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Conclusion: reducing the urgent Health risks that
global warming would exacerbate.
Even on the basis of speculative analysis that tends to systematically
overestimate the threat of global warming, it is now, and for the foreseeable
future, outweighed by numerous other health threats. Many of these greater
threats are diseases of poverty.
Exaggerating the importance of global warming seriously risks misdirecting
the world’s priorities and its resources in efforts to reduce poverty and
improve public health. Equally importantly, policies to curb global warming
would, by increasing the price of energy and reducing its usage worldwide,
slow down, if not reverse, the pace of economic growth. As economic
development is central to the fight against poverty, such policies would tend
to perpetuate the diseases—and all the other problems—associated with
poverty. Specifically, since the diseases of poverty are currently responsible
for 70–80 times more death and disease than global warming, such policies
may well be counterproductive. They would, moreover, slow advances in
society’s adaptive capacity, and otherwise retard improvements in human
well-being (Goklany 2009e).
For example, the increase in biofuel production between 2004 and 2010,
partly as a consequence of policies designed to reduce dependence
on fossil fuels, is estimated to have increased the population in absolute
poverty in the developing world by over 35 million, leading to about 200,000
additional deaths in 2010 alone. Moreover, to the extent that mitigation may
have reduced the rate of warming (which is the best that mitigation can
hope to achieve given current technologies and the inertia of the climate
system), it may have slowed the reduction in excess winter mortality, a
phenomenon that isn’t only restricted to the higher latitudes.
Since global warming would mostly amplify existing health risks that are
associated with poverty, tackling these underlying health risks (e.g.,
hunger, malaria and other vector-borne diseases listed in Table 1) would
also address any incremental health risks attributable to global warming.
Accordingly, global health and well-being would, for the foreseeable future, be advanced farther, faster, more surely and more economically through
(a) focused adaptation, that is, efforts focused on reducing vulnerability to
today’s urgent poverty-related health problems that may be exacerbated
by global warming, or (b) increasing adaptive capacity, especially of
developing countries, through economic and technological development
rather than on (c) quixotic and, most likely, counterproductive, efforts to
reduce energy usage.