15 June 2009

GHF Responds

A few weeks ago I took the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) to task (here and here and here) for making scientifically unsupportable assertions about the role of climate change in causing death, which it estimated at 315,000 per year. The Wall Street Journal, which featured my comments in an editorial on June 6 has published a letter in response by Walter Fust of the GHF, which I reprint here:
Regarding your editorial " 'Worse Than Fiction' "(June 6) about our recent publication, "Human Impact Report: Climate Change -- The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis": Unfortunately, this issue of climate change is not going away, however much we all wish it would.

The report is clearly controversial, but it's also well researched and very serious, despite Prof. Roger Pielke's rather alarmist language. Virtually the entire study is an agglomeration of existing statistics and models, updated where possible in most cases with the experts who developed them.

The number that has generated the most headlines is that some 300,000 deaths per year are attributable to climate change. The number is derived mainly from a version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Burden of Disease model, which recently figured in an article in the British medical journal "The Lancet." Some 7.5 million people die each year due to malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. These are all highly climate-sensitive diseases. Most of the deaths are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where temperature increases and water shortages can be more pronounced than, say, in Europe or North America. The WHO estimates the climate change role at around 4%, hence 300,000. To this we add annual losses due to extreme events like floods and cyclones, bringing an extra 15,000 to the death toll. This is clearly an estimate, but it's a supportable one. We make no claim that the Human Impact Report is the definitive scientific study on this topic. It's a start. More must follow. Climate change may not be the largest humanitarian concern today, but it is the fastest growing.

Our intention is not to try to divert funds from treating diseases like malaria but exactly the opposite. Climate change has remained silent, aggravating other problems that affect human society. Additional resources need to be directed toward tackling these problems precisely because of the influence climate change is now having on them. But the role of climate change in causing the problems must also be addressed.

It is fortunate that Kofi Annan has become so engaged in helping bring the issue to the forefront.

Walter Fust
CEO/Director General
Global Humanitarian Forum
Geneva

6 comments:

Bishop Hill said...

An admirable attempt to defend the indefensible.

Stan said...

Given the scientific basis for The Lancet's estimates of Iraq casualties, Fust's reliance upon anything associated with it seriously detracts from his credibility.

Looking at his explanation shows how foolish he really is. Global warming is estimated to be responsible for 4% of 7.5 million deaths and 15,000 for extreme events that have been shown to have nothing to do with AGW. Produce a specific sounding number like 315,000.

In credible terms, they have produced a number which is + or - 1,000,000.

Freedom's Truth said...

So, to Prof Pielke's substantive critique that the 302,000 deaths estimate is based on thin air, we get mainly a "no, we are serious" and fluffy guff like - "Climate change has remained silent" Really. 4 IPCC reports, a Nobel prize, and over a decade of agressive high-profile media reporting, and political fearmongering and its remained 'silent'?

Prof Pielke, I look forward to hearing your take on the Obama admin's report today on Global Warming, which seems to have taken quite the fearmongering tack on the issue. Is it also a "poster child on how to lie with statistics"?

markbahner said...

Hi Roger,

I hope you won't let this response be the end of the issue.

Here's what Walter Fust wrote:

"The number that has generated the most headlines is that some 300,000 deaths per year are attributable to climate change. The number is derived mainly from a version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Burden of Disease model, which recently figured in an article in the British medical journal 'The Lancet.' Some 7.5 million people die each year due to malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. These are all highly climate-sensitive diseases. Most of the deaths are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where temperature increases and water shortages can be more pronounced than, say, in Europe or North America. The WHO estimates the climate change role at around 4%, hence 300,000."

Let's look at each sentence or couple of sentences at a time:

1) "The number is derived mainly from a version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Burden of Disease model,..."

Where is this "Global Burden of Disease Model"? What is it's purpose? I know the WHO does an annual (or periodic) "Global Burden of Disease" report, but I thought the report was based on empirical data, not a model.

"Some 7.5 million people die each year due to malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria."

Where does Walter Fust get that figure? (Besides his own GHF report!) For example, in his GHF report, the number of annual worldwide malaria deaths is put at 1.35 million, but Table A1 (page 54) of the WHO's Global Burden of Disease Report:

http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GBD_report_2004update_full.pdf

...puts the number of malaria deaths in 2004 at 889 million. So his GHF report number for malaria deaths is higher than the Global Burden of Disease Report by 50 percent.

And the Global Burden of Disease Report puts the number of diarrhoeal deaths at 2,163,000 (see Table A1 again), whereas the GHF report puts the number of diarrhoeal deaths at 2,350,000 (or about 10 percent higher).

"The WHO estimates the climate change role at around 4%, hence 300,000."

WHERE has the WHO made that estimate? In what document? The A.J. McMichael et al. WHO chapter (that came up with 151,000 deaths) doesn't say the effect of climate change is 4%. They have different percentages for climate change for different afflictions.

To me, it's very suspicious that the GHF report numbers for malaria, diarrhoeal, and malnutrition deaths are all EXACTLY 2.0 times the values in the WHO chapter by McMichael et al. I don't see any scientifically legitimate way for the GHF report to get numbers that are EXACTLY 2X the McMichael et al. numbers.

SEWilco said...

They don't mention subtracting any deaths due to fewer problems with cold.

Ben Pile said...

The claim that climate change is the 'fastest growing' 'humanitarian concern' is entirely bogus.

Even it were 'the fastest growing', at what point does 'rate of change' make an issue more pressing than the magnitude of the problem it exists in contrast to?

More to the point, a response to the problems caused by Malaria, at the scale of the many and varied very well-resourced institutions that have been established throughout the world to research and 'combat climate change', would make it much more likely that nobody died, or suffered from malaria, whatever the cause of it was.

Where is the Intergovernmental Panel on Malaria Prevention? Where are the environmental activists demanding action now, and that 'malaria will be worse for the poor'? Where are the former senior economists at the world bank reviewing the costs and benefits of eradicating versus not eradicating malaria? Etc.

In Fust's words we see 'humanitarian concerns' being held hostage to environmentalism in its ideological form. The problem is that it takes phenomena such as malaria, and even poverty, as inevitabilities that can only be mediated, rather than abolished. To maintain that the eradication of malaria, and the abolition of poverty are possible aims is to undermine ideological environmentalism. It is predicated on the impossibility of such aims because the means to produce such ends are inevitably 'unsustainable'. Otherwise, we could just make an argument for development of the kind that would eradicate Malaria, leading to no deaths from 'climate change'. So much for 'humanitarian concerns', then.

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