NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

For Health, Other Factors More Important That Global Warming

July 19, 2000

"Demographics, socioeconomics, technology and political factors are more important than climate in public health outcomes," physicist Hadi Dowlatabadi of Carnegie Mellon University told participants at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, Georgia. Thus claims that measures to reduce global warming are necessary to prevent the spread of tropical diseases to northern latitudes are wrong, says Dowlatabadi, and such measures may be counterproductive if they reduce living standards.

  • Malaria, for example, only thrives where there is poverty -- and when people prosper, "they devote resources to fighting malaria," he points out.
  • Another disease for which living standards outweighs climate in determining its prevalence is dengue fever -- a mosquito-borne disease: between 1980 and 1996 there were 50,376 cases along the Texas-Mexico border, with just 43 cases in Texas compared to 50,333 in Mexican border states.

Political stability and access to health care are "easier to manipulate than the climate system," says Dowlatabadi.

"My worry is if we pursue climate change as a major objective, we will take away income and potential growth" from the world's poor, he says. "The pursuit of climate policy, though laudable in terms of the Earth, cannot be justified on public health grounds," he adds.

Source: Anita Manning, "Climate Control Isn't a Cure-All," USA Today, July 18, 2000.


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