That climate conference is back on... but not at the CDC

Earlier this week we were notified that a long planned, three day conference on climate change and its effects on health, scheduled to be hosted by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, had been abruptly cancelled. At the time they were offering no concrete reason for the cancellation, only saying that they were looking into possibilities of holding it later this year.

What a difference a few days makes. The conference is back on! Well… sort of. There will be a conference, but it won’t be at the CDC. The federal government won’t be involved and it’s being (re)organized by Al Gore. (WaPo)

It turns out there will be a conference in Atlanta next month about climate change and its effects on public health. It just won’t have the federal government behind it.

The reason? Former vice president Al Gore.

“He called me and we talked about it and we said, ‘There’s still a void and still a need.’ We said, ‘Let’s make this thing happen,’ ” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “It was a no-brainer.”

Looking at the details, it’s actually rather misleading to say that the meeting is back on. There will be a meeting, but it’s going to be held at the Carter Center in Atlanta. (Yes, the one founded by Jimmy Carter.) And rather than being paid for on the taxpayer dime, it’s being funded by a group of NGOs including the Turner Foundation, the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Climate Reality Project. (That last one is Al Gore’s own pet project.) As to the CDC, it’s still unclear if any of their staff will be attending or, if they do, whether they’ll be doing it on their own time or as official representatives of the federal government.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with this in terms of government policy. It’s now a privately owned and operated conference which isn’t taking up any taxpayer money or creating government policy. If they want to have a meeting and pay for it themselves, more power to them. But this rapid evolution does give us the opportunity to ask why the conference was being hosted by the CDC in the first place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has turned into something of a political hobby horse in recent years. Rather than focusing on stopping the next epidemic, wiping out diseases or developing better vaccines, political activists have gotten in the habit of demanding that the CDC “conduct a study” of everything under the sun to determine the health effects of x, y or z. That’s why we were already asking why the CDC wanted to do research on gun violence. There was no medical value to be gained from this because we already know that being shot by a gun has adverse health effects. There’s no mystery there. It was a ploy to try to generate more documentation to prop up gun control laws.

We could ask the same question about this conference. Let’s just assume for the moment that not only is the planet warming, but that it continues to do so into the foreseeable future. What health effects would the CDC be focusing on? If people live in an area which is one half of one degree warmer than it was previously, the actual health effects should be negligible. If that leads to something like more mosquitoes spreading a new form of malaria, then fine. Study malaria. If rising seas or a sudden storm wash away your house you could certainly experience some adverse health effects, but that’s more of a matter for FEMA to deal with. I doubt we’re going to suddenly learn anything new on the medical front about drowning. If you have less food to eat because a changing climate is affecting agriculture you’ll experience some health effects as well, but after several thousand years of recorded history I think we’ve probably got a pretty good handle on how starvation works.

Rather than using the CDC to prop up climate change politics, it might be refreshing to see the Centers for Disease Control get back into the business of, oh… I don’t know… controlling disease?