25 May 2010

Defying Joe Romm

In characteristic fashion, fierce climate blogger Joe Romm excoriates the authors of a recent paper in Nature on malaria and climate change for writing the following in their paper:
. . . model predictions, reported widely in global climate policy debates3, 6, 7, [suggest] that climate change is adding to the present-day burden of malaria and will increase both the future range and intensity of the disease.
Footnote 6 goes to IPCC WGII 2007 (footnote 3 goes to the dodgy McMichael et al., study which argues that climate change has already lead to an increase in malaria deaths). Romm argues that the IPCC WGII cannot be used to support the claim made in the paper about model studies showing an increase in malaria burden worldwide. Joe defies anyone show that he is wrong.
I defy anybody to read the relevant sections, which I excerpt at length here, or search WGII for every single use of the word “malaria,” and see how it could possibly be used to support the sentence in the Nature piece where it appears. It cannot. Quite the reverse, in fact. And it certainly is not a high profile prediction of a current and future worsening of the disease in a warmer climate. Quite the reverse.
Well, Joe, if I must show that you are completely wrong . . . If you look at the IPCC WGII TS (PDF, p. 47), it clearly says that model studies show an increase in the global burden of malaria (emphasis added):
Mixed projections for malaria are foreseen: globally an estimated additional population at risk between 220 million (A1FI) and 400 million (A2) has been estimated. In Africa, estimates differ from a reduction in transmission in south-east Africa in 2020 and decreases around the Sahel and south-central Africa in 2080, with localised increases in the highlands, to a 16-28% increase in person-months of exposure in 2100 across all scenarios. For the UK, Australia, India and Portugal, some increased risk has been estimated.
This statement is utterly unambiguous and contradicts Joe's claim that the IPCC did not project a future with an increased malaria burden due to climate change. The Nature paper was properly cited.

Why then is Joe huffing and puffing? Perhaps it is because he has been among those hyping a malaria-climate change link, referencing it often on his blog. Consider that it was just one year ago that Romm was criticizing the IPCC for low-balling its projections of climate impacts, approvingly repeating that:
Climate change will have devastating consequences for human health . . . Malaria, tick-borne encephalitis, and dengue fever will become increasingly widespread.
Other experts are starting to get tired of Romm's antics, such as David Stern at ANU:
Some of my coauthors on our work on malaria and climate change have an article (with others) in the latest issue of Nature. Their main point is that even if climate change has had an effect on the prevalence of malaria in the last century, that effect is swamped by everything else that has been going on. Also that the current distribution of malaria endemicity is no guide to future trends. Both these points seem pretty sensible to me but Joe Romm is outraged. He describes the authors of the paper as "sloppy" because he thinks they exaggerate the degree to which the IPCC support the "Malaria is increasing due to climate change hypothesis". This is a rather indirect criticism. He thinks the IPCC underplayed the threat and accuses them of saying the IPCC overplayed the threat. That's the best he's got against their paper... It's typical of Romm to trash a paper for extraneous reasons if it doesn't fit the global warming is always bad everywhere party line.
And also David Smith, a co-author on the Nature paper,
Joe Romm never contacted any of the authors of our study, but he does make some angry accusations. For the record, I’ve read the IPCC report, including the relevant sections. I’m part of the consensus that believes the world is warming and that human activities are the main cause.
[UPDATE: David Smith returns to DotEarth with another comment, here is an excerpt:
Joe Romm picked one sentence and one reference from our Nature paper and twisted it into a controversy. Then, he wrote a second, very aggressive post about my “non-response” posted here, in which he argues that I’ve tacitly confirmed the overblown controversy he’s stoked up. I've decided in advance not to read or respond to any more of Joe Romm's blogs after this, even if they're all about me. . .

On the whole, the academic publications about climate and malaria are a perfect example of hype. Peer reviewed publications on warming and malaraia have almost universally argued that warming will increase the burden and extend future range of malaria. Paul Reiter has been an outstanding spokesman for the other point of view. . .

The way Romm has framed this particular controversy, he wants to make us look bad no matter what we say or don’t say. That’s the whole point of being so aggressive with his “righteous anger.” I feel like the politician who was asked when he had stopped beating his wife. So how do I do the equivalent of answering, “I’m not married.”

I’m impressed at the way Joe Romm has taken that one sentence and its citation and made two complete blog posts out of it.

I wonder if "I wuz wrong" and "I'm sorry" are in the vocabulary of the fiercest climate blogger?