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5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that during the 20th century the Earth's temperature rose by 0.6 degrees centigrade and -- depending on which of the many climate models turn out to be closest to reality -- it expects the temperature to rise 1.4 to 5.8 degrees by 2100.

What does the IPCC think the effects of global warming may be? Flooding may increase. Infectious diseases may spread. Heat-related illness and death may increase. Yet as the IPCC notes repeatedly, the severity of such outcomes is enormously uncertain.

On the other hand, there's great certainty regarding who would be hurt the most: poor people in developing nations, especially those who lack clean, piped water and are thus vulnerable to waterborne disease. The IPCC points out that the quality of housing in those countries is important because simple measures such as adding screens to windows can help prevent diseases (including malaria, dengue and yellow fever) from entering homes. Fragile transportation systems can also frustrate disaster recovery efforts, as medical personnel are often unable to reach people trapped in flooded areas.

Two ways of dealing with global warming emerge. A more stringent version of Kyoto could be crafted to chase the unprecedented goal of trying to cool the atmosphere of the entire planet. Yet if such efforts resulted in lower economic growth, low-income populations in the United States and developing countries would be less able to protect themselves from the ill effects of extreme heat or other kinds of severe weather.

Alternatively, the focus could be on preventing the negative effects -- the disease and death -- that global warming might bring. Each year malaria kills 1 million to 3 million people, and one-third of the world's population is infected with water- or soil-borne parasitic diseases. It may well be that dealing with global warming by building resilience against its possible effects is more productive -- and more realistic -- than trying to solve the problem by driving our automobiles less.

Ted Balaker and Sam Staley are coauthors of "The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It" (Rowman & Littlefield).

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