Sunday, December 25, 2011
Could Public Health Benefits Make Combating Climate Change Free? by David Biello
Climate change threatens human health, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions may help our medical well-being, too.
As the team leader for climate change and health at WHO and an environmental epidemiologist, Campbell-Lendrum is also in a position to worry more about how global warming is going to affect such so-called vector-borne diseases. "Is climate change going to bring malaria back to the U.S. and Europe? It's not," he asserts. "Climate change is eroding the environmental determinants of health: water, food, increasing disease," he says. Already WHO research suggests that current warming of global average temperatures of just under one degree Celsius is responsible for an additional 150,000 deaths per year, largely due to agricultural failures and diarrheal disease in developing countries. "All the inputs are on the conservative side," says Campbell-Lendrum, who helped come up with the number.
As a result, WHO—and a consortium of other public health organizations—declared climate change to be among the most pressing emerging health issues in the world at the recent climate negotiations here in South Africa. Consider some of the changes that are already taking place: extreme heat waves, such as the one in Europe in 2003 that killed 46,000 people; changes in bacterial diseases due to water contamination and a quickening of bacterial growth rates in warmer temperatures; worsening levels of ground-level ozone, otherwise known as smog, which is responsible for worsening asthma and heart attacks (among other health effects); changes in pollen making allergies worse; changes in vector-borne diseases; as well as droughts, floods and other forms of extreme weather such as the 12 natural disasters in the U.S. this year that caused at least $1 billion in damage.
"Those things are with us now," says Dr. Hugh Montgomery of the U.K. Climate and Health Council, one of the groups calling for action to combat climate change—and to consider public health when doing so. "If we continue this script, we are writing a death certificate for humanity on our planet."