MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Just Stop With the Climate-Change Disease Scaremongering, OK?

No, global warming will not spark a black death pandemic that kills millions

BlackDeathBumbaculuiDreamstimeBumbacului/DreamstimeThe Black Death could make comeback as the climate warms, asserts Oxford professor of global history and director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, Peter Frankopan. How? He suggests that melting permafrost in the Arctic could release long buried and frozen microbes to once again ravage the Earth's people.

According to Fox News, Frankopan warned, "If we go over that degree change, it's not about the Maldives being harder to visit on holiday or migration of people—it's about what happens when permafrost unfreezes and the release of biological agents that have been buried for millennia."

In support of his assertions, Frankopen pointed to the 2016 case in Siberia in which contact with a thawed reindeer carcass frozen 75 years earlier is thought to have sparked an anthrax outbreak that sickened several people and killed a 12-year-old boy.

Chief amongst the potential diseases brandished by Frankopen is the plague, which he asserted was spread in the Middle Ages largely due to a rise in global temperatures.

"For example, in the 1340s, a 1.5-degree movement of heating of the earth's atmosphere—probably because of solar flares or volcanic activity—changes the cycle of Yersinia pestis bacterium," he explained. "That one and a half degree difference allowed a small microbe to develop into the Black Death."

According to Frankopan, such a possibility should be taken more seriously than a rise in sea levels or droughts, not least because the Black Death wiped out between 75 and 200 million people in Europe in the 14th Century. "These are the things we should be hugely worried about," he said.

So how worried should you be about climate change induced pandemics of the Black Death? Certainly not hugely.

Recall that folks in the Middle Ages did not have access to antibiotics or vaccines. We do. For example, a recent report in Emerging Infectious Diseases notes that five cases of culture-confirmed human plague in Uganda were treated successfully with the oral antibiotic ciprofloxacin, including one case of pneumonic plague. In addition, researchers are well on the way toward developing effective new vaccines against Yersinia pestis. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted orphan drug status to one such plague vaccine.

As I have earlier explained:

It is true that at the margin higher average temperatures may help some diseases and their vectors to spread a bit, but with regard to controlling infectious diseases we've got much bigger problems than that. The fact is we already know how to control diseases no matter what the climate is—better vector control and the development of effective vaccines. Focusing on anything else is just another exaggerated environmentalist scare story.

By not taking modern science and medicine into account, Professor Frankopen and other similar alarmists are engaged in plain old scaremongering.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He suggests that melting permafrost in the Arctic could release long buried and frozen microbes to once again ravage the Earth's people.

    Are Frankopan and I the only ones who saw The Thing, people? (The original Kurt Russell one. No one saw that prequel.)

  • Pro Libertate||

    Hey, no love for James Arness?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Forgot all about that. So, no, I guess.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Peter Graves disapproves.

  • ||

    Are Frankopan and I the only ones who saw The Thing, people?

    Of course not. I keep a blowtorch, petri dishes, and spool of copper wire prepped and at the ready at all times. You'd never believe the eyerolls I get from the kids when I test them after they get back from camp.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That really just checks for diabetes.

  • Rat on a train||

    It's the primary reason I don't have a dog.

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    And it won't do these horrible things the "experts" who infest the walls within the IPCC say will happen if we don't repent before 10 years or some quasi-religious pantheist shit like that.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    How would a carbon tax solve this issue?

  • Eddy||

    The scientists can use the money to buy themselves a refuge from the plague like in The Masque of the Red Death.

  • Microaggressor||

    The scientists Green industry can use the money to buy themselves a refuge from the plague like in The Masque of the Red Death.

    Simplified.

  • Don't look at me!||

    The sun or volcanos made it warmer before, BUT NOT THIS TIME!

  • ||

    better vector control

    Better vector control : extreme vetting :: toe-may-toe : toe-mah-toe

  • Microaggressor||

    You know who else controlled vectors?

  • Dillinger||

    Victor

  • General_Tso||

    Roger, Roger

  • CE||

    We probably wouldn't leave piles of bodies lying around these days either.

  • ||

    Probably wouldn't dump our feces into the local river and then get our drinking water from it these days either.

  • A Thinking Mind||

    Not everyone lives in San Francisco.

  • CE||

    I heard it will be 2 degrees warmer and sea levels will be 2 feet higher (a hundred years from now) and we'll all make 2K less per year (93K vs. 95K). Doesn't really sound like an extinction level crisis.

  • NoVaNick||

    But what about the polar bears! And the children!

  • NoVaNick||

    The return of the plague isn't quite as ridiculous as some other predictions I have heard, such as alligators moving as far north as DC. Besides, I thought these climate change cultists wanted to shrink the human population-they probably are cheering for more and worse disease outbreaks.

  • ||

    such as alligators moving as far north as DC.

    Dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

  • MatthewSlyfield||


    By not taking modern science and medicine into account, Professor Frankopen and other similar alarmists are engaged in plain old scaremongering.

    It's what they do, it's all they do, and they absolutely, positively will not stop until....

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Until they can find something else to be even more hysterical about.

  • Microaggressor||

    Until they stop getting paid to do it.

  • Echospinner||

    So ciprofloxacin works for anthrax and the plague. Good to know. Will add that to the Zombie invasion stockpile.

    And remember "a blade never needs reloading" - Max Brooks

  • ||

    So ciprofloxacin works for anthrax and the plague. Good to know.

    You've got to be a millennial. Other conventional antibiotics are just as effective and cipro isn't recommended long term in children. Anything that's been frozen in the ice for any real amount of time likely isn't antibiotic resistant.

  • Alcibiades||

    The anthrax vaccine based on PA (protective antigen) is extremely effective. B. anthracis has basically one trick, its toxin, other than that it's really just another strain of B. cereus. Also, the LD50 for humans is several thousand spores, inhaling 10 B. anthracis spores just won't cut it.

    Now Yersina pestis (plague) is a whole other ball game, many, many tricks up its little "bacterial sleeve".

  • Alcibiades||

    A few years back in Texas and Louisiana several males went to the emergency rooms of their local hospitals with flu-like stmptoms and were treated as such, nothing worked.

    Within around 24 hours all were dead, massive failure of internal organs. From blood and tissue samples they isolated a strain of B. cereus, which is normally harmless, unless you're immunologically compromised. When they did molecular characterization and DNA sequencing they discovered the genes encoding the anthrax toxin. This, to say the least, raised some eyebrows within the defense community. Another tidbit, all the victims worked as welders and had been exposed to metallic vapors.

  • Nardz||

    C'mon.
    Be serious

  • Alcibiades||

    There's always one...!

  • Echospinner||

    A zombie can survive being frozen in ice. There is no cure or vaccine for the Solanum virus.

    Oh, wait. Sorry, got sidetracked there.

    Yes fluoroquinolones have limitations and are very useful. Good bolt to have in your selection for the crossbow.

    There I go again.

  • Woody Chip Hurrrrr?||

    There are so many stupid "because global warming" and generally PC articles these days. phys.org has some: New tool helps align investment with objectives in biodiversity conservation; Facebook's election 'war room' takes aim at fake information; Everglades restoration must deal with rising ocean, new report says; Estimating the feeding habits of corals may offer new insights on resilient reefs.
    nature.com has some: Gloomy 1970s predictions about Earth's fate still hold true; Polar bears turn to whale meat as their hunting grounds melt; Climate change is about to make your beer more expensive

    My pet peeve is the coral hysteria. They've survived millions of years, including the 400 foot sea rise in the last 15,000 years. You've got to be arrogantly stupid to think we are going to kill them all RIGHT NOW.

  • ||

    They've survived millions of years, including the 400 foot sea rise in the last 15,000 years.

    The whole thing is a shitty deception. Depending on which coral and reef you're talking about, it hasn't survived millions of years. The part of the coral we generally recognize and that makes up the majority of the reef is dead and has likely been through an Ice Age.

    So, when they say a reef is a million years old, they mean it the same way Rome or Athens is several thousand years old. Sure, it's been burned to the ground a couple of times, few-to-none of the buildings you see today were standing several thousand years ago, and at several intervals it may've been less populated than the surrounding countryside... the point is that we're killing something that's been there for a long time.

  • Woody Chip Hurrrrr?||

    Your analogy makes no sense to me. People whine about species dying when what really happens is individual members of a species die whose offspring are in a new species, or who have no offspring. No one says deer are millions of years old, they mean the species.

    I couldn't care less if any individual coral animal dies in 5 minutes or 5 million years. Coral as a species has survived millions of years and it is the height of hubris to think we puny humans are going to kill the entire species in just a few years.

    If I have misunderstood you, feel free to shame me.

  • Alcibiades||

    Vastly more species have gone extinct than are currently extant.

    Extinction is a natural and necessary process.

    A little more selection pressure won't harm mommy nature in the slightest, just might toughen her up!

  • Tony||

    Humans are not extremophiles. We don't even have that big of a comfort range on the thermostat.

  • ||

    Humans are not extremophiles. We don't even have that big of a comfort range on the thermostat.

    That's an incredibly idiotic and ignorant thing to say. Humans are defined by their broad adaptability. There is almost no biome on the planet that lacks humans. What other species can you say that of?

    That you personally have a narrow band of comfort "on the thermostat" has nothing to do with what sort of environments humans can survive in.

  • Alcibiades||

    Don't engage, he's a human mental defective.

    It obviously hasn't the first clue what an extremophile is.

  • ||

    Oh, I only engage Tony for fun. His particular combination of ignorant and smug provides endless entertainment.

  • Tony||

    Really? We haven't even populated Antarctica significantly. Or the Sahara. We are relatively highly adaptable, but you're still talking about a narrow range of environments.

  • Tony||

    I wonder how many millions have to die before we consider it more of a problem than Elizabeth Warren's genetic heritage.

  • NoVaNick||

    As long as they are only poor brown bodies who die, we don't care

  • Tony||

    Yes and I think we'll be amazed by how nonchalantly that indifference is transferred to poor whites, middle-class whites, and mere upper-middle-class whites the more desperate things get.

  • Dillinger||

    one person dying would be a start

  • Microaggressor||

    I often wonder something similar. How many more millions have to die before socialist ideology is discredited?

  • Tony||

    It already is, largely because of said millions dead. You trying to paint every modern liberal in every non-shithole country as a Stalinist is simply you being a fucking moron.

  • Microaggressor||

    So defensive!

    And yet, Venezuelans continue to starve while Teen Vogue preaches the evils of capitalism.

    Even more moderate movements like unions rely on tired old class conflict theory. Which leads to policies that impoverish workers. Some myths never die.

  • Tony||

    No sane liberal in America wants anything more than what the most advanced, prosperous, and happy countries on earth have achieved via public policy. Nobody is looking to dictator-led petrostates or anything like that. This is the benefit of having an evidence-based worldview rather than a dogma. Of course the dogmatists will still insist that we're just as stupid as they are, because I suppose not having an evidence-based worldview, they can't imagine having one.

  • ||

    No sane liberal in America wants anything more than what the most advanced, prosperous, and happy countries on earth have achieved via public policy.

    So no "sane liberal" in America wants minimum wage laws? Corporate tax rates over 25%?

    This is the benefit of having an evidence-based worldview rather than a dogma.

    Evidence-based like having some level of awareness regarding what laws "the most advanced, prosperous, and happy countries on earth" have versus what laws they don't? That kind of "evidence-based?"

  • TuIpa||

    "It already is, largely because of said millions dead. "

    This seems especially stupid and historically ignorant when you realize that those millions started dying over a century ago, and yet leftists you support like Krugman and his ilk were fellating Venezuela less than a decade ago.

    Maybe you should stop posting here and go handle your people.

  • ||

    I wonder how many millions have to die before we consider it more of a problem than Elizabeth Warren's genetic heritage.

    If the Trump Presidency manages to teach Tony that there are more important things to worry about than bullshit identity politics it will all have been worth it.

    Next thing you know, you'll be saying things like we should cut back on SS to mitigate AGW since those people are less likely to survive the coming climate apocalypse anyway.

  • ||

    I wonder how many millions have to die before we consider it more of a problem than Elizabeth Warren's genetic heritage.

    Actually, there's not much evidence that anyone other than Elizabeth Warren cares about her genetic heritage.

    Other, I suppose, than the Affirmative Action compliance reporting officers at Harvard in the 90s, but I gather they've found her genetics . . . disappointing.

  • TuIpa||

    As soon as she stops trying to gain power.

  • albo||

    See also: the recent "global warming will double the price of beer" scare. Except that barley, which is supposed to be harder to raise and thus more scarce if the Hell of 1 degree warming comes about, is a tiny cost of making beer. Sexy headlines generate clicks.

  • Alcibiades||

    Man this meme really has legs, so much potential here to exploit this lying fraud:

    https://twitter.com/realDailyWire
    /status/1053000372736811008

  • ||

    Even "HuffPost is saying that this is a major face-plant and will probably be the end of her.

  • Alcibiades||

    We can only hope it's so.

    American politics minus this lying fraud would be a distinct positive for the nation.

  • ||

    She might've gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling Native Americans.

  • Alcibiades||

    That statement from the Cherokee Nation was priceless!

    I'm feeling Warren's pain and loving it!

  • DaveSs||

    "For example, in the 1340s, a 1.5-degree movement of heating of the earth's atmosphere—probably because of solar flares or volcanic activity—changes the cycle of Yersinia pestis bacterium," he explained. "That one and a half degree difference allowed a small microbe to develop into the Black Death."

    If memory serves, the "Little Ice Age" began sometime between 1250 and 1300 (though at its most intense in the 1500s to 1700s) so uh something doesn't jive with a massive jump in the 1340s.

  • DaveSs||

    Further, I'm fairly sure that volcanic activity is usually associated with cooling not warming.

  • Number 2||

    I was about to say the same thing. I have a book at home how about the black plague epidemic that pointed out how global temperatures dropped in the 1300s to levels significantly lower than in the preceding centuries. He quoted scientists who argued that the colder temperatures lead to famines in the first two decades of the 1300s, and that the humans who live through those famines or more susceptible to the plague because of their compromised immune systems. So I was puzzled to read that global warming somehow had caused the black plague pandemic.

  • Tony||

    The only possible purpose I can see of climate optimism is the benefit to an individual's psychology of not being freaked out all the time. Surely scientists and policymakers should err on the side of precaution.

  • Microaggressor||

    And what if erring on the side of precaution quadruples energy costs? Why do you hate the poor so much? It's like you have an insatiable lust to make vulnerable people suffer.

  • Juice||

    It's like you have an insatiable lust to make vulnerable people suffer.

    He's staunchly against socialism, so he obviously hates the poor and vulnerable.

  • Tony||

    What if erring on the side of the status quo destroys the entire human species along with all the other ones that are already gone? Rather a precautionary position you're taking, isn't it? Only with deliberate ignorance of the entire context of the problem.

    "Everybody lock your doors and hide under your beds, the alarmists are coming!"

  • ||

    Only the most hysterically unlikely scenarios posit a mass-extinction event. But some jackass in recent years proposed that we start pumping the atmosphere full of aerosols in order to tip the planet into a cooling cycle so that we can forestall this coming super-serious tragedy. You know, "precautionary principle" and all.

    But do you know what would in fact be far more catastrophic and unmanageable than a few degrees of warming over the next couple of centuries?

    Do you know how precariously balanced we are on a climate that could tip into glaciation at any [geological] minute and is thousands of years overdue for doing so?

    Of course you don't, because you have no interest in science.

  • TuIpa||

    "Surely scientists and policymakers should err on the side of precaution."

    This is worse than when you came out as an anti-semite. If it were logical, the possiblity of having a monster like you would force your dad to push your mom down the stairs.

  • Juice||

    But if millions die, wouldn't that be good for the climate?

  • Ken Hagler||

    In real life, Bubonic Plague is not uncommon in the southwestern US. When I was a kid going camping in the mountains we would sometimes see plague warnings posted advising people to keep their pets inside. This never really gets much attention, because _this isn't the Middle Ages_. Now if someone gets the plague (and it does happen a few times a year in California) they just give him antibiotics.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "Oxford professor of global history and director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, Peter Frankopan"

    I lost track of him after that killer live album.

  • RabbitHead||

    Bring out your dead!

  • macsnafu||

    Obviously, global warming is the cause of all bad things happening, from bad weather to increased car crashes to my wifi signal messing up.
    If they keep making absurd claims like this, they may well end up getting people to just ignore them altogether.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online