Global warming threatens the world’s health

An increase in malaria carrying mosquitoes and deer ticks that spread lime disease are living signs that climate change is likely to exact a heavy toll on human health. These pests and others are expanding their ranges in a warming world, which means people who never had to worry about them will have to start. And these are hardly the only health threats from global warming.

The Lancet medical journal declared in May 16 commentary: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. Individual threats range from single to very complex, the Lancet said, reporting on a year long study conducted with University College London.

The UN intergovernmental panel on climate change projects 25% more heat waves in Chicago by the year 2100; Los Angeles will likely have a four-to-eightfold increase in the number of heat wave days by centuries’ end.

These “direct temperature effects” will hit the most vulnerable people hardest, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), especially those with heart problems and asthma, the elderly, the very young and homeless.

The EPA has declared that carbon dioxide (CO2), a powerful greenhouse gas, is a danger to human health and welfare, clearing the way for possible regulation of emissions. As it becomes hotter, the air can hold more moisture, helping certain disease-carriers such as the ticks that spread lime disease, thrive, EPA, said.

A changing climate could increase the risk of mosquitoe-borne diaseses like malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and various viral cuases of encephalitis. Algae blooms in water could be more frequent, increasing the risk of diseases like cholera. Respiratory problems may be aggrevated by warming induced increases in smog.

Other less obvious dangers are also potentially devastating. Insects are spreading in the US, and while immediate protection is possible, the only real solution is to curb climate change, Epstein said in a telephone interview.

Epstein said CO2 emissions also stimulate ragweed, some pollen-bearing trees and fungi, extending the spring fall allergy and asthma seasons.

It is hard to quantify the potential financial cost of US climate-change related health problems, said Dr. Chris Portier of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Some costs might actually decline if programmes are put in place to cut green-house emissions from fossil fuels, which also reduce toxic air and water pollution. Without cuts in CO2 emissions, that pollution will remain, and other unhealthy effects of climate change will continue, including more severe floods, droughts, heat waves and storms.

Reuters: Quoted from the Monitor 27th May 2009