In her press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino responded to reports that the White House “eviscerated” Center for Disease Control director Dr. Julie Gerberding’s Senate testimony on the “Human Impacts of Global Warming.” She claimed that “the decision” was “to focus that testimony on public health benefits” of climate change. “There are public health benefits to climate change,” asserted Perino.
Asked to explain what some of those benefits are, Perino said that climate change “would help those individuals” who “die from cold-related deaths every winter”:
Q: And one more. You mentioned that there are health benefits to climate change. Could you describe some of those?
MS. PERINO: Sure. In some cases, there are — look, this is an issue where I’m sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals. There are also concerns that it would increase tropical diseases and that’s — again, I’m not an expert in that, I’m going to let Julie Gerberding testify in regards to that, but there are many studies about this that you can look into.
While the National Research Council (NRC) has found that “cold-related stress is likely to decline” with climate change, it comes at the cost of “heat stress,” which “is projected to increase.” According to the NRC, “those with heart problems, asthma, the elderly, the very young and the homeless can be especially vulnerable to extreme heat.”
On the whole, the negative “health impacts of climate change are potentially huge”:
First, these hazards are diverse, global and probably irreversible over human time scales. They range from increased risks of extreme weather, such as fatal heat waves, floods and storms, to less dramatic but potentially more serious effects on infectious disease dynamics, shifts to long-term drought conditions in many regions, melting of glaciers that supply freshwater to large population centres, and sea level increases leading to salination of sources of agriculture and drinking water. Second, the health impacts of climate change are potentially huge. Many of the most important global killers are highly sensitive to climatic conditions. Malaria, diarrhea and protein-energy malnutrition together cause more than 3 million deaths each year.
In the unredacted version of Dr. Gerberding’s testimony provided by Science Progress, the only mention of “public health benefits” related to climate change are a result of “activities needed to protect Americans from the health effects of climate change.”
UPDATE: Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson has more on Dana Perino’s history of climate change denial.