TCS Daily


Apocalypse Always

By C. C. Kraemer - February 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Last month a group of 19 scientists made an apocalyptic claim: If current warming trends continue, more than a million species will be extinct in less than half a century. This follows a possibly even more alarming statement made in December by the World Health Organization (WHO), which said that global warming killed 150,000 people in 2000.

Both charges are shamefully exaggerated, considering that there's no consensus among scientists that global warming exists and, even if it does, what causes it. Is it induced by mankind? Or is there a natural cycle of warming and cooling that man cannot control? Or some combination of these elements?

Despite a legion of legitimate doubts, the hyperbole manages to grow more inflated. The book "Climate Change and Human Health -- Risks and Responses," published by the WHO, claims that the death toll from global warming will be twice as high in the next 30 years. That is unless, of course, something is done about it, which is exactly the WHO's goal: To employ the force of government to establish policies that match to its ideology.

Political Who's WHO

A United Nations agency established more than 50 years ago, the WHO is interested in more than world health. It has one hand on the stethoscope and the other on the lever of politics. Sometimes it's hard to tell which hand it's working the hardest.

The WHO is obsessively motivated by a social agenda. Rather than focusing on treating and curing infectious diseases, it spends money on lifestyle issues -- promotions that advocate seatbelt use and campaigns that attack smoking.

"For prevention of traffic injuries," the WHO said in May 2002, strategies should "include compulsory wearing of seat belts, use of special car seats for children, helmet wear for motorcyclists, speed restrictions, traffic calming measures and efforts to curb drunk driving."

A few years before that statement was made, The Washington Post noted that the WHO "is launching a global counteroffensive" to the tobacco industry's overseas advertising. And last year, it adopted the anti-smoking Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"Today, we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people's health for generations to come. This is an historic moment," said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland when the pact was approved.

The WHO is also deeply concerned with its own health, that is, the perpetuation of its existence. As Brian Doherty pointed out a couple of years ago in Reason, Paul Dietrich, who served on the development committee of the Pan American Health Organization -- the WHO's American branch office -- has "publicly and repeatedly complained that WHO was a bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake, mired in useless statement-making and conference-giving."

Perhaps most telling is the WHO's definition of health: "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Is any further explanation required?

The United Nations itself also tries to tally the costs of global warming. A report issued by the U.N. Environment Program on the day before the WHO made its recent outlandish claims contends that changes in the Earth's climate "cost $60bn in 2003." The costs include the heat wave that killed 20,000 in Europe and devastating floods that spilled over the banks of the Huai and Yangtze rivers in China -- as if the world has never suffered heat waves and floods before man began operating internal combustion engines.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer didn't try hard enough to hide the agenda behind the report, because it was quite clear what he meant when he said: "Developed countries have a responsibility to reduce their emissions, but also have a responsibility to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of global warming."

A few might take that statement as a good-faith warning. But anyone who's been observant of events must admit that Toepfer is saying the U.S. must choke the economic machine that fuels the rest of the world's economies because the Third World just can't keep up with the West. It's not about global warming as much as it is about reflexive egalitarian urges to punish success and a Luddite sort of mind-set that hates and fears progress.

Costs and Trade-Offs

A few questions come to mind when taking in the WHO and U.N.'s claims, most of them speculating on tradeoffs. Suppose, for a moment, that global warming was responsible for 150,000 deaths in 2000. That's an alarming number, but how does it compare to the number of deaths that would result if the innovations that allegedly caused the climate change were no longer at our disposal? What if we lived in a world with no ambulances or fire trucks? What if we could no longer heat or cool our homes with power created by the burning of fossil fuels? What if the companies that built lifesaving medical technology equipment could no longer make their products because the environmental lobby was successful in having their power sources limited or shut down altogether?

Both the WHO and the U.N., as well as a host of other global and non-government organizations, have regrettably become prisoners of the environmentalist lobby and a faction of international anti-capitalists whose positions are bolstered by crusading scientists. Those groups are determined to shape the world so that it conforms to what they believe is desirable and they've had some success. Their agendas have steered the U.N. and the other institutions from what should have been noble enterprises and twisted them into platforms from which activists launch campaigns against every man's freedom to make choices for himself.

C.C. Kraemer is a frequent TCS contributor. He recently wrote for TCS defending the price mechanism.


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