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My Online Debate Regarding Health Effects of Climate Change–Part II February 28, 2023

This is a series of posts between myself and Steven Novella, MD, who writes for Neurologica, a science communication blog.

I fired the first shot, as posted previously on this blog (I will put a link to it here for your convenience). He responded to my first post (link here). I will post my most recent response below.

Hi Steve, and thank you for your timely response, and for even considering hosting this debate. There has been, and continues to be a “blackout” on almost all discussion regarding the science behind climate change. If “The science” is truly “settled”, it is a pretty shaky settlement! Why the blackout then? 

I appreciate that you have pointed out some of my quirks that I use in constructing and argument. After all, this is a debate, and of course we come at it with different viewpoints and narratives, which makes debates all the more profoundly important to have. I think we would all agree that listening to other viewpoints other than our own, although may be uncomfortable, nonetheless helps us become more intelligent, enlightened, and wise. 

While I do appreciate the pointing out of my biases (which we all have), there was very little substantive rebutting of the information I provided. I did use exact verbiage from the latest IPCC report, so nobody could accuse me of making a strawman argument. If you think I’m setting up a bunch of strawman arguments, I invite you to reach out to the authors of IPCC chapter 11: Human Health: Impacts, Adaptation, and Co-benefits and ask them why they are setting up these supposed confounded strawman arguments for me. If I can’t quote IPCC, the most trusted source of climate change information, then who can anyone trust regarding climate change information? The words I used to base my argument upon are their words, not mine. 

You state: “So Scott’s method is fatally flawed – you cannot just look at raw incidence numbers and declare there is no effect from climate change…But Scott dismisses all of this as “modeling”, which he rejects out of hand, explicitly favoring raw data, which is profoundly naive. He also dismissed data on the risks increased by climate change, again favoring raw data that mixes in many confounding variables.” 

I do have to chuckle here. While I may be “profoundly naive”, you do know that models are adjusted to fit–you guessed it–that same raw data that fills me with such profound naivete. Perhaps you can ask Gavin Schmidtt at NASA why their models are running so hot, then ask IPCC why they didn’t figure in obvious confounding variables of adaptation when making these predictions–predictions that are then used as political hand-grenades by climate activists to hurl at people like me–labeling us  “garbage dwellers” and “climate denying scumbags” who should be shamed out of existence. Then get back to me on that naivete. 

You stated, “You can find examples to support whatever narrative you want to believe…climate change is a Rorschach test of subjective validation and confirmation bias.”

I couldn’t agree more. So I will give you another chance to rebut the arguments I made in regards to health outcome predictions made by the IPCC. You know, science. We can talk about straw man arguments, gish galloping, cherry picking, political influences, and Y2K fallacies all day while ignoring the actual premise of the debate (are we not all getting tired of these same old tired subjective accusations?)  We are all biased. You pointed out mine, OK fine. Let’s move on to the actual crux of the debate. I ask you again, please refute my arguments with peer-reviewed, published articles or I will assume that you actually can’t find any. 

OK, back to science. 

Claim: IPCC-5 chapter 11 page 713 states “In recent decades, climate change has contributed to levels of ill health (likely) though the present worldwide burden of ill health from climate change is relatively small compared with other stressors on health and is not well quantified” 

Observation: I addressed in my last letter the point that it’s difficult to blame ill health like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and asthma (which is generally decreasing) on something that is increasing (temperature). Perhaps you have some other types of “ill health” that climate change is worsening, besides the ones I proposed? Correlation may or may not equal causation, but it certainly does not when viewing an inverse correlation, unless one believes that rising temperatures may actually be beneficial to health (gasp!).  The fact that IPCC admits the “small, not well quantified” changes is a critical admission of uncertainty. This humble acknowledgement was somehow lost on Greta Thunberg’s speech writer. 

Claim: “Greater risk of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heat waves and fires (very high confidence)”

Observation: I addressed this last time but feel compelled to respond to your rebuttal.  While I appreciate your reference to increasing forest fires globally, the great majority (70%) of the fires reported in this study exist in the northern boreal area of Russia/Siberia. The p value for this series happens to be non significant (p>0.05 look closely at the graph). If you believe a p value greater than 0.05  is significant, then ivermectin works for COVID. Can’t have it both ways. This finding, while interesting, juxtaposed to other research in this area make a less compelling argument, regardless of whether the fires are forested or grassland, including: 

Science:  “Fire models were unable to reproduce the pattern and magnitude of observed declines, suggesting that they may overestimate fire emissions in future projections.”

Reviews of Geophysics: “Overall, BA has reduced by 27% globally in the past two decades, due in large part to a decline in BA in African savannahs.” 

European Space Agency: No trend.  

NOAA: No trend.  

JGR Atmospheres: “There is a significant decline in 2001-2016 global fire activity, especially in the Northern Hemisphere and in Africa.”

Science Advances: “Global fire emissions have been stable or slightly decreasing despite the substantial decline in global burned area over the past two decades.”

Philosophical Transactions: “Global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago.”

Global fires aren’t increasing, they are decreasing. This is a problem for the consensus view. 

Claim: “Consequences for health of lost work capacity and reduced labor productivity in vulnerable populations (high confidence)”

Observation: I will provide this link again, because of the power in what is being said. If work capacity and labor productivity in vulnerable populations (like African nations) are being reduced due to climate change, why is economic growth so robust in Africa? Can anyone tell me? I don’t want a tired “gish-gallop straw man” reply here. I want answers. Perhaps the answers lie here and here.  Could it be the confounding variable of dirty, greasy, terrible, awful, disgusting oil (gasp again!)?

Claim: “The most effective measures to reduce vulnerability in the near term are programs that implement and improve basic public health measures such as provision of clean water and sanitation, secure essential health care including vaccination and child health services, increase capacity for disaster preparedness and response, and alleviate poverty (very high confidence).”

Observation: 100% agree. Clean water requires energy. Essential health care requires energy. Vaccination programs require energy. Disaster preparedness and response all require education which requires, you guessed it, energy. Where does this energy come from “in the near term” in Africa? Solar panels? Wind farms? Good luck with that. You’ll need it. 

Claim: “There are important research gaps regarding the health consequences of climate change and co-benefits actions, particularly in low-income countries.”

Observation: Can someone please reach out to CNN, NYT, WaPo, msnbc, the guardian, Al Gore, Theta Grunberg, NASA-GISS, NOAA, JAMA, NEJM, Lancet, Joe Biden, Google, Facebook, Youtube, AGU, AMA, NIH, Leonardo Decaprio and everyone/thing else who claim with certainty that climate change is an existential threat to humans everywhere, and give them this information from IPCC? I mean, this is kind of big news. I would greatly appreciate it. 

Lastly, I would like to point out that using what may constitute fraud to make a point does not go over well with me.  The 2022 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change announced to the world that “heat-related mortality for people older than 65 years increased by approximately 68% between 2000–04 and 2017–21”, yet show no data whatsoever to back it up. They provide one link to a study that has nothing to do with their claim. Leave pulling rabbits out of a hat to the magicians, not science journals. Yet nobody seems to be railing on them for this. Why the double standard? 

Yes, why the double standard? Why is it ok to shout down and belittle those who raise scientifically valid but uncomfortable data but are quick to defend utterly indefensible positions?  I get a kick out of commenters on your forum who love to trash-talk (spoiler alert: it doesn’t phase me) but then can’t actually refute my main argument. More smoke and mirrors. Seriously, doesn’t the name calling get old? In my view, ad hominem attacks are a sure fire way to tell if your opponent is grasping for straws as a last ditch effort in a losing debate.

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