Biofuels – a policy that is killing the poor

The GWPF reports on a new paper by Indur M. Goklany, Ph.D. that estimates the biofuels policy may be causing 200,000 additional deaths a year. This is compared to the 141,000 deaths (on a like by like basis) that WHO claims may be attributable to climate change.

This paper understates the comparison as the biofuels estimates are many times more robust than the climate change deaths estimates.

The biofuels element is a direct relationship. As real income increases above $1.25 per day, the quantity of food that people can buy increases. From mostly a subsistence existence people can trade. Variety and calorific value of food increase. Also constancy of food supply is assured as a rapidly shrinking portion is reliant on the local harvest. Push up the real cost of food rapidly and this virtuous growth cycle is reversed.

The aspect of Global Warming comes from page 72 of the WHO World Health Report 2002.

“Climate change was estimated to be responsible in 2000 for approximately 2.4% of

worldwide diarrhoea, 6% of malaria in some middle income countries and 7% of dengue

fever in some industrialized countries. In total, the attributable mortality was 154 000 (0.3%)

deaths and the attributable burden was 5.5 million (0.4%) DALYs. About 46% this burden

occurred in SEAR-D, 23% in AFR-E and a further 14% in EMR-D.”

The global warming element comes from

  1. Looking at other elements and relating the impacts to temperature and climate volatility empirically.
  2. Measuring accurately recent temperature record to show increases in temperature. The warming in recent years may have been overstated due to failure to adjust for the urban heat island effect and possible biases in the calculation.
  3. Correctly relating this a proportion of this warming to anthropogenic factors. If it is overstated, then so is the justification for policy to mitigate the climatic effects of that warming.
  4. Accurately measuring the impacts of warming on the climate factors such as floods, droughts, sea level rise, extreme heat waves etc.

If any of these issues are overstated individually, then they can significantly reduce the relationship. But compound and they make the global warming deaths insignificantly different from Zero. For instance the relationship between temperature and malaria is highly controversial and has been dismissed. This might be 10% of the deaths. If the recent rise is only 0.3 degrees, rather than 0.4 degrees, then the mortality impact will reduce more than proportionately. If half the temperature rise due to anthropogenic factors, then it more than halves the impact. Most importantly there is the influence on climate variability. If extreme weather has not increased due to global warming – for instance the hurricane impacts were based on insurance claims rather than increasing frequency and intensity of storms (they may be decreasing), then some of the factors are decreased. Let us give a minimal impact of each of these impacts. Linking each of the elements to climate change could reduce of the attribution by 10% to >90% (say 60%). Measurement actual AGW reduces by 20% to 60% (say 40%). Weather variability due to AGW is highly suspect due to separation from the highly variable natural variability, so the will reduce the attribution by 50% to >100%. Take this as an 80% reduction. The compound effect on attributable deaths is 154,000(100%-60%)(100%-40%)(100%-80%) equals around 7,400. In other words, it is statistically insignificant.

On the other hand there is no mention of the most direct and beneficial impact of increasing greenhouse gases on the health and well-being of the poorest. Higher CO2 levels are directly related to increased plant growth rates and biomass. That means increased agricultural productivity for free.

The later 2003 WHO report “Climate Change and Human Health – Risks and Responses” used this report’s findings, but had plenty of hidden warnings. For instance the final conclusion was

“The increasing trend in natural disasters is partly due to better reporting, partly due to increasing population vulnerability, and may include a contribution from ongoing global climate change.”

Finally, one must consider that if the global warming estimate is accurate, it is not an either/or comparison. Current climate change policies will not achieve a significant reduction in CO2 levels. So the poor will be hit with extra deaths from both sources.


Quote on Openness in Government

The Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) Inquiry, United Kingdom

“Our experience over this lengthy Inquiry has led us to the firm conclusion that a policy of openness is the correct approach. When responding to public or media demand for advice, the government must resist the temptation of attempting to appear to have all the answers in a situation of uncertainty. We believe that food scares and vaccine scares thrive on the belief that the Government is withholding information. If doubts are openly expressed and publicly explored, the public are capable of responding rationally and are more likely to accept reassurance and advice

if and when it comes.”

Quoted on page 40 of the WHO World Health Report 2002. (Here)

This seems to be also pertinent to the Climate Science in general and the UNIPCC in particular.

The BSE Inquiry Report details;jsessionid=42B120D8A52B9E491149695EB22E4EEB


The inquiry was set up in 1997 to: establish and review the history and emergence and identification of BSE and variant CJD in the UK and of the action taken in response to it up to March 1996; to reach conclusions on the adequacy of that response; and to report the findings to relevant ministries. The resulting report documents in detail the development of two new diseases, one of cattle that devastated the British cattle industry (more than 170000 animals affected) and another that has caused the deaths of more than 80 people so far. The report identifies several shortcomings in delayed responses and lack of rigour in implementing measures. Poor coordination between health and agricultural departments and bureaucracy impeded prompt responses. The cause of the epidemic was identified as the inclusion of meat and bone meal in ruminant feed. Despite the banning of specified bovine offals in ruminant feed in 1990, cattle born after this date still contracted the disease, probably through cross contamination of feed with feed destined for non-ruminants. The report makes compelling reading for all those who have followed the epidemic. It is available from The Stationary Office ( in print (#325 for the complete boxed set of 16 volumes [ISBN 0105569860]; or #29.50 for Volume 1: Findings and Conclusions [contains a CD-ROM of the full text of the report; ISBN 0105569704]), on CD-ROM (#235 which includes the full text of the report on Disc 1. Discs 2-12 include all the witness statements, transcripts, SEAC and ACAF documents and other supporting documents; ISBN: 0105569879), or can be freely accessed on the Internet.

Sir John Houghton to Clarify Climate Change

For those who reside in the North-West of England, I would like to direct them to what may be a very informative event on 7th May. Sir John Houghton, ex-IPCC Chair, will be talking about climate change in Rawtenstall on 7th May. Also speaking will be Dave Bookless – author, theologian and director of Christian environmental charity A Rocha and Paul Cook, Advocacy Director of Tearfund, the aid charity of the UK Evangelical Alliance.

It is something that I would like to attend, as this might help clarify some of my own questions.

  1. How can small changes in air temperature or air pressure influence the pressures and temperatures many times greater at 10km to 30km beneath the Earth’s surface?
  2. How do we distinguish the true scientific forecasts from false prophecies, such as the Himalayan Glaciers, the Amazon Rainforests, or extreme sea level rise?
  3. Within a Christian context, should those who know the truth about climate change being reaching out to those who live in denial rather than marginalising them?

Jesus, the Samaritan Woman and Climate Change

Bishophill draws attention to Thought for the Day on Radio 4 on 25th March

The talk is confusing because it is, perhaps deliberately, ambiguous. Consider the last words of the talk

“all the knowledge in the world is worthless to us without the right perspective”

It speaks and encourages anyone who believes that “the right perspective” is on their side, believer or sceptic. Now modern theological perspective is to consider the Bible in the context of the times. For instance, John 4, where Jesus talks to a foreigner, divorcee woman appears normal in modern times, breaking multiple social conventions 2000 years ago. Furthermore, Jesus reveals more about his nature than he had in John 3 to Nicodemus a leading Rabbi.

As Bishophill has found out, the BBC now has a deliberate, but secret, policy of not giving equal airtime and treatment to alarmists and sceptics. The debate is settled and the science is in. Those who doubt the truth of global warming are cranks, in the pay of big business, or plain evil. Therefore, in the context of our times, any deliberately ambiguous or coded statements are more likely to be from a sceptical rather than a consensus viewpoint. In the context of our times, where orthodoxy is only the permissible theology, neutrality on climate change is a mark of dissent.

The Economist on Corn Production over 30 degrees

The Economist gives a positive spin to the article ““Nonlinear heat effects on African maize (corn) as evidenced by historical yield trials”, Lobell et al.” in Nature : Climate Change. I posted the following comment:-

Experimental conditions must be controlled to get comparable results. But this is not real world conditions. In the real world farmers will seek to optimize output given the constraints. When temperature, or rainfall changes, farmers will adapt. It is part of the human condition to adapt, which is why there is agriculture to be found in Southern Sweden and the blazing heat of Minas Gerais. Corn production is to be found in Edinburg, Texas with 136 days a year above 30 degrees. This is achieved through both planting and harvesting earlier in the year than further north.

As well as looking to the negatives of warming, we should look to the positives. More temperate climates should, ceteris paribus, see increasing yields as temperatures get warmer. For instance, Northern Europe, the Steppes of Central Asia and the Canadian plains should benefit from higher temperatures. Also higher temperatures will be caused by higher CO2 levels. Experimental studies have shown a doubling of CO2 will increase maize biomass by around a third. Finally, according to Al Gore, precipitation increased by 20% in the last century, mostly in above mentioned areas, Southern South America and SE Australia.

One of the biggest risks for climate change is supposedly to the stability world food supplies, with possible famines. But, as Amartya Sen has shown, the biggest famines are made serious not by natural factors but by adverse terms of trade. The Bengal famine of 1943, in which more than 3 million died, was exacerbated by a ban on exports between provinces in India, at the same time as extra demand was present from those supplying the troops fighting in Burma.

Al Gore : An Inconvenient Truth pages 114-115

More than just shreds of evidence

BishopHill quotes approvingly from a comment made on the Booker column in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph

I have worked in government for 28 years as an economist, and for the last 20 years I have worked on environmental programs. In that time I have not seen a shred of evidence to justify global warming, let alone man made global warming and I have not seen a shred of evidence that there is going to be a green economic boom. The only evidence I have seen is that there is a green economic bust, that money invested in green technologies is usually wasted and simply consumes investment that could be better used elsewhere. I think that anybody in government or industry who can not understand this is either dishonest, stupid, or both. That applies to Cameron – I think he is both.

For those who support the sentiments expressed should consider trying to convince someone who is a true believer in climate change consensus of their error. If the consensus supporter finds shreds of evidence of global warming, and hints that the warming may be due to anthropogenic factors, then they have refuted this experienced economist. Just as a sceptic who finds fault with the temperature record, or who has read about “hiding the decline” concludes that climate change is all a hoax, or a global conspiracy.

An economist should look at the costs and benefits. In terms of Climate Change there are two sets of costs. First, those of climate change impacts and second, the costs of the policy to contain the global warming. The Stern Review put argument that the mitigation policy costs were 5 to 20 times less than letting climate change progress unchecked. Therefore there is a clear-cut case for global mitigation policy. But crucially Stern does not look at the consequences of ineffective and over-expensive policy. The Booker article “For every new ‘green’ job, nearly four are lost” looks at one aspect of these real policy costs. An economist would also claim that the Greens fail to look at the opportunity costs, claim that the new jobs are a benefit.

I have tried to demonstrate this economic argument for climate change mitigation here. Then I examine why the policy proposed will be ineffective in constraining CO2 rises and the costs will escalate here. I hope to post soon on why the costs of climate change are hugely overstated.

The argument against the climate change policy is not that there is no evidence. Rather, it is that blundering and ineffective policy will be far more costly than five or six degrees of warming bringing on highly variable weather systems. That is an argument for the economists, not the climate scientists.