Who is really being alarmist?

People who accept what the scientists are saying which is that human carbon emissions are causing global warming are often called alarmist. But I think it is the people who protest the shift towards a low carbon economy who are being alarmist.

I read a very biased article in the Washington Times this week – Climate alarmism’s 10,000 commandments – in which the author claims that Obama’s recent climate change policy announcement will result in “sleep deprivation, lower economic and education status and soaring anxiety and stress.” Really? I mean, really? This is surely an alarmist statement if ever there was one.

A report from The Lancet – The health benefits of tackling climate change – found that “action to combat climate change can, of itself, lead to improvements in health.” These benefits are in addition to the benefits gained from avoiding the harmful impacts of climate change. So even if people do not accept that there will be any harmful effects from climate change – and I would suggest they read a recent World Bank report which says there will be – a low-carbon economy will still bring health benefits.

In poorer countries, indoor air pollution from inefficient cookstoves leads to respiratory illnesses in young children and heart disease in adults. Almost 1 million children around the world currently die from respiratory infections through the burning of solid fuels. An Indian stove programme aims, by 2020, to lower the cost of health care associated with these diseases by about one sixth.

The transport sector accounts for about a quarter of all fossil fuel use. A shift from motor vehicle use to walking and cycling not only reduces carbon emissions but promises large reductions in the cost of health care by lowering rates of chronic disease caused by inactivity. The report uses London and India as examples and estimates that for London, heart disease and stroke could fall by 10-20%, breast cancer by 12-13%, dementia by 8% and depression by 5%. For India, falls of 10-25% for heart disease and stroke and 6-17% for diabetes are projected.

A shift away from polluting coal-powered electricity also sees gains in health because the airborne particles that these power plants emit, cause respiratory and cardiovascular damage. For China, the gains are estimated at an extra 500 life-years per million people in one year. The benefits are even greater for India.

The study also addresses livestock farming, which accounts for 8-9% of greenhouse-gas emissions. The benefits here occur through a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy and therefore a reduction in livestock farming. The health benefits from eating less meat and dairy are a lowered risk of heart disease, obesity and diet-related cancers. In the UK, a 30% fall in the consumption of animal-sourced saturated fat by adults would reduce heart disease by 15%.

The Lancet study shows that there are real health benefits to be gained from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and these benefits will lower the cost of public health care and therefore go some way to offsetting the costs of mitigating climate change. This is all good news.

Who is really being alarmist here?