Obama’s Bogus Asthma Attack

In his speech of August 3, 2015 President Obama invoked pity for asthmatics in promoting his Clean Power Plan, and did that mainly to forestall criticism of the plan.   I am not an asthmatic. But, I am a life-long respiratory-allergy and chronic-sinusitis patient treated by an allergist.   So, I do have some empathy with asthmatics; as well as some ‘skin in the game’ of my own.   I am also an energy-conscious HVAC engineer of many years (more on that later).

 

Despite Obama claiming power plant pollution (directly or indirectly) causes asthma, this link (see http://acaai.org/news/facts-statistics/asthma ) suggests the assertion may be strained, and that he is using scare tactics to sell his plan. Eliminating one highly contested pollutant out of so many proven asthma irritants and factors seems, to me, unlikely to produce much of a measureable difference to actual asthma sufferers.   Known triggers include pollen, dust, animal dander, drugs and food additives, as well as viral respiratory infections and physical exertion; most of which can be controlled regardless of variations in the outdoor environment. Inhaling CO2 certainly doesn’t trigger asthma; else every asthmatic would need a CO2-free backpack. Therefore, it can only be indirectly that CO2 might be a factor for asthma, and the same is true of other respiratory ailments, none of which are directly affected by exposure to CO2 short of levels high enough to cause asphyxiation (which no one is claiming).

 

Obama claims his plan will alleviate 90,000 asthma attacks per year.   My above linked fact sheet reports 26-million Americans are asthmatics, of which about half (53% had an attack in 2008, see http://www.aaaai.org/about-the-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics.aspx ).   That translates to about 13-million attacks per year.   90,000 divided into 13-million is 0.0069 or about 0.7%. While statistically significant, this much reduction is not significant enough to establish CO2’s credentials as a major asthma factor.   Saying this differently, 0.7% is down in the statistical ‘noise’ level.   But, even this 90,000 figure appears to be an exaggeration arrived at by simplistically multiplying current asthma attack statistics by an, as yet to be shown, increase in ‘extreme weather’ events.   This is a little like the presumption made years ago that air bags would save far more lives than it actually did.   In that case, human response to the greater safety afforded by air bags was that we became increasingly more careless until injuries and fatalities returned to something near their former level.   I call this, ‘The Seat Belt Effect’, because the same thing happened when those were introduced.   The same is true of allergy sufferers and asthmatics that we respond to risk behaviorally until some kind of equilibrium between competing motivations is reached.

 

Warming temperatures will, of course, increase plant growth; and that necessarily increases pollen.   But the common response of both allergy sufferers and asthmatics is to guard against unnecessary exposure. We medicate for it and/or move inside as necessary.   A few of us will forget or brave irritants to be outside (just as we do now), but that is a personal choice we make and chance we take.   We quickly learn to be less bold or stupid; and that behavioral response will only increase as exposure increases. Therefore, I predict the percent of attacks from this aspect of warming will remain about the same regardless the exposure.

 

According to my links above, other factors affecting asthmatics include extreme hot, wet or windy weather (emphasis on ‘extreme’).   Extremes are not all day, every day of the year events and will, most likely, occur only a little more often than they do now (that assumes, of course, our scientists all agree – which they don’t – that warmer climate results in more extreme events).  How much worse can it be?   Projections are anything from treble to none to half (with none-to-half borne out by weather records).   For argument’s sake, let’s assume it produces a 1% increase in extreme hot, dry and/or windy weather strong enough to trigger asthma attacks.   Does it matter these events are more extreme (i.e., hotter, wetter, windier than present), or only that they exceed a certain threshold?   I could not find specifics on how temperature, humidity and wind affect asthmatics beyond threshold, so must assume frequency and length of exposure matter more than event severity to this calculation. Let’s further assume plan evaluators got their 90,000 figure (because they haven’t volunteered the information) based on a simplistic calculation that ignores behavioral response.   If that is true, then the 90,000 figure is grossly overstated.

 

According to one source (see http://www.everydayhealth.com/asthma/how-weather-affects-asthma.aspx ), sudden changes in weather are of greater concern to asthmatics than are simple extremes.   So too is breathing through the mouth, which allergies and asthma often force on us when nasal passages become constricted. The answer to that problem is to wear a surgical mask when outside or when the exposure is great (e.g., cutting grass).   If warmer climate means local weather will be more erratic and extreme, then there might be some truth to the claim warming will result in more asthma attacks.   But, what if that is not the case, and is simply something proponents have latched onto (and now won’t let go of) to sell their narrative to the public.   There have been scientific papers written both for and against the proposition, but the historical record is our best barometer, and that appears to prove the proposition is false (see http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/25/new-study-suggests-global-warming-decreases-storm-activity-and-extreme-weather/ ; also see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/does-global-warming-mean-fewer-hurricanes/ ). On the subject of warming and weather, let me leave you with this quite reasonable explanation by an eminent climatologist (see http://www.drroyspencer.com/2014/02/how-much-weather-is-being-caused-by-climate-change-maybe-1-part-in-1000/ ) who is not at all a warming skeptic.

 

It has yet to be established exactly how increased atmospheric CO2 will affect actual weather patterns.   Predictions of climate changes and weather extremes have been all over the map, and are largely speculative and sometimes based on faulty assumptions.   Roy Spencer and John Christy are highly respected climatologists specializing in cyclonic weather patterns and events, who have repeatedly cautioned warming is more likely to result in milder rather than harsher weather patterns; and, so far, the historical records appear to support this (see http://wattsupwiththat.com/reference-pages/climatic-phenomena-pages/extreme-weather-page/ ).   So, I have to ask, by what reckoning is Obama/EPA certain a few degrees of warming will result in precisely the kind of changes likely to harm asthmatics?

 

The next question we have to ask is: just how much of the presumed weather worsening will the Obama plan prevent.   According to Dr. Judith Curry, climate-scientist and longtime ‘luke-warmist’ critic of climate policies, “<i>It has been estimated that the U.S. INDC of 28% emissions reduction by 2025 will prevent 0.03oC in warming by 2100 … </i>[and a]<i> … U.S. INDC of 80% emissions reduction by 2025 will prevent 0.11oC warming by 2100. And these estimates assume that climate model projections are correct; if the climate models are over sensitive to CO2, then amount of warming prevented will be even smaller</i>” (see http://judithcurry.com/2015/08/03/president-obamas-clean-power-plan/ ).   That is not a whole lot of ‘bang for the buck’ when you consider IPCC/EPA currently projects a 4°C to 8°C increase by 2100.   The natural or observed rate of rise is 0.3°C/decade, and will occur regardless any actions we take now to curb CO2 emissions.   That means IPCC is really saying a 1 to 5C additional increase from ‘unnatural causes’. Unstated is that some of these ‘unnatural’ sources (e.g., bovine flatulence, swamp gas, &c) are naturally occurring, only augmented by human activities.   The smaller real human-influence is on atmospheric CO2, or the smaller CO2’s influence on climate, the smaller will be the benefit from Obama’s planned restrictions on power production.

 

The final question all citizens should be asking is: how much will this cost and when. The when part is easy, as it is the habit of all politicians to kick costs down the road to some later date when it no longer affects their reelection.   That means our kids get to pay for our failures to consider both sides and (assuming the measure is a bad idea) to oppose it.   According to AEI’s Ben Zycher, the plan is all cost and no benefit ($600-750 billion per year, see http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2015/08/05/president_obamas_clean_power_plan_all_cost_no_benefit_101768.html ).   Others disagree strongly, so I like to poll more than one source, check each for hidden agendas (we all have some), evaluate their analysis for flaws, and then make up my own mind.   I find partisan sources useful if properly used, as they quickly get at the nub of the other guy’s fallacies and agendas for me (rather like a jurist listening to opposing lawyers). I provide some links regarding cost estimates below, including official and partisan sources.   What I found is that critics do a far better job analyzing the probable costs of the measure than proponents do defending it (i.e., presenting us with a cost/benefit analysis we can believe). Proponents claim to have done a thorough analysis, but, from what little I can see, they are short on numbers and long on promises.

 

I have already established asthmatics are not entirely incompetent in managing the effects of weather on them.   They are now armed with medicines and inhalers that are fairly effective in controlling attacks when used properly, and the effectiveness of those measures is not greatly affected by irritant concentrations above threshold levels.   Asthmatics move indoors more when conditions outside are unhealthy for them (unfortunate, but safe).   Certainly, it is a lot safer today for asthmatics (even with warming) than it was before modern air-conditioning and medical advances; so, they are still well ahead in the survival game.

 

The evidence of man-made warming we have so far discovered is equivocal and proves almost nothing.   Only some unproved models and officious propaganda persists in asserting CO2 will force more warming on us than it has or as is occurring naturally. Claims of expert consensus are built on misrepresentations that conceal scientists disagree on specifics even as they agree on the general proposition our world is warming. They disagree a great deal regarding how much of the warming is due to us, what warming means for us (bad or good), and on what should be done about it (if anything). The trend is toward warming, certainly, but that cannot and will not be halted by behavioral or consumption changes we now or later make.   If anything, the evidence points to warming driving the increase in observed CO2, and not to CO2 driving warming or weather by more than a little.   Much has been made by modelers of secondary effects of CO2 driving water vapor, but that too is highly speculative and will not be resolved for many decades. The trend for the last 17 years has been flat rather than up, which, if Warmists are to be believed, should have been markedly upward regardless the natural variability based on the undue influence they assign to CO2.   That leaves only the ‘precautionary principle’; which Warmists have been exploiting (rather effectively) to stampede the rest of us into going along with an agenda.

 

One of the consequences asthmatics (more than most) need to consider regarding this plan is, what does going along mean to their health if Obama succeeds in cutting power plant emissions only to cut electrical capacity into the bargain. While considering, keep in mind Obama will be leaving office in less than two years, and cannot, thereafter, be held to account. I assume one of the ways power producers will meet compliance targets is to curtail production, perhaps curtailing power during peak hours (i.e., mid-day) when asthmatics are most vulnerable. Of course, the time-line for emission reduction is so long few will remember claims made for the plan way back in 2015, nor care to revisit the question in 2040 having failed to oppose it.   I submit the threat of power curtailment resulting from this plan is more real and of greater impact to asthmatics than any threats posed by warming; which will happen anyway.

 

Ignoring Obama for the moment, we need to recognize there are many in the environmental movement to whom the end objective is not simply to reduce emissions.   That is but a stepping stone to a larger goal of ‘getting [forcing the rest of] us back to nature’; by which they intend everyone should live as our ancestors did in bygone ages. For those who do not suffer from exposure to the natural environment, that may seem positively bucolic.   But to those of us with compromised respiratory systems, a return to ‘living naturally’ condemns us to needless suffering.   And, in some cases, it even kills.

 

I invite any asthmatics reading this to show me where I am wrong in my assumptions regarding possible impacts to them from this plan (I really want to hear your thoughts on this). I realize the plan does not target electrical production for reduction (per se, only its emissions and coal), but it also assumes alternative power sources and efficiency miracles (both in production and transmission) will be forthcoming to make up the difference, while ignoring some pretty major infrastructure issues with which we are already saddled.   That is quite a leap of faith, with us left to suffer the consequences of such misplaced faith when things don’t work out as presented. Keep in mind, I am not saying curtailment will happen as I above described (in fact, I expect it won’t or not enough to kill), only that the more constraints we place on power production, the fewer options power producers have to meet our demand.   So, why should we box ourselves in given the need to do so is not real, does not really answer the problem as posed (warming mitigation), or cannot sufficiently mitigate warming’s assumed effects as actually matters to asthmatics.

 

It is my conviction that air conditioning has been a major blessing to mankind; and to respiratory ailment sufferers in particular.   Air conditioning without electrical energy is all but impossible, and I do not see alternative energy technologies replacing fossil power anytime soon.   I have nothing against alternatives to fossil fuels, and recognize they have niche applications where they do quite well.   But, neither are they the panacea they are hyped.   I also feel that fossil fuels have been unfairly scapegoated for reasons having nothing to do with climate.

 

Proponents of the plan are counting on an emotional backlash (against critics) they will certainly reap from asthmatics (and their families) to force this nonsense on us.   Most of those will not realize they are being cruelly used and duped. Inclusion of the bogus asthma reduction claim is typical of demagogic politicians who lie cynically about such things simply to shame critics into silence and beat Congress into going along.   This is in the same slimy category with tying proposals to child wellbeing (most voters have a few); thereby making any kind of opposition, however mild or unconnected, seem positively anti-child (e.g.: What, you oppose regulating balloons? You must really hate children!). Child asthmatics have 2-3 times as many attacks as adult asthmatics; which works great for demagogues. I am sure Obama and EPA are counting on this.   So, you younger supporters of the plan (who are asthmatics) please squirrel this boast of Obama’s away in the collective memory hole against the day you realize none of his promises are kept.

 

 

CPP Cost Estimating Links:

 

http://www.citizen.org/documents/fact-sheet-consumer-costs-EPA-clean-power-plan-march-2015.pdf – includes some pretty specious claims

http://reason.com/blog/2015/08/03/how-much-will-obamas-clean-power-plan-co

http://www.analysisgroup.com/uploadedfiles/content/insights/publishing/analysis_group_epa_clean_power_plan_report.pdf – government hired analyst argues the “costs [of the plan] will be much lower than the benefits to public health and … overall economy from lower CO2 and other air emissions”; which is a frequent argument (regarding social benefits) made by government, regulators and their backers that is almost never borne out in practice because largely unmeasurable. Moreover, what benefits there are, often go to different parties (e.g., corporations) than those paying the direct and indirect costs of the measure (i.e., ratepayers and taxpayers).   Nowhere does this analysis actually tell us how much the plan will cost, nor how much will be saved as is supposed to more than offset the cost of implementation.

http://www.c2es.org/publications/modeling-epas-clean-power-plan-insights-cost-effective-implementation – claims “savings of $4.5 billion to a cost of $33.5 billion per year, averaged over the 2020-2030 time period”. Analysis is built on idea CPP will result in greater power plant efficiency without showing how that is to be accomplished. Analyses of fossil-fuel (including coal) versus non-fossil energy sources are as nearly contested as claims made for human-driven climate change.   Apparently, most of the expected ‘efficiency’ savings is to come from replacing fossil power plants with ‘clean energy alternatives’ like solar and wind. Research I have done on those indicates solar (PV) and wind are only more efficient and less costly in the abstract. Solar and wind are compromised by reliability concerns (clouds, wind variability, &c), making them impossible to implement without backup power sources consisting of – you guessed – carbon power.   Wind has a further disadvantage of high rates failure requiring high maintenance. Solar and wind are unsustainable without large infusions of taxpayer and ratepayer monies. So you are back where you started, but considerably poorer.

http://www.americaspower.org/nera – $41 billion or more per year

http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/07/the-many-problems-of-the-epas-clean-power-plan-and-climate-regulations-a-primer – $7,000 per person in lost income & $2.5 trillion in aggregate GDP (both inflation-adjusted)

 

Additional Links:

 

http://www.drroyspencer.com/2015/05/nearly-3500-days-since-major-hurricane-strike-despite-record-high-co2/ Roy Spencer’s Warming website

http://www.globalwarming.org/2014/12/10/epa-should-re-examine-scientific-basis-of-climate-rule-john-christy/ – article heavily citing Christy

http://marshall.org/climate-change/7-questions-with-john-christy-and-roy-spencer-climate-change-skeptics-for-25-years/ – Christy & Spencer interview

 

http://www.epa.gov/airquality/cppcommunity/afam-climate-change.pdf – this EPA assertion that blacks suffer more from asthma than others suggests Obama’s interest in the plan has a racial component.   The claim by itself does not imply race-partiality. However, it is here being paraded to a black audience for support of the plan, and that does imply race-partiality.   It should be noted that blacks are concentrated in urban areas more than other groups. It stands to reason then they have, as a group, greater exposure to asthma inducing factors and triggers; and that would present as greater numbers of asthmatics.   The answer to this is to help more blacks get out of cities; not attempt the impossible at our children’s expense (because that is who is going to have to pay for this folly).   Current policy is not to get more people out of cities. Rather, it is to force more of us into cities because our leaders have gotten it into their heads that city life (for us, not them) is more efficient (see http://www.citylab.com/work/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/ ).   Forcibly weaning us off energy is part and parcel of that belief.

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