Fri 29 May 2009
It’s a big hat, okay?
So here’s the thing. This CNN headline reads:
And follows up with:
LONDON, England (CNN) – The first comprehensive report into the human cost of climate change warns the world is in the throes of a “silent crisis” that is killing 300,000 people each year.
If you release a report saying that “climate change is killing 300,000 people” then it would strike the average reader that you were saying that climate change is the determinate thing that is making them die. But then we get:
Of the 300,000 lives being lost each year due to climate change, the report finds nine out of 10 are related to “gradual environmental degradation,” and that deaths caused by climate-related malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria outnumber direct fatalaties from weather-related disasters.
Oh. So 270,000 people are dying of climate-related malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. If only we had cures for those things. Oh wait, we do! Here’s more:
The vast majority of deaths — 99 percent — are in developing countries which are estimated to have contributed less than one percent of the world’s total carbon emissions.
The article makes it seem like “developing” countries are just like that. But it doesn’t have to be that way. ”Being developed” is a state they could transition into.
So the question then is, if developed countries are able to prevent 99% of deaths from climate change, then isn’t it really more accurate to say “not being developed is killing 297,000 people per year?” The question becomes more heated when you notice that those 3 first order causes of malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition are killing quite a few other people as well:
- 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera); 90% are children under 5, mostly in developing countries.
- In 2006, more than 36 million died of hunger or diseases due to deficiencies in micronutrients”.
So there really isn’t a comparison. Let me ask you this question. If you had scarce resources, and could only solve one problem afflicting the world, which would it be:
Option 1: Saves 40,000,000 people
Option 2: Saves 300,000 people, however, if you choose option 1, you will save 270,000 of these people as well.
Well, gee, I don’t know! This is completely ignoring all the other deaths from war, lawlessness, violence, and other diseases that would be prevented by the development of these nations. They also make the 300,000 number look pretty small. It would certainly prevent a large number of those weather-related deaths as well, for example — as bad as Katrina was, it didn’t really compare to the loss of life in the Southeast Asian hurricanes.
And here’s the real kicker: by the fact that we have developed nations on this earth, we can be certain that one can prevent these things. Obviously large chunks of humanity are already doing so, despite once having been undeveloped nations ravaged by the very same problems. Approximately two billion people in China and India are proceeding along this course quite nicely. The path for preventing climate change is not so well-lit. Plus, even this article tells us that at least some of the climate change is irreversible at this point:
The Global Humanitarium Forum says that temperatures will rise by almost two degrees celcius, regardless of what’s agreed in Copenhagen. [the United Nations Climate Conference, in December]
So we have to take steps to enable developing countries to defend themselves not only from climate change, but a host of other problems as well. And we really do have scarce resources — especially since, as everyone acknowledges, many of the solutions for stopping climate change actually reduce the amount of resources that developing countries have.
Could we do both? Sure. But right now, spending 1 dollar on climate change prevention is drastically less effective than spending it on, well, nearly anything listed here. So until we get to the point where spending on these things is starting to hit diminishing returns (while also preventing 99% of the deaths from climate change) then I vote our money gets spent on the former.
- Yes, I realize the impact of climate change is going to go up. But the other issues listed here kill millions every year, right now, and have been doing so for centuries. We’ve come a long way, especially with the rehydration steps necessary to prevent a large amount of the diarhhea deaths. These are not radical steps. Again, my primary contention is that achieving development will not only enable these countries to fight those issues, but defend themselves against climate change as well. Most importantly, perhaps, this will actually enlist the citizens of these countries into environmental affairs. It is hard to be worried about global warming when you are dying of malnutrition. Wealthy Americans and Europeans are interested, because they don’t worry about the other things. Making developing nations wealthy will grant them with the luxury of worrying about the future.
- Anthropogenic global warming is real, and I don’t deny it. I just think that many of the current proposals for dealing with it won’t help, will hurt more than help, or, as I argue here, ignore solutions that could provide even more far-reaching benefits. Take this analogy: one can be opposed to methods for dealing with drug usage (such as say, executing dealers and users, or even just criminalization) without necessarily denying that drug usage is a problem with real costs. So too with climate change.
- If you find yourself saying “you’re just a do-nothing crazy libertarian who wants to ignore global warming,” then imagine me saying “you’re just a do-nothing crazy whatever-your-political-persuasion who wants to ignore global undevelopment.” My soap-box issue is a lot more serious. It’s just less cool right now.