DOCTORS ON CLIMATE CHANGE

May 29, 2008

The cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions would certainly have a serious negative effect on human health, says the Fraser Institute's Philip Stevens.  A new global treaty that would stabilize the climate at today's temperatures, assuming restricting human emissions could stabilize the climate, would cost a total of $18-20 trillion (U.S.) -- or 45 percent of the world's current annual economic output.

Such a treaty would create a massive drag on economic growth, which brings with it the resources that can be used to tackle the most significant causes of death in developing countries. These causes include chest infections caused by using smoky wood and biomass fuels for indoor cooking and heating; diarrhea caused by poor sanitation; and malnutrition, all a direct result of poverty.

The elimination of malaria in European and North America was a clear by-product of increasing prosperity:

  • Exposure to mosquitoes decreased once people could afford windows for their houses and separate barns for cattle.
  • Farmers adopted practices such as tillage and field drainage which deprived the mosquitoes of feeding and breeding opportunities.
  • In other wealthy countries such as the United States, public authorities were able to combine this with the mass spraying of the pesticide DDT to effectively eradicate the disease.
  • It is no coincidence that malaria is currently confined to the poorest parts of the world, because these areas are the least able to afford such changes.

Mandatory caps on carbon emissions would be a betrayal of the sick in the world's poorest regions because such regulations would undermine the one mechanism -- economic growth -- which allows people to move beyond the primitive living conditions that encourage the spread of such diseases. Restraining economic growth with the hope of staving off hypothetical threats to humanity will almost certainly reduce our ability to deal with today's genuine health problems, says Stevens.

Source: Philip Stevens, "Doctors on Climate Change," Fraser Institute, April 2008.

 

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