Friday, November 18, 2005

On Global Warming

From via Gristmill:

Extracts from
Climate Shift Tied To 150,000 Fatalities
Most Victims Are Poor, Study Says

by Juliet Eilperin for the Washington Post
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Earth's warming climate is estimated to contribute to more than 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year, according to the World Health Organization, a toll that could double by 2030.

The data, being published today in the journal Nature, indicate that climate change is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea throughout the world.

"Those most vulnerable to climate change are not the ones responsible for causing it," said Jonathan Patz, a professor at the [University of Wisconsin at Madison] Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and its department of population health sciences. "Our energy-consumptive lifestyles are having lethal impacts on other people around the world, especially the poor."

The regions most at risk from climate change include the Asian and South American Pacific coasts, as well as the Indian Ocean coast and sub-Saharan Africa. Patz said that was because climate-sensitive diseases are more prevalent there and because those regions are most vulnerable to abrupt shifts in climate. Large cities are also likely to experience more severe health problems because they produce what scientists refer to as the urban "heat island" effect.

Just this week, WHO officials reported that warmer temperatures and heavy rain in South Asia have led to the worst outbreak of dengue fever there in years. The mosquito-borne illness, which is now beginning to subside, has infected 120,000 South Asians this year and killed at least 1,000, WHO said.

Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a scientist at WHO's Department of Protection of the Human Environment, said its initial estimates of global warming-related deaths are conservative in light of Europe's massive 2003 heat wave and new research linking climate change to more intensive hurricane activity.

Climate change can contribute to such diseases as diarrhea, malaria and infectious illnesses in a number of ways. In warmer temperatures the parasite that spreads malaria via mosquitoes develops more quickly, for example, and a 2000 study conducted in Peru found that when the periodic El Nio phenomenon boosted temperatures there, hospital admissions of children with diarrhea increased exponentially.

Researchers have also documented an association between rising temperatures and deaths stemming from air pollution, since warmer, sunnier days trigger atmospheric reactions that worsen harmful smog.

Patrick L. Kinney, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, was the co-author of a study last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that predicted global warming alone could prompt the rise of smog-related deaths in the New York City region by 4.5 percent by the middle of this century, compared with the 1990s.

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