An Example of Where the Vulnerabilty Paradigm Should be Applied

A February 12, 2006 statement from the UK Met Office web page “Weather World Impacts” entitled ” Climate change ‘bad for health’ “, provides an example an issue where the vulnerability paradigm that has been discussed on the Climate Science weblog (e.g. see) can be applied. The statement on UK Met Office web page reads,

“Climate change will have a detrimental effect on global health, scientists predict. In an article published in medical journal the Lancet, researchers from the Australian National University in Canberra outline past and future health risks that could arise because of climate change. The review by Tony McMichael and colleagues from the university forecasts that world average temperature will rise within the range of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. Global warming has already led to an increased duration of heatwaves in Alaska, Canada, central and eastern Europe, Siberia and central Australia, over the past 50 years.
A number of recent reports have indicated a link between climate change and cases of some infectious diseases, though evidence has not been conclusive. Professor McMichael said: “The resultant risks to health (and other environmental and societal outcomes) are anticipated to compound over time as climate change – along with other large-scale environmental and social changes – continues.” The professor also predicted that global warming may start to affect regional food yields and water supplies, leading to health problems and rising numbers of underfed people. “

There is a substantive issue with this statement (besides basing their conclusions on “predictions”). This summary from the UK Met Office implies that climate change is a large threat associated with human health. How large is this threat compared to other health issues (i.e. the “other environmental and societal outcomes”)? The UK Met Office statement is silent on this critical question. The original Lancet article itself, while mentioning the other threats,

” Research so far has mostly focused on thermal stress, extreme weather events, and infectious diseases, with some attention to estimates of future regional food yields and hunger prevalence”

focuses on climate change by stating,

“We assess the little evidence there is that recent global warming has already affected some health outcomes.We review the published estimates of future health effects of climate change over coming decades. “

The paper is based on the multi-decadal global climate model predictions, which as has been discussed on the Climate Science weblog (e.g. see and see) are inappropriately presented by the IPCC, and other assessments, as skillful projections, rather than as climate model process studies which should not be utilized as definitive predictions for impact studies.

The appropriate approach to evaluate the relative health risks is the vulnerability paradigm. This framework is recommended in the papers

Pielke, R.A. Sr., 2004: Discussion Forum: A broader perspective on climate change is needed. IGBP Newsletter, 59, 16-19.

Pielke Sr., R.A., J.O. Adegoke, T.N. Chase, C.H. Marshall, T. Matsui, and D. Niyogi, 2005: A new paradigm for assessing the role of agriculture in the climate system and in climate change. Agric. Forest Meteor., Special Issue, in press.,

as well as in Chapter E of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme book Kabat, P., Claussen, M., Dirmeyer, P.A., J.H.C. Gash, L. Bravo de Guenni, M. Meybeck, R.A. Pielke Sr., C.J. Vorosmarty, R.W.A. Hutjes, and S. Lutkemeier, Editors, 2004: Vegetation, water, humans and the climate: A new perspective on an interactive system. Springer, Berlin, Global Change – The IGBP Series, 566 pp.

The threats posed by other environmental and societal outcomes, as well as from a repeat of historical- and paleo- climate conditions, should be contrasted with the global climate model sensitivity experiments (which the IPCC calls “projections”) of possible climates of the coming decades. This approach has been used with respect to hurricane risks and availability of potable water.

As a question, how should we rank the threats to human health posed by the following environmental issues, e.g.,

1. the increase of atmospheric concentrations of CO2
2. the availability of clean drinking water
3. the availability and use of childhood vaccines
4. improved treatment and prevention of tuberculosis
5. treatment and prevention of AIDS
6. treatment and prevention of malaria

Expressed another way, how should the available funds for research and implementation of mitigation and adaptation with respect to these health issues be allocated? An objective National Research Council Committee to assess this issue should be convened.

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