November 25, 2005

Science, advocacy and greenhouse gases

A recent paper reviews "the growing evidence that climate-health relationships pose increasing health risks under future projections of climate change and that the warming trend over recent decades has already contributed to increased morbidity and mortality in many regions of the world" (Jonathan A. Patz, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Tracey Holloway and Jonathan A. Foley, Impact of regional climate change on human health, Nature, free access). It doesn't review -- actually it doesn't even mention -- any positive health effects of climate warming. It doesn't review or mention any costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But it concludes:
[T]he regions with the greatest burden of climate-sensitive diseases are also the regions with the lowest capacity to adapt to the new risks. Africa -- the continent where an estimated 90% of malaria occurs -- has some of the lowest per capita emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. In this sense, global climate change not only presents new region-specific health risks, but also a global ethical challenge. To meet this challenge, precautionary approaches to mitigating anthropogenic greenhouse gases will be necessary [...].
Another recent paper follows the same logic (Gian-Reto Walther, Lesley Hughes, Peter Vitousek and Nils Chr. Stenseth, Consensus on climate change, published in
Trends in Ecology and Evolution, subscription required).
[C]limate change is already affecting the behavior and distribution of species and the composition and structure of communities and ecosystems [...].
The authors then call "for a substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions." They fail to consider the potential costs of this policy. As a result, they fail to convince me. So what, I'm not a politician or policy maker.
Scientists need to get more closely involved in opinion-forming to influence more effectively future climate change decisions made by politicians and policy makers.

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