Asthma – The New Climate Change Danger – Or is it?
By Ed Caryl
In the new state-by-state report from the White House, a new scourge caused by climate change has reared it’s ugly head. Asthma! (Gasp…choke…wheeze!).
In nearly every state, asthma seems to be the big concern, with hospital admissions and costs described in detail. No other disease is mentioned. Is Asthma the only disease that climate change is responsible for? Evidently. And Obama & Co. think it is really important we combat it.
Asthma has been around for as long as man has been around. The name is from the ancient Greeks. It is mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphs, so it is clear that asthma cannot be solely caused by climate change. The implication is that warming has somehow made it worse.
Asthma is a disease caused by allergies. The allergens can be nearly anything in the environment. Outdoors, pollen is a famously common allergen in certain seasons. Indoors, the usual allergens are organic dusts of all kinds: Dust mites and their excreta, pet dander, mold, building materials that out-gas solvents, other chemicals, and gases, like sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, formaldehyde, and in one citation, carbon dioxide. That CO2 could be an allergen seems very strange, as CO2 is present at about 4% concentration in every exhaled breath. If CO2 were an allergen, an asthmatic would not survive breathing. So simply raising the inhaled CO2 concentration from 300 to 400 parts per million in the air shouldn’t be a problem.
The answer is, of course, that the CO2 rise due to the normal rise in temperature as we warm from the Little Ice Age, has increased plant life, increasing pollen counts outdoors. Indoors, we now insulate all houses, and seal them against cold in the winter and heat in the summer, this traps the indoor pollutants mentioned above. At least that is one theory.
But, why tie asthma to climate? First, it is very prevalent. Some 8% of Americans suffer from asthma. Everyone either has it or knows someone that has it. But does asthma rise to the top of everyone’s daily concerns? Probably not. Less than 0.1% of asthma sufferers die from it. According to the Center for Disease Control, of the 2,468,435 people that died in 2010, 3,404 died from asthma. That is 1.1 deaths per 100,000 people. When all the things you can die of are rank ordered, asthma is number 89, right below cancer of the larynx and above gall bladder disease. Breathing problems are only 4% of emergency room visits for both adults and children.
But let’s look at who gets asthma, and another possible reason for the increase. This is a chart of asthma prevalence and poverty level. (Source here.)
Figure 1 is a part of a chart found here that describes who gets asthma. The top bar represents the prevalence of asthma in those poor at or below the poverty level, about 11%. The middle bar is the prevalence of asthma in those at or twice the poverty level, about 8.6%, and the bottom bar is the well-to-do that are above twice the poverty level, a bit over 7%.
So, asthma seems to be an affliction of the poor. Why is it increasing? Is it temperature change? Here are charts of U. S. temperature anomaly versus asthma prevalence.
Figure 2a, Asthma prevalence and U. S. temperature anomaly in °F, and 2b, the corresponding scatter diagram with the R-squared value.
There doesn’t seem to be any relationship with climate. Perhaps the problem is in simply being poor. Here are the charts of food-stamp participation (SNAP) and asthma.
Figure 3a, Asthma prevalence and SNAP participation, and 3b, the corresponding scatter diagram with the R-squared value.
It appears to this author that asthma is an economic problem, not a climate problem, and I thank the current government for drawing this to our attention. Poor people can’t afford to properly maintain their homes, so dust, mold, animal dander and other indoor pollutants build up and cause allergies, increasing asthma. Raising the cost of energy is not going to improve the situation, it can only make it worse.
This is just one more example of over-hyped rhetoric used in the climate change debate and how wrong-headed it can be. It is another attempt to invoke a monster under the bed. This time it turned out to be the wrong monster. I wonder what it will be next week.
Photo credit: http://www.youtube.com/MgI