Over the last few years I have watched the debate about global warming descend into a political and celebrity ego-fuelled circus event where hard science plays merely a supporting role. It’s not clear what such measures as a carbon tax will even achieve on a global scale besides generating tax revenues for governments and making plenty of bankers happy. Meanwhile millions of people die from hunger and disease every year and there is no tax being implemented to help them.
Firstly let me make my position on global warming or climate change clear. I do not deny that the climate changes nor have I ever met or heard about anyone that does. I don’t doubt that in some way humans are affecting the climate however what I do question is by how much our activity is affecting climate change on a global scale and if it is truly the most serious threat humankind faces.
Back in 2009 I suggested that the global community might be focusing too much on climate change and as a result not directing resources to far more deadly threats as I outlined in Are climate change and global warming dangerous distractions?
In that article I outlined my concerns as follows:
“I am not saying that using more renewable energy is a bad thing, it isn’t and it makes perfect sense to me that we should reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. I am also not against reducing pollution or trying to pump less CO2 inter the atmosphere as these also appear to be fairly sensible long term objectives.
But I do worry that we are now becoming so obsessed with the climate change/global warming story that we are failing to appreciate there are much bigger problems and that these are potentially a much bigger threat to humankind than a return to the warm old days.”
I also outlined in that article some of the threats to our existence that I considered more serious than humankind driven climate change i.e: A Global Pandemic, Nuclear Weapons and War.
When was the last time you saw for example any significant media coverage dedicated to the subject of non communicable diseases? I wonder how many people appreciate the true extent of the problems associated with these diseases and are aware of the millions of people who die annually from these?
The reality is that this subject doesn’t get much coverage because journalists prefer to track issues that Al Gore and Cate Blanchett like to promote. Science or reality has little place in the mainstream media these days.
So here we are now, in the midst of what I call the deadly climate change swindle. Why is it deadly? Because on a global scale we are directing resources to address a high profile issue like climate change but this is not probably not the most deadly issue we face. For every dollar we spend (or waste) on the climate change swindle we deny funding to other areas of research or on projects to help people out of poverty or improve their standard of living via better healthcare for example.
One of the big global killers is disease and so let’s look at non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) in a little more detail. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these diseases kill 3 out of every 5 people on the planet or 36 million people annually. Quoting from the WHO website:
“The main NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic lung diseases and diabetes, which share four modifiable risk factors – tobacco, harmful alcohol use, poor diet and physical inactivity. A quarter of NCD deaths are of people aged under 60, who are in the prime of their lives, while 9 in 10 of these people are from developing countries.”
Now ask yourself this simple question: How will a carbon tax or emission trading scheme save any of these lives?
Perhaps the death of 36 million people isn’t enough to attract celebrity or media attention hey? But it gets worse because by 2030, the WHO predicts that NCD’s will kill 52 million people annually.
So how many people die from climate change annually at the moment..surely it must be millions right? Well according to the WHO:
“Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually. “
Source: Deaths from climate change (WHO)
All deaths are tragic, but to be focusing more global attention on 150,000 deaths versus 36 million seems a little perverse to me.
It is also critical to remember that the deaths from climate change are not all due to human activity alone. Most climate change is in fact naturally occurring so only a small faction (if any) of the people who die annually from the impact of climate change would be saved if humans never built a single factory.
I have read a lot of scary reports and media articles about climate change and at the top of the scale it seems that 10 million people ‘may’ die as a result of climate change by 2030. So even if every one of these deaths could somehow be linked to human activity (which is highly unlikely) then climate change will kill 42 million less people in 2030 than non-communicable diseases (NCD’s).
But the reality (and scientific fact) is we know that even if humans were not on the planet the climate would change. So leaving emotion aside let’s just calmly take a fact based look at climate change courtesy of The Geological Society. According to a statement on their website:
“The Earth’s temperature and weather patterns change naturally over time scales ranging from decades, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of years. The climate is the statistical average of the weather taken over a long period, typically 30 years. It is never static, but subject to constant disturbances, sometimes minor in nature and effect, but at other times much larger. In some cases these changes are gradual and in others abrupt.”
Source: Climate change: evidence from the geological record
So we know the climate changes and has done many times, so let’s move away from the stupid debate regarding if climate change exists or not since this appears to be a way for those pushing a carbon tax to try deflect attention away from tax itself.
Wanting to look after this planet of ours does not mean people have to support a new tax. You can oppose the tax (like I do) and still want to reduce pollution, lower our dependence on fossils fuels and hope we can save millions of lives each year by wasting less and helping people out of poverty.
(By the way, I would recommend people read for themselves the entire statement from The Geological Society since it is one of the best overviews I have seen regarding climate change.)
Another interesting passage from The Geological Society statement is as follows:
“In the coming centuries, continued emissions of carbon from burning oil, gas and coal at close to or higher than today’s levels, and from related human activities, could increase the total to close to the amounts added during the 55 million year warming event – some 1500 to 2000 billion tonnes. Further contributions from ‘natural’ sources (wetlands, tundra, methane hydrates, etc.) may come as the Earth warms.”
Now the chances that we will be using coal and oil at the same rate as today for centuries is unlikely since our reserves of both of these will run out within the next 150 years or so. So one wonders if that has been fed into the models used by The Geological Society and other groups? But even if we do the result “could increase the total to close to the amounts added during the 55 million year warming event”.
Since when does ‘could’ mean the science is settled?
Yes climate change is a threat to future generations, but is it the biggest threat? I doubt it. Can we do something smarter to reduce the damage humans do to the environment and save lives beside implementing such mindless policies as a carbon tax? Of course we can. We simply need to get politicians, celebrities and journalists out of the way and get scientists, engineers and other problem-solvers more involved.
We certainly don’t need the climate change debate stifled via name calling or via advertising campaigns by actors living in ‘eco mansions’.
If someone can explain to me how a carbon tax will help save the lives of millions of children who die annually of starvation then I would be very interested. The reality is that we would do more good by taxing over-consumption and imposing penalties on individuals, organisations and corporations that waste food but I guess that just wouldn’t work too well at the Oscars or at those lavish climate change conferences.
So let’s keep the debate open and encourage people not to be swayed by the emotional rants from either side of the climate change debate, because if we make the wrong decisions – they may just turn out to have very deadly results.
Greg Atkinson is the editor of Shareswatch Australia, the Managing Director of Ohori Capital and a Director of Eco Marine Power. He is originally from Australia but currently resides in Japan. He can be followed on twitter via @GregAtkinson_jp