat waves."

A graph of heat waves since the late 1890s from an Environmental Protection Agency web page, however, shows the 1930s were far hotter than the past couple decades.

The obvious benefits to warmer weather in some seasons and localities are never mentioned by climate changers. A 13-country study involving 74 million deaths from 1985 to 2012 found cold weather caused 17 times as many deaths as heat.

Even if temperatures have gone up, Americans have adapted. In a study of 105 U.S. cities, the average number of excess deaths attributable to each 10-degree (F) rise in the same day's summer temperature declined from 51 (per 1,000 deaths) in 1987 to 19 in 2005.

Hot weather accounts for few deaths: about two each year for each million Americans. About the same number die of tuberculosis or meningitis; there is no widespread campaign against either of these.

The numbers of heat-related deaths, meanwhile, are ambiguous because of their complicated diagnosis and definitions. Of the 3,332 "heat-related deaths" from 2006 to 2010 (666 per year) only 34 had "exposure to excessive natural heat" given as the only "underlying cause of death." The others had either a modified underlying cause of death, or a contributing cause. A death in a hot automobile, for example, could occur even before the climate changes.

In data collected since 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, "the inclusion of hyperthermia as a contributing cause of death increased by 54 percent the total number of heat-related deaths" compared to those with a heat-related underlying cause alone.

How can heat-caused death trends be attributed to global warming when diagnoses are imprecise and definitions change?

The consortium's next calamities: "increases in the frequency and severity of some extreme weather events such as heavy downpours, floods, droughts, and major storms."

So it is raining harder, flooding more, getting drier and storms are packing more punch? Hardly! Consider the most destructive storms, hurricanes: In the respective half-century periods, 1861-1910, 1911-1960, and 1961-2010, the U.S. mainland was hit by 25, 39 and 26 major hurricanes (categories 3, 4 and 5).

Except for Katrina, hurricanes have become less deadly. The 10 most deadly hurricanes to strike the country since 1900 resulted in 17,046 deaths; 89 percent of those before 1960.

The record flood in Baton Rouge, La., in August 2016, was taken as evidence of a trend toward more flooding. A Baton Rouge doctor writing on the "Medical Alert" page predicted "continued suffering from the physical and mental damage of extreme weather - which is happening more often and with greater strength due to climate change." Yet, of the top 10 months for rainfall in Baton Rouge, six occurred before 1930; the second highest was in 1907.

Third on the list: "Climate change reduces air quality because heat increases smog, wildfires and pollen production." This belies the use of the pseudo-synonym "climate change" for "global warming." Not all climate changes increase pollution.

If warming is changing air pollution, it is decreasing it. All of the EPA's six "criteria pollutants" have been reduced in the country since 2000. If global warming is causing health problems by increasing pollution, what about the decline in pollutants?

This consortium is obviously not intended to help protect citizens from health problems of global warming, but to advocate for change in climate and energy policies. Their "medical alert" highlights the Northeastern states' Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which limits the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants can emit. Their final declaration on their web page: "We are sounding the alarm that climate change poses a risk to the health of every American."

"Poses a risk" seems tentative for health harm allegedly already happening. In this "Medical Meteorology" specialty, standards are sketchy, the diagnosis is atrocious and a scientific second opinion is sorely needed.

University of Georgia Professor Emeritus Harold Brown is a Senior Fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and author of, The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century.

 

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