The threat of tropical mosquito-borne vector diseases becoming endemic in Britain in the near future made recent headlines in the unquestioning mainstream media, with particular pride-of-place given to the revelation that London could suffer endemic dengue fever transmission by 2060. Of course, like all good sandwich-board climate scare stories, this one has been walked around the park a few times in the past. In 2013, the Guardian reported that “leading health experts” were urging the Government to take action against the growing threat of mosquito-borne diseases, since “climate change could bring malaria to the U.K.”. Back in 2001, the newspaper reported British health officials had warned that malaria could return to southern counties “within 20 years” as the climate warms.
The latest catastrophising report comes from the U.K. Government’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA), led by Dame Jenny Harries. It is highly political in tone with Professor Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer at UKHSA noting that it “demonstrates the impact that climate change could have on our society if we don’t take decisive action”. It does nothing of the sort of course because, astonishingly, the UKHSA has based many of its headline-grabbing predictions on climate models fed with a presumption that temperatures will rise by 4-5°C in less than 80 years. Since global temperatures have barely moved much more than 0.15°C in the last 25 years, this 4-5°C high emissions pathway, known as RCP8.5, is little more than a highly implausible invention.
“Climate modelling under a high emissions scenario suggests that Aedes albopictus – a mosquito species that can transmit dengue fever, chikungunya virus and zika virus – has the potential to become established in most of England by the 2040s and 2050s, while most of Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of the Scottish Lowlands could also become suitable habitats later in this century,” says the report. Dr. Lea Berrang Ford, Head of Centre for Climate and Health Security at UKHSA, added that “a child born today will be in their working-age years when health impacts may peak or accelerate further, depending on how much we decarbonise now”.
Linking public health in this way using invented future temperature rises is a disgrace. It does a grave disservice to the British public who are entitled to receive timely and realistic advice on current and future health threats, not politically-driven scare stories based on unproven science and garbage-in, garbage-out climate models.
It is particularly disappointing to see the UKHSA, an executive agency of the Department of Health, making such a play of RCP8.5. In its latest assessment report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that “the likelihood of high emissions scenarios such as RCP8.5 or SSP5-8.5 [a later version] is considered low”. The UKHSA is using a ‘low likelihood’ prediction to make fanciful, politically-inspired claims of tropical disease epidemics to scare the young, in particular, to follow a collectivist Net Zero agenda. Regrettably, the RCP8.5 pathway is responsible for much of the ‘clickbait’ science that still dominates the mainstream media headlines, from the Gulf Stream collapsing, to all the coral suddenly dying in the oceans. For its part, the UKHSA describes RCP8.5 as a “plausible” scenario.
The science writer Roger Pielke Jnr. has long been a critic of its widespread misuse, noting that we can view it as one of the “most significant failures of scientific integrity in the 21st century so far”. His short explanation for how such an obvious corruption of the scientific process has been allowed to stand for so long is “groupthink fuelled by a misinformation campaign led by activist climate scientists”.
As I noted earlier, the vector tropical disease climate scare is dusted down at regular intervals. But the facts have refused to cooperate – since the U.K. Department of Health and the Guardian first told us in 2001 it could appear within 20 years, malaria has been keeping its long-term low profile.