Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The earnings of denialism

President Jacob Zuma has announced a return to reality based AIDS program in South Africa. His predecessor Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Tshabalala-Msimang, had been captured by a nasty pastiche of their politics, intellectual arrogance and the attractions of denialism. What denialism gets you is

the statistics are almost impossible to digest. The country of 50 million has some 5.3 million people infected with HIV, by far the highest number of any country in the world. There have been an estimated 413,000 new infections this year alone. Someone dies of HIV-related illness every two minutes in South Africa.

There are still nearly 1.5 million people with HIV not getting ARVs, of whom more than 100,000 are children. This despite the fact that South Africa has more patients on AR drug therapy than any other country, a massive burden on a developing country with a chronically stressed national health system.

If you spotlight almost any demographic, horrifying figures emerge: one third of all South African women between ages 25-29 are HIV positive; there are 1.4 million Aids orphans and experts believe that one third of all children in the country will have lost one or both parents to the disease by 2015. Practically the only bright spot is that the rate of new infections has plateaued. But the number of HIV-related deaths will continue to soar for the next five years.

Zuma's new program calls for treatment for all children under 1 year old who have been exposed to HIV through their parents, regardless of their level of CD4 cells, earlier treatment for pregnant women, increased testing and more.

International donors, including the US are stepping up aid in response to South Africa's new programs

Denial kills, costs and confuses.


Connor said...

Hi Eli,

More stupid questions, completely off topic ;)

Can anyone explain briefly why it is that a global temperature shift of just a couple of degrees can have such a big impact when we have much larger variation on a regional scale?

Someone put this to me in an argument and I'm having trouble answering it adequately. Here is the question posed to me:

"This just restates the assertion. I understand that the claim is small shifts in global average temperature can translate into differences as large as that between our current climate and an ice age.

My question is: how can this be true, and is it ALWAYS true? I gave the example of temperatures falling sharply in temperate zones, but not yielding an ice age in those zones, because a 10 degree drop in those zones would be enormous--would certainly drop the global mean temperature by a few degrees--but would not, as far as I can tell, produce an ice age in those zones."

And then this

"There are many ways to raise the mean 3-4 degrees, or 10-12 degrees for that matter. Asking why such a relatively small difference in mean temperature could bring such dramatic changes as a new ice age is perfectly legitimate, and unfortunately cannot simply be a function of the mathematical definition of the concepts involved."

Sorry to bother everybody once again but I hate it when a denier unexpectedly gets the upper hand on me ;)

Martin said...

> Denial kills, costs and confuses.

Except, ironically, Holocaust denial. It just insults.

carrot eater said...

Mbeki's health minister was a disaster. She would have you believe that antiretrovirals were a poison peddled by the West, and that those with HIV should have beetroot and garlic.

Zuma didn't inspire much confidence earlier, when he thought that taking a shower after unprotected relations with a HIV-positive person was all you needed to prevent infection. Looks like he's wised up a bit.

Arthur said...

Connor - global average surface temperature is not the only determiner of change - it is a measure, an indicator, but not a cause of anything particular in itself.

In particular, ice age temperature changes, and the changes expected from global warming, are *amplified* in the (north) polar regions, so that a small change in the global average is associated with large enough changes to cause significant ice growth, or loss, in the northern hemisphere.

Also, assuming the global temperature change extends to some depth into the oceans, there is a natural expansion or contraction of the water that will lead to sea level changes independent of any ice melting or refreezing.

But the major impact of a temperature change only in temperate or tropical regions would be on water vapor levels in the atmosphere. That would have various feedback effects (generally amplifying the forcing change) and result in changes in drought/deluge patterns, but likely not as significant as the changes in the Arctic seen in the ice ages or expected now.

Horatio Algeranon said...

A little off topic, but it does relate to the media's role in legitimizing denial -- particularly in the case of the recent email "controversy".

Climate of Intrigue

Horatio Algeranon said...

Horatio messed up the link above (sorry)

Climate of Intrigue

Connor said...

Arthur - So am I right in assuming that it's a combination of things like troposphere temp, sea temp and surface temp?

I probably should been able have figured this out myself, sorry to clog up your comments with my confusion once again Eli!

Marion Delgado said...


When they tested a fusion bomb, the regional temperature went up to way hotter than the sun.A really key issue is the energy balance of the Earth.

The two biggest positive feedbacks for that are the GHG atmosphere/ocean balance and albedo, and both are changing rapidly. It'd be nice if we had more clouds magically, or somehow CO2 really did provide enough extra vegetation to soak up the excess carbon, but not so.

And yeah, we've said all along the real change is in the oceans, which is why sea level rise (due to thermal expansion more than ice melting so far) has been so hotly contested.

Peter Wood said...

Interestingly, in the early 90s there was a wave of denial about loss of ozone, and links with skin cancer. Some of the people involved are now involved with global warming denial.

GFW said...

Peter - Yes, and some of the same people were involved in disputing the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer. It's an industry, and Doubt is their Product. See

Getting back to Mbeki, I note that while overall HIV infections in S.A. are just over 10% of the population, the article notes that over 30% of women 25-29 are HIV positive - precisely the cohort who came of age during the earlier part of Mbeki's rule.