Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prostituting medicine to climate politics

By Michael Keane, a bioethicist, consultant anaesthetist and lecturer in public health

Medicine and science connote objectivity and the public may innocently assume contributions from the medical profession are dispassionate facts that lack political and ideological intrusion.

However, the medical profession, like every other human endeavour, operates within the realm of the human condition. In this context it is wholly expected there will be a natural tendency for the opinion and political agendas of doctors to be communicated as if they were based on science and research.

To coincide with the recent climate change meeting in Cancun, Mexico, The Lancet medical journal is promoting the Climate and Health Council, "established to enable health professionals around the world to take personal and collective action against the causes of climate change, and to insist that global health is central in climate change negotiations".

Implicit is an appeal that based on "evidence" and research doctors have an obligation, if not moral duty, to support, among various actions, carbon emission reduction strategies. However, is it ethical for doctors to be promoting such strategies under the guise of public health? The strategies to reduce carbon emissions must, necessarily, force some people to adopt behaviour against their will for the benefit of others.

This defines an ethical dilemma, trading the welfare of present versus future generations. In modern ethics the principle of autonomy reigns supreme. However, autonomy is legitimately overruled when there is a compelling argument under the ethical principle of justice. Is there a compelling case?

Many, including The Lancet, still unquestionably reference Britain's Stern review to justify the benefits of action now, despite significant controversy over the review's extraordinarily pessimistic assumptions. To be sure, within economist Nicholas Stern's review the supposed health effects have been factored into the costs of global warming along with non-market factors.

Yet many economists, including Indur Goklany, demonstrate that even if we were to accept Stern's questionable assumptions, tomorrow's generations will still be far better off than we are today, even if we do nothing about global warming. For instance, inaction on climate change will mean those living 100 years from now will be only three to 7.5 times better off than we are today, instead of 3.2 to eight times. If we do nothing, descendants of those living in the present developing world will be only 10 to 60 instead of 11 to 65 times better off.

The developing world is where children still die for want of food, millions of women will leak faeces and urine for the rest of their lives for want of basic medical care at birth and where millions die from easily preventable diseases that are almost unheard of in developed countries. There exists the real potential that many in the developing world will be sacrificed on the altar of politically correct ideology. In even the most pessimistic analysis, the potential health effects of climate change are dwarfed by those caused by lack of economic development.

Furthermore, is it ethical to justify action now to protect the welfare of future generations based on the following preposterous assumptions? Zero technological advances; future generations will make no attempt to adapt to climate change; no ways to better people's lives will be discovered including no cures for cancer and chronic diseases and no development of social institutions to foster peace and freedom; and Stern's use of a near zero discount rate which many incorrectly believe represents ethical parity between generations but in fact values those in the future more than those now.

Common sense dictates that there is a relationship between the degree to which a system is complex and the opportunity for ideology to influence the reporting of the science.

In clinical medicine debate can rage for decades over the effect of a single drug used in a single situation. Despite the fact trials can be done and empiric data collected, there are always factors and elements that can be disputed. Consider, then, the difficulty in trying to predict the health effects of changing climates hundreds of years down the track in a world in which we cannot fathom the available technology and economic development.

In this context, to whatever the degree the climate science is "settled", the evidence now available to analyse the health effects of climate change is contemptuously feeble.

Many of the supposed health consequences such as food and water scarcity, infectious diseases and exposure to heat relate to the developing world and are easily remedied by measures already available to those in developed nations.

Much of that evidence conforms to anti-West ideology that ignores the elephant in the room concerning economic development. Much of the data relating to the potential effects on the developed world is already obsolete subsequent to the implementation of simple public health measures. Overall, is the health of those in the developed world severely worse than that of our ancestors 150 years ago because the world has warmed 1.5 degrees?

The Chaser would do well to set up a stall in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows and ask people on the street to reduce their economic welfare so those in Toorak can avoid the catastrophe of being a mere 10 times better off than Broadmeadows residents instead of 10.5 times.

If we're considering such an important issue as people's health why do we rely on the analyses of single, politically appointed economists with no significant history in climate economics such as Stern and Ross Garnaut? A group of economists seasoned in many aspects of climate change economics (Copenhagen Consensus) have performed a far more compelling analysis that places carbon reduction as one the most inefficient ways to improve health and welfare.

Revealingly, the CHC declares on its "about" page: "Thirty years ago, health professionals from the USA and the former Soviet Union crossed borders to found the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War movement, an international body of health professionals dedicated to action against nuclear war. Today we will initiate an equally global movement of health professionals to tackle climate change." (There is nothing wrong with the prevention of nuclear war; it is a noble goal, but it is not related to the health effects of global warming.)

In summary, it is legitimate to hold a political opinion regarding action on global warming. But from a public health perspective it would be equally valid to argue for as many coal-fired power plants to be built in Africa, India and China as is humanly possible.


As blizzards batter the US East coast, even some "Guardian" readers are becoming skeptical about Warmism

Excerpts below from both the "Guardian" article and comments from its readers:

The East coast of the US was today recovering from a blizzard that brought air travel to a standstill in New York and other cities, paralysed rail services and hit a dozen states.

More than 3,000 flights were cancelled, mostly from New York's three main airports, stranding tens of thousands of people returning home and to work after the Christmas holiday on some of the busiest travel days of the year.

Planes were grounded in New York through most of Sunday and much of today, while airports along the east coast grappled with cancellations and long delays that were expected to continue for several days.

Six states, from North Carolina to New Jersey, declared snow emergencies, including Virginia. South Carolina and Georgia had their first Christmas snow in more than a century.

New York's central park was buried under about 50cm of snow, and parts of New Jersey recorded 75cm in a few hours. Strong winds, gusting up to 55mph, helped create drifts more than one metre deep.

Hundreds of passengers were stuck on at least three New York subway trains through the night because of the snow. Although some were theoretically able to leave the trains, officials said there was nowhere for them to go. Others were trapped between stations for hours.

The city's emergency services asked people not to call for an ambulance unless absolutely necessary after many became stuck in snow.


Some of the comments:

Well this wasn't what they were predicting a few years ago is it?

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, October 4, 2006 (ENS) - Global warming will cause major changes to the climate of the U.S. Northeast if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, scientists said today. Warmer annual temperatures, less snow, more frequent droughts and more extreme rainstorms are expected if current warming trends continue, the scientists said in a new study, and time is running out for action to avoid such changes to the climate.

The Northeast's climate is already changing, the report said, as spring is arriving sooner, summers are hotter and winters are warmer and less snowy.

The report was released by the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), a collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of independent scientists from universities across the Northeast and the nation.


That's the climate science view (as of four years ago).


One Arctic Tern does not a winter make, so to speak.

But that cuts both ways. The run of mild winters was a relatively short one, and yet we had the Union of Concerned Scientists telling us that:

"Across the globe, and here in the Northeast, the climate is changing. Records show that spring is arriving earlier, summers are growing hotter, and winters are becoming warmer and less snowy. These changes are consistent with global warming, an urgent phenomenon driven by heat-trapping emissions from human activities"


Well which is it? Can we detect anthropogenic forcing from winter weather or can't we? I'm guessing the answer is yes, but over longer time scales. I think 30 years is the usual period stated.

So why do they rush out a report after a run of only five or six mild winters claiming it as validation of their climate models? Where was the caveat that global warming could lead to snowier, colder winters in that report?


You may well be right, although I haven't been able to find a peer-reviewed article stating that 2010 was the warmest year ever globally. Perhaps you could direct me to one in a reputable academic journal?

But here's something to consider: the world has been warming gradually since the end of what's colloquially known as "the little ice age" around 1850. So you would expect each year to be a little warmer than the preceding year, broadly speaking.

The IPCC states that anthropogenic forcing can only be considered detectable after 1970, as Co2 emission prior to that were not large enough to affect the climate.

So, the question is not whether the globe is getting warmer - temperature change of some kind is always happening - but whether that warming is anomalous and if it is, whether it can be conclusively tied to Co2 emissions.

Simply stating that any given year was warmer than the year before does not prove anthropogenic forcing. But I'm sure you knew that.


Climate Scientists 2006: winters in US “becoming warmer, less snowy”

“Listen to the climate scientists” – that’s the refrain you always get from the warmists. Their argument is that we simply don’t know enough about “the science” to make our own judgments, and must bow down before superior wisdom.

But the problem is, if we did that, we’d be changing our minds with the weather – literally. Case in point: only a few years ago in 2006 a report was released by a body called ‘The northeast Climate Impacts Assessment’. Press releases informed us that this body was a collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of independent scientists from universities across the Northeast and the nation.

Heavyweight stuff. The full report is (for the moment) available online here.

The Union of Concerned Scientists published the results of the study on its climatechoices website and summarized them thus:

"Across the globe, and here in the Northeast, the climate is changing. Records show that spring is arriving earlier, summers are growing hotter, and winters are becoming warmer and less snowy. These changes are consistent with global warming, an urgent phenomenon driven by heat-trapping emissions from human activities

Again we see the same claim – warmer, milder winters are entirely consistent with global warming. No mention of global warming causing extreme cold and heavy snow. No predictions of colder weather to come. But why bother with all that when you can simply issue another press release when it gets colder and claim you predicted this all along?


The destructive EPA

Not even Ebenezer Scrooge had the stomach to fire people during the holidays. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, plans to move full speed ahead with new regulations on January 2 that will likely cost many Americans their jobs before the New Year’s Eve party hats have even been put away.

In a nutshell, the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule will treat emissions from renewable biomass energy the same as emissions from the use of fossil fuels, despite the fact that both policymakers and scientists have long considered biomass emissions to be carbon-neutral due to the life cycle of the forests from which biomass is produced.

This new rule and regulatory uncertainty could spell the end of the biomass energy industry by removing the carbon-neutral status of biomass and, consequently, the biggest incentive to continue investing in it. Recent estimates have shown that biomass generated from forest byproducts could supply as much as 15 percent of the nation’s renewable energy by 2021, yet this will likely never be realized if biomass producers are forced to comply with arbitrary, unfair and unnecessary regulations like those in the Tailoring Rule.

Unfortunately, the Tailoring Rule won’t just disincentivize the use of renewable biomass energy. It will also have widespread effects on our energy options, as well as jobs and the economy.

Forisk Consulting recently released a new study on the economic impact of the Tailoring Rule, which found that the regulations on biomass will result in the loss of over 134 renewable energy projects, up to 26,000 jobs, and $18 billion in capital investment. According to the study’s authors, 23 biomass energy projects have already been placed in limbo due to regulatory uncertainty. In Wisconsin, for example, Xcel Energy Inc. halted plans for a biomass energy plant that would have brought over 100 jobs to Ashland, Wisc., as well as a needed source of domestic power for the entire area. Xcel Energy cited the expected cost increases and regulatory uncertainty as reasons for canceling plans for the plant—and they are likely to be one of many energy companies doing the same.

The negative economic impact will be especially felt in Appalachia and rural parts of the South, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northeast, where biomass energy shows great promise as a source for domestic clean energy and innovative new jobs.

In addition to harming domestic renewable energy development and the economy, the EPA commits a crime that Mr. Scrooge would never commit: wasting money. In President Obama's “stimulus” program alone, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy have collectively spent more than $100 million of taxpayer money to promote biomass power production.

The new study by Forisk Consulting only further confirms what bipartisan governors, U.S. Senators, and U.S. Representatives, state and local lawmakers, scientists, and forestry industry insiders have been saying all along—that the Tailoring Rule will hurt energy development, jobs, and the economy at a time when we need all three to be thriving.

Even Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), the outgoing Chair of the House Agriculture, said before the election, “[The EPA is] screwing things up. They’re raising costs for people, they’re raising the price of food, and I don’t think they’re accomplishing anything.”

The intransigent EPA isn’t yet listening to the bipartisan, nationwide outcry against the Tailoring Rule. Perhaps they will finally begin to pay attention to this latest round of hard facts about the impact of their regulations before it’s too late.


Obama's regulators kowtow to Big Green, imperil economy

Who's doing the most to hobble the productive power of the U.S. economy, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson or Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar? President Obama's top two Cabinet appointees on environmental issues are running neck and neck in their race to see who can issue the most job-killing, growth-suffocating bureaucratic edicts.

Regardless of who "wins" their contest, of course, the losers will be the rest of us. We will have to endure long-term double-digit unemployment, skyrocketing energy and utility costs, and the loss of individual freedom that inevitably accompanies the growth of government regulation.

Jackson temporarily nosed ahead early last week when she got a green light from the White House to move forward with new regulations to combat greenhouse gases. Jackson threatened to issue these regulations last year if Congress failed to approve "cap-and-trade" legislation sought by Obama. Cap and trade was decisively defeated by a bipartisan coalition in Congress earlier this year, and now Jackson is making good on her threat.

Her move elicited a chorus of pre-Christmas squeals of delight from the legions of Big Green activists angered over congressional rejection of cap and trade. She promises to issue a draft rule next year and a final rule in 2012 that will establish new "performance standards" for power plants and refineries. These standards will drive up the cost of energy, especially the electricity that lights our homes and powers our computers and the gas that keeps our cars and trucks running.

Not to be outdone, Salazar countered toward the end of the week with an audacious end-around play of his own. The Constitution gives Congress exclusive authority to manage U.S. public lands. Thus, the wilderness areas, national parks system and other public lands are overseen by Interior only because Congress authorized the executive branch department to do so. Big Green environmentalists went nuts in 2003 when Gail Norton, Salazar's predecessor in the Bush administration, liberalized Interior's public lands management process to enable more energy development. So Salazar has invented out of whole cloth a "Wild Lands" designation that entirely circumvents the congressionally sanctioned process.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah and chairman of the Western Caucus in the House of Representatives, said Salazar's "decision will seriously hinder domestic energy development and further contributes to the uncertainty and economic distress that continues to prevent the creation of new jobs in a region that has unduly suffered from this administration's radical policies. This is little more than an early Christmas present to the far left extremists who oppose the multiple use of our nation's public lands."

If these White House-sanctioned bureaucratic coups against congressional authority are allowed to stand, the tombstone on the U.S. economy should read: "Here's lies the most powerful engine of prosperity the world has ever seen. Strangled by Barack Obama, Lisa Jackson and Ken Salazar."


What If the Energy Isn't "Green"?

It’s an extraordinary thing when an American President says he wants to “bankrupt” an American industry. And while it’s difficult to know the implications of such a thing – we may be in the process of finding out.

Back in January of 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama sat for an interview with the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. In that discussion, our future President was quizzed aggressively about his “green energy” agenda, and how he would usher in an era of “green jobs.” He was also asked how, as President, he would curtail the manufacture, sale, and consumption of more traditional energy forms that are regarded as environmentally hazardous.

Responding to these questions, a fatigued and hoarse-voiced Senator Obama stated, in part:
“Let me describe my overall policy. What I’ve said is that we would put a cap and trade system in to place that is as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than anybody else’s out there. I was the first to call for a 100% auction on the cap and trade system, which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gasses that is emitted would be charged to the polluter. That will create a market in which whatever technologies that are being presented, whatever power plants that are being built, that they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted-down caps that are proposed every year. So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re gonna be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted…”

From there, Mr. Obama went on to further explain that the revenues generated by “charging polluters” for their emissions, would be utilized to create wind and solar power plants. Thus, the candidate reasoned, America would begin a new era of “clean energy.”

For a variety of different reasons, these were some extraordinary remarks from a presidential candidate. For one, they presupposed that things always go according to plans, when the government is running the show. Take money away from the coal industry and give it to the “solar” and “wind” industries , so Mr. Obama reasoned, and everything would be fine – his idyllic vision of “green energy” would necessarily come to pass, simply because he said so. History shows that governmental endeavors are never this simplistic (even the fairly recent history of our government’s handling of the Gulf oil spill and Hurricane Katrina demonstrate this), but politicians of Mr. Obama’s ilk don’t like to be bound by the lessons of history.

The candidate’s remarks were also extraordinary for their callousness. People like Barack Obama who lack an adequate understanding of free market economics, often fail to understand the human dimensions of economic activity. They envision some sort of arbitrarily defined “collective good” in their policies – in this case it was Obama’s dream of “clean energy” – but they fail to understand that unless one first seeks to ensure the wellbeing of human individuals, then there will never be any “collective” wellbeing at all.

In the process, this dangerous kind of thinking reduces economic decision making down to only considering inanimate things – in this case for Mr. Obama, it was all about “coal,” “wind,” “pollution” and “dollars” -while the actual lives of people employed in the coal industry weren’t even considered.

Yet Mr. Obama’s remarks, in as much as he confidently stated that his policies would “bankrupt” the coal industry, did have real implications for real individual human lives. Why would anyone – least of all a future President of the United States – want to “bankrupt” an industry, and put people out of work? One would have thought that these remarks may have had struck a note of concern for voters in coal producing states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, Indiana or Ohio.

But now, less than two years into his presidency, some real human beings who are employed in the coal industry are suffering.

Last week in the coal mining town of Logan, West Virginia, residents there convened the first of several prayer vigils for the saving of their coal businesses. Members of the clergy joined the broader community to offer spiritual assistance as people suffer the loss of jobs, and to pray that their industry will be sustained and reinvigorated.

At least one participant in the event noted that part of the coal industry’s struggle may very well be a matter of bad public relations, and that there may very well be some people who don’t want the industry to exist. There are those, noted Jim Frye of the Logan County Chamber of Commerce, who are seeking to “severely limit our industry,” and there are also those “who would argue to destroy our industry…”

These concerns should not come as a surprise, given President Obama’s campaign pledge. Granted, his glorious “cap and trade” vision has not happened yet, but more stringent regulations on the coal industry have, with more “crack downs” from the E.P.A. are on the way in 2011. And it is a sad day in America when Americans must pray for protection from their own government.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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