Argument: Poverty spreads diseases more than climate change could

Issue Report: The UN should prioritize poverty over climate change


Philip Stevens. “Poverty: The Real Threat to Health”. May 15, 2009: “the relationship between climate and disease is weaker than claimed. The Lancet report details at length how warmer temperatures will lead to so-called tropical diseases such as malaria moving northwards and to higher altitudes. But this ignores the vast range of human and ecological factors that surround disease.

According to Professor Paul Reiter, an expert on insect-borne diseases and contributor to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “there is no evidence that climate has played any role” in malaria. Reiter points out that malaria was endemic in Britain until the second half of the 19th century, when improved agricultural practices, drainage and housing caused a spontaneous decline of the disease because mosquitoes had fewer opportunities to bite people–while records show temperatures rising.

The report also claims global warming will lead to more deaths from heatwaves as the sick and elderly struggle with high temperatures. But Professor Bill Keatinge, an expert on human physiology at London University, has shown that deaths do increase in the first few days of a heatwave but most of the victims were likely to die shortly anyway. The data show that average mortality actually decreases during the later stages of heatwaves.

Moreover, humans have developed a range of ways coping with high temperatures, from adaptation to siestas to air conditioning. Ask the Tuareg.

In fact, cold weather is far more harmful because of the increased risk of respiratory infections, heart attacks and strokes. Britain, for example, with a temperate climate, has only 1,000 heat-related deaths every year, compared with 20,000 cold-related.”