Injuries and intestinal disease – from storms and floods
Malnutrition and starvation – droughts
Injury and disease – mass migration and crowding
Intestinal disease – inadequate water supplies
Of course none of the projected health effects of global warming are new. Humans have always experienced disease, injury and starvation.
For example, the great medieval famine in Europe , between 1315-1317, was caused by deteriorating climatic conditions in a cooling period. Crop failures led to many deaths and also social unrest and crime – even cannibalism. And even today infectious diseases still cause one in every three deaths globally, mostly children (McMichael, 2001, Human frontiers, environments and disease).
History about global warming can now be written: . The trick is to ensure we don't become history as a species I suppose. Darwin would probably say: "Just adapt."
But we have also made some inroads. Haven't we?
Life expectancies are higher in many countries than they have ever been.
And deaths from infectious diseases are down though they may be rising again through having become complacent.
Malnutrition is slowly declining but obesity is increasing.
It is difficult to quantify the health effects of global warming as human health depends on individual and local factors. Obviously global warming will affect those of a less robust health more than others. And one’s health is often related to one’s relationships, income, nutrition, education, age and disability. Knowing this gives us many clues what to do about the health effects of global warming.
Health effects of global warming – Heat waves
In the 2003 European heatwave some 30,000 people died, many elderly among them. Global warming will bring more hot days. This will bring higher risks, especially where homes, in hot city environments, are not designed to cope with such heat and are not air conditioned.
In many countries where the population is aging the impact of heat waves could be severe. On the other side of the coin, there would be fewer cold-related deaths.
Health effects of global warming – Air pollution
Sudden events of air pollution have taken their toll in the 20th century. For instance 4000 to 8000 Londoners died from air pollution in 1952.
Hot temperatures increase the risk of ground-level ozone Burning fossil fuels does not only produce greenhouse gases but also air pollutants. The effects of these include aggravating lung disease, chest pains, coughing, and possibly cancer. Cardiovascular problems can also worsen.
Health effects of global warming – Storms and floods
Instances of injury from flying debris, or carried in flash floods will rise. Just think of all the pollutants in the floodwater in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Such floodwaters can lead to intestinal disease, including from parasites.
Toxic algae can be produced in warm, nutrient-rich waters and present risks of cholera and food poisoning.
Salt water encroachment from marine floodings may increase risk from water-borne diseases, including cholera and fresh water supplies are threatened by coastal salt water encroachment.
Health effects of global warming – Droughts
Droughts have a direct influence on staple food production of many kinds. Prolonged droughts can cause malnutrition, economic hardship from rising prices, and starvation. Of course the poorest countries that have long endured such recurring calamities are in areas that will be even worse hit. Rich countries have a wealth buffer enabling them to import food and energy resources. But they too, will feel the crunch when their money runs out or there is no food to be imported.
Health effects of global warming – mass migration and crowding
In the 2003 European heat wave some 30,000 people died. But about 15,000 died in Paris alone. Any hot weather is amplified in crowded cities with roads and brick to absorb, and radiate heat.
When you consider that many buildings are old and their designers never anticipated such extreme weather, you probably have some of the reasons for such a high city death rate.
When people live close together any infections can spread rapidly. And mass migrations of environmental refugees are predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by 2050. Perhaps in the order of 150 million people by 2050.
People with disabilities who are often poor and dependent on government pensions, appliances and medication will also suffer first as budgets are cut back in survival mode and some essential resources can no longer be obtained.
Tony McMichael sets it out comprehensively in his clearly written
There will be more cases of heat stroke, mosquito-transmitted diseases and gastroenteritis outbreaks. it describes these as threats to our very life support systems.
Health effects of global warming – What to do?
Like I said earlier, the most vulnerable will suffer most. Not only are they the canary down the coalmine but they also provide a framework for survival and more…
For thriving even under highly challenging circumstances.
Studies show that even greatly impaired people may live lives with a satisfaction rating that equals the average life satisfaction, or greater.
How do they do that?
They heavily invest in maintaining and creating good interactive relationships.
Therefore government- and private citizen policy around committed relationship, rather than individual competition, is a prime recipe for dealing with the health effects of global warming.
Likewise, alleviating poverty and providing education are known excellent remedies for overpopulation, deforestation and disease problems, such as malaria.
Next, renewable energy technology may have some answers to living with the now unstoppable effects of global warming, but without being grounded in such social strategies the end result will probably be a planet where the strongest survive.
And that is no sustainable way to live.
Of course there all the many energy-reducing, recycling actions that you can take.
We will not be able to obliterate the
health effects of global warming
on a steadily warming planet. But you and I can learn to live with it as best as possible.