The Week That Was
February 12, 2000

The Week That Was February 12, 2000 brought to you by SEPP


With a winter flu epidemic rampant, this may be a good time to reconsider the topic of health.

A few years ago, Science carried an article by staff writer Richard Stone, entitled "If the mercury soars, so may health hazards." It faithfully recorded the opinions of well-known academic alarmists, like Paul Epstein (Harvard), Jonathan Patz (Johns Hopkins) and their sputniks. As the result of climate warming and the expansion of disease vectors, they project a calamitous expansion of major tropical diseases, from malaria to river blindness, sleeping sickness and yellow fever. According to their estimates, more than three billion people, over half the world's population, would be at risk -- yet another onslaught on sound science and common sense, obviously designed to influence international actions to limit the use of fossil fuels, and therefore of energy.

It is too bad that the Science story does not offer any criticism or counter to these disaster scenarios. Such a critique would be done at three levels:

1. The disaster bugs always manage to latch on to forecasts of a large temperature rise, ignoring the fact that the climate models have not been validated by actual observations and are therefore certainly in error. Even if one were willing to accept the model predictions, it is necessary to "deconstruct" the quoted average temperature rise into its temporal and geographic components. For example, an average temperature rise of 2.5 degrees C translates into a much smaller change in the tropics and subtropics and a much larger increase at high latitudes. The population of mosquitoes might well increase in Alaska and Labrador, but that does not translate into an increase in malaria. Besides, in 50 years from now we may have some very good means of protecting ourselves against these diseases (with vaccines) and for controlling the insects that carry them. Dare we predict the invention of an insecticide that is cheap, effective, and innocuous to humans? Let's call it TDD.

2. The disaster bugs always go for worst-case assumptions and manage to ignore everything else. For example, a different group of disaster scientists have predicted a rise in sea level that would wipe out estuarine wetlands, and droughts that would dry out the mid-continental wet areas and rivers. What shudder to think what such disasters would do to mosquitoes. Obviously, one must bring together all these scientists from different disciplines to decide whether humanity will be drowned by rising sea levels, starved by droughts, or killed by disease. Let them fight it out!

3. Finally, the disaster bugs steadfastly refuse to look at empirical evidence on how disease incidence relates to temperature. In the United States, the seasonal variation from winter to summer is about ten times that of a predicted climate warming, as is the geographic variation from Minnesota to south Texas. Death statistics show that epidemics of flu and other diseases occur in the winter and that warmth generally goes with better health. The same result can be deduced from historical statistics of the last 1000 years, covering the medieval "climate optimum" and the "little ice age" around 1700. As economist Thomas Gale Moore has shown in his well-known essay, "Global Warming is Good for You."

We now have a fine piece of research by Dr. Paul Reiter of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in the upcoming issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases (vol.6, Jan-Feb 2000). Entitled "From Shakespeare t Defoe: Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age," it documents that malaria was a important cause of death. [Read it on the web on]


A group of 125 Minnesota logging companies filed suit against two environmental groups and the U.S. Forest Service for siding with the groups' philosophy of "deep ecology," which the loggers say is a religious belief in a sacred relationship with the Earth.

They charge that the Forest Service violated the First Amendment by favoring religious groups.


Oregon's governor will issue an executive order requiring the state agencies to do business in a sustainable manner. Nobody quite knows what this means, so other states will be watching closely. But if the agencies become more efficient, shouldn't this reduce their budgets and result in lower state taxes. Don't hold your breath.


The ongoing soap of the chloroform standards in drinking water is moving slowly ahead. EPA had intended to set the level to zero , disregarding its own Scientific Advisory Board. Now, just before scheduled oral arguments before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA has asked the Court to remand the issue back to the agency. Will the Court grant the motion? Will EPA heed its SAB? Stay tuned

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