Voice of America (VOA), a U.S. government funded international news agency, posted an article titled “Heat, Disease, Air Pollution: How Climate Change Impacts Health,” which claims that climate change threatens human health because it worsens extreme heat, air pollution, infectious diseases, and mental health problems. Each claim is false, with none being supported by existing evidence. Each of these health problems existed before the industrial revolution and amidst modest warming most are getting better.
The article reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared climate change the “single biggest health threat facing humanity,” and that avoiding a temperature rise exceeding 1.5°C warming above pre-industrial levels as countries committed to in the Paris climate agreement is essential to prevent catastrophic health impacts.
Four categories of health threats are particularly highlighted in the VOA article, the first being “extreme heat.”
VOA writes that this year is “widely expected to be the hottest on record,” and heat “is believed to have caused more than 70,000 deaths in Europe during summer last year,” and also cites a Lancet study that claims by 2050 five times more people will die of heat each year if 2°C warming occurs.
There has been a lot of media coverage claiming that this year is the “hottest on record,” focusing on individual months and the northern hemisphere in particular. However, the data used is suspect, not only because the land-based temperature record is flawed and contaminated with the urban heat island effect, but also as discussed in “Media Fails to Examine Actual Data in Making “Hottest Summer Ever” Claims,” media conflate measured average temperatures with average temperature anomaly measurements, which are not interchangeable.
The planet began modestly warming even before the industrial revolution began, meaning 2023 is just a continuation of a multi-century trend. Blaming emissions for this year’s heat in particular ignores other natural factors, like increased water vapor from a massive volcanic eruption, an the onset of a powerful El Niño, and increased solar activity.
As described in Climate at a Glance: Temperature Related Deaths, because research shows that cold temperatures actually kill between 10 and 16 times more people than hot temperatures, the slight warming over the past century has likely reduced premature mortality related to temperatures by as many as 166,000 people from 2000 to 2019. The clear evidence shows that cold temperatures kill far more people than hot temperatures and, as a result, as the Earth has modestly warmed, deaths related to non-optimum temperatures have declined significantly.
The next category of health threats discussed by VOA is air pollution. The VOA cites the WHO to assert that outdoor air pollution driven by fossil fuel emissions kills “more than four million people every year,” partially in the form of PM2.5. This figure is not supported by real world data.
Worse still for the claim, VOA admits that deaths from air pollution have fallen over time, not increased, even as the Earth has warmed. As a result, it’s unclear how this category even relates to climate change at all. According to the IPCC, there is no consensus on even the existence of any effects of global warming on “air pollution weather,” or temperature inversion conditions that may cause ground level ozone.
The claim that infectious diseases are on the rise due to climate change has been refuted at Climate Realism many times, for example, here, here, and here, and VOA makes no new claims in this regard. VOA claims that because of animal migration, the risk of infectious disease will spread, especially those spread by mosquitos like dengue, chikungunya, Zika, West Nile virus, and malaria.
The fact remains that no matter what the computer models say, more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that temperature alone is not enough to guarantee migration or longer survival of mosquitoes or mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria. Human interventions like the use of DDT, emptying standing water, mosquito netting, and other methods, far outweigh any effect of temperature.
Paul Reiter, a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained in a paper that “it is facile to attribute this resurgence [of malaria in some regions] to climate change.”
Looking at other animal sources of disease outbreaks like the Bird Flu, the exotic animal trade and wet markets are much more likely candidates.
There is no evidence that modest warming has caused disease outbreaks due to animal migration nor that continued modest warming it threatens to do so in the future.
VOA devotes only a small section to the final category, mental health, writing “Worrying about the present and future of our warming planet has also provoked rising anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress — particularly for people already struggling with these disorders, psychologists have warned.”
This shouldn’t be hard to explain, since media and government alarmism has been significantly ramped up over time. Despite data to the contrary, the mainstream media has increasingly used words like “catastrophe,” “crisis,” and “uninhabitable” to describe the condition of the planet. Some media outlets have tried pointing out that this scaremongering is counterproductive, but it hasn’t stopped, with CNN recently declaring that “no place in the US is safe.”
In the light of this near daily the barrage of climate scare stories, it is no wonder that people struggling with or prone to mental illness in particular are deeply afraid. Survivors of a natural disaster may also struggle with PTSD or similar ailments, but it doesn’t mean that climate change is the cause, as discussed in “Wrong, Mainstream Media, Climate Change is Not Causing PTSD.”
In the end, objective scientific data does not show that human health is being negatively impacted by climate change, and it is certainly not the biggest health threat facing humanity. Because almost every claim in the story is refuted by hard data, it actually throws suspicion on much of the good work unrelated to climate alarm that the VOA and the WHO do. It is especially bad that VOA included the WHO’s unverified mental health claims in the story, since it is fearmongering by mainstream media outlets, like VOA, that are the source of climate (reporting) related mental health problems, not climate change itself.
Linnea Lueken is a Research Fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy.
While she was an intern with The Heartland Institute in 2018, she co-authored a Heartland Institute Policy Brief “Debunking Four Persistent Myths About Hydraulic Fracturing.”
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