CNN is reporting a new vaccine may cut the number of cases of malaria in half:

The preliminary results, which were announced at a malaria forum hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, covered 6,000 of the participating children, all aged between 5 and 17 months.

The developers, GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said it showed roughly a 50% reduction in malaria cases in a 12 month period following vaccination.

This is, of course, fantastic news, and the world owes a debt of gratitude to the scientists responsible for developing this vaccine. At the risk of being a bit boorish, though, I’d like to take a moment to consider the implications this has for the debate over global warming.

An increase in malaria rates was supposed to be one of the major negative consequences resulting from climate change. Some have estimated that a warmer earth would result in tens or even hundreds of millions of additional malaria cases. Like most issues in the climate change debate, this has been disputed. But it’s safe to say that those predicting an increase in malaria didn’t include this new vaccine as a variable in their models. In addition to saving untold lives, therefore, the vaccine may have the side effect of making warming a little less costly.

Now obviously, increased malaria is only one of many of the bad things that are claimed will result from climate change. Nor does the existence of the vaccine mean that malaria itself is no longer a serious problem. It does, however, raise a couple of broader points. First, the ability of human ingenuity to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems in unexpected ways is truly amazing. As David Friedman has noted, at the turn of the 20th people looking forward would have worried about whether there would be enough arable land available to grow food to feed the sheer number of horses needed to power a growing industrial society (not to mention the question of where to put all the horse manure). As it turned out, a new technology, the automobile, rendered those concerns completely moot. We have no way of knowing whether similar technological advances will also render much of the global warming debate moot.

And second, because of this, we could all stand to be a little more humble in our predictions about what climate change means for human welfare.

– Josiah Neeley