Is Fighting Global Warming the Solution to Water Shortages in Malawi (or Elsewhere)?

by E. Calvin Beisner

In late May two evangelical environmentalists, recently returned from visiting Malawi, published articles in which they said poor Malawians are suffering from reduced rainfall caused by man-made global warming.

Jonathan Merritt wrote for Religion News Service, “In America, climate change is a matter of debate, but in places like Malawi, it’s a matter of life and death.” Judd Birdsall wrote for Huffington Post, “In Fombe village, Malawi, climate change is not a matter of political or scientific debate. It’s a matter of survival.”

The implication was clear: To help the poor in Malawi (and other developing nations), we must fight global warming.

If either author had dug deeper, he might have concluded differently. …


Although the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s computer models projected about 0.7°C of warming from 1979 through 2012 for Malawi, satellite measurements—unaffected by the problems that compromise land-based data—show no statistically significant trend in temperature. …

[While both Merritt and Birdsall claim that rainfall decreased in Malawi during the recent global warming, and both cited local farmers testifying so, in] reality, while rainfall amounts have risen and fallen in Malawi since 1900, there is no significant trend, as the data in the table below show. In 1990–2009, Malawi’s average monthly rainfall was 4% higher than in 1900–1930, 0.5% lower than in 1930–1960, 3.1% lower than in 1960–1990, and virtually identical to the average for the full 110 years, and there was no apparent delay or shortening of rainy seasons.

Are poor Malawians suffering from water shortages? Yes. Is that because of global warming—manmade or natural? No. Is fighting global warming the solution? No. …

The real solution to Malawi’s water needs is economic growth that will enable Malawians to bear the costs of improved water transportation, storage, purification, and conservation through efficient use.

screen_shot_2013-06-11_at_307_47_pm__3 (1)

Sad to say, however, if climate change activists succeed in enacting policies to fight global warming, Malawi’s economic growth will be curtailed. Why? Because abundant, reliable, affordable energy is an essential condition of economic growth, and activists seek to fight global warming by shunning the use of the most reliable and affordable energy sources for the developing world—coal and natural gas—and putting far more expensive “Green” energy sources like wind and solar in their place. As it happens, Malawi has abundant coal reserves and already mines them (PDF download), though it could benefit from mining far more to generate electricity and deliver its people from the smoke that comes from burning wood and dried dung as primary cooking and heating fuels—smoke that causes high rates of illness and premature death, especially among women and children, from respiratory diseases.

Ironically, and sadly, the climate policy Merritt and Birdsall want will only bring further harm to the very people they long to help, by prolonging their poverty—the real threat to Malawians’ health and life. [Read the whole article.]

[This article first appeared at, the world’s most widely read and highly acclaimed science blog.]

Protecting the Poor from Well-intended But Fallacious Climate Policy

My friends, if because of misdiagnosis a doctor treats the wrong disease, he can, with the best of intentions, do serious harm to his patient, wasting money on needless or even counterproductive treatment. Similarly, fighting global warming, the wrong disease, would cost the world trillions of dollars and slow the developing world’s rise out of the right disease, which is poverty.

To avoid such mistakes, people need to understand not only the science but also the ethics and economics of the debates over climate change and how—and indeed whether—to respond to it. Building that sound understanding is a major part of the Cornwall Alliance’s mission, and we need your financial support to do it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s