Roger Pielke Jr., my favorite thrower of inconvenient hand grenades, wrote a provocative post this week about the linkage between malaria and global warming.
Malaria, Jeffrey Sachs writes, causes poverty.1 It does this by reducing economic productivity, creating a vicious cycle in which people get sick, can’t work, are less productive and therefore can’t afford the relatively inexpensive steps needed to protect against, and treat, malaria.
The result, according to Sachs (all the cool kids seem to be reading him these days): 3 million deaths, and a billion people sick from malaria every year in Africa.2
Providing the necessary assistance to help the extremely poor (those living on $1 or less a day) deal with malaria seems like a no brainer for the rich world. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. I mean, 3 million kids dying a year of a disease that’s treatable and preventable? What more need be said? But providing that necessary help, as Sachs and Richard Collier3 note, is also critical to helping pull the extremely poor out of that status.
But what is “pulling them out of poverty” if not increasing their economic footprint? And what goes along with that increasing economic footprint? Increased carbon emissions.
Roger’s done a notional back-of-the envelope calculation showing the dramatic increase in global warming emissions in Africa if we help them deal with malaria. In other words, treating malaria in Africa will contribute to global warming. I have no idea if Roger’s numbers are right in detail, but he’s clearly got the sign right (increase in greenhouse gas emissions). And the magnitude, whether it’s more or less than his number, is clearly going to be significant.
This is not, of course, to argue against treating malaria. It’s merely another illustration of the tangled relationship between disease, poverty, economics and climate change on a global scale. It’s a really hard problem.
(Picture courtesy Kenya Medical Mission)