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15 December 2009

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Russ

Arctic ice was only one of Al Gores problems with the facts. He made bold claims that climate change is aiding the spread of insect-borne diseases. The science does not support him, says Paul Reiter a real scientist.

In his serious voice, Mr Gore presented a nifty animation, a band of little mosquitoes fluttering their way up the slopes of a snow-capped mountain, and he repeated the old line: Nairobi used to be ‘above the mosquito line, the limit at which mosquitoes can survive, but now…’ Those little mosquitoes kept climbing.

The truth? Nairobi means ‘the place of cool waters’ in the Masai language. The town grew up around a camp, set up in 1899 during the construction of a railway, the famous ‘Lunatic Express’. There certainly was water there — and mosquitoes. From the start, the place was plagued with malaria, so much so that a few years later doctors tried to have the whole town moved to a healthier place. By 1927, the disease had become such a plague in the ‘White Highlands’ that £40,000 (equivalent to about £350,000 today) was earmarked for malaria control. The authorities understood the root of the problem: forest clearance had created the perfect breeding places for mosquitoes. The disease was present as high as 2,500m above sea level; the mosquitoes were observed at 3,000m. And Nairobi? 1,680m.

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