Today I watched the C-Span broadcast (link
to Real Player file,
80 minutes) of Dr. Gerberding’s testimony to the Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works. The topic: The potential
climate change on public health.
After seeing it, I have to agree that she was able to make many good
points, and the Senate is more informed as a result. That
does not excuse the White House censorship of her written report;
rather, it simply means that their anemic efforts at censorship were
relatively ineffective. [BTW the original, pre-censorship, report can
be seen here
(88 KB PDF file.)]
What is important to note is that there was some give-and-take
discussion, in which some opposition was voiced.
It is interesting to see how people try to argue that the
of climate change on public health are not worth the costs that would
be required for mitigation.
Senator John Barrasso disputed Senator Barbara
assertion that spending one dollar to mitigate green house gasses can
result in five dollars of economic benefit (Nicholas Stern, citation
not given). He cited a study that indicated that one dollar
would result in 25 to 50 cents in savings.
expressed the belief that the best way to fight disease is to have a
strong economy. The implication is that environmental
could weaken the economy, thereby lessening our ability to fight
This position also was advocated by one of the witnesses, Donald R.
Roberts, Ph.D. Dr. Roberts is a Professor in the Division of
Tropical Public Health
Department, at the Preventive Medicine and Biometrics
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is
also a pro-DDT
Dr. Roberts pointed out that, along the Texas-Mexico border, residents
of Mexico have a risk of Dengue
fever, while those in Mexico do not. The
difference, he says, is that the people in Texas have air conditioners.
Boxer, who is not a professor of anything, pointed out that while air
conditioners may make a difference with Dengue, they have not stopped West
There are other points that could be made to refute Inhofe, Barrasso,
and Roberts. Specifically, having a strong economy is only
helpful if wealth is distributed equitably. it is not (and
disparity is deliberate,
incidentally). Second, air conditioners are useful only if
is enough electricity to run them. That is by no means
guaranteed. Third, they would have to talk about more that
disease, in one location, to make any kind of effective argument
against a global problem with myriad sequelae.
Furthermore, even vast wealth can do little in the face of poor air and
water quality — two likely consequences of climate change, as
mentioned in the testimony. Sure, if the water quality is
you can get an elaborate filtration system, if you have the money.
But water shortages are another problem, and filters do not
produce water from nothing.
Another point the Barrasso, and others made, is easily dismissed.
They stated that cold can be just as dangerous as heat, if
more so. While that is true in an abstract sense, it is
reason to be complacent about climate change. Furthermore, it
illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the problem.
Climate change is more than global warming. Seeing it in that
is an unfortunate consequence of being hobbled by one-dimensional
thinking (hot vs. cold). If the temperature would merely
up or down, with all other parameters remaining the same, we could deal
with that. But dealing with increased climate variability is
more difficult problem.
Gerberding and Boxer pointed this out.
people who have one-dimensional thought processes don’t grasp this
While I always am glad to see congress members push back against the
Republican War on Science, I do find it unfortunate that the censorship
has gotten to be a bigger deal in the news than the underlying issues.