Some of you may have said to yourselves over the years, “Yeah, yeah. Climate change. Hug a tree. Save the polar bears and manatees. Whatever. I’m just SO over the sexy megafauna, appeal-to-emotion approach.” Well, have I got a story for you!

In April, the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Jonathan Patz, who holds a medical doctorate and a masters degree in public health, gave a riveting lecture at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment on how climate change affects public health. And pretty much everybody wants to live long and prosper, so I’m guessing you care about your health just as much as I do and want to know more…

Well, basically, there is increasing scientific evidence that climate change is hazardous to your health.

The end.

Just kidding!

The logic is that basic changes in the Earth’s physical environment affect public health. Take one example, as warmer climates trigger species migration, vector-borne diseases like malaria and Lyme disease will leave traditional zones to infest new land areas. That’s good news for some people, but bad news for others.

Yuck!: Polar bears might make better poster-children for climate change afterall
Yuck!: Polar bears might make better poster-children for climate change afterallCourtesy Scott Bauer, USDA

Let’s break that idea down: global climate change suggests that some regions will experience warmer annual temperatures. Mosquitoes (that carry malaria) and ticks (bringers of Lyme disease) are cold-blooded, which means they don’t make their own heat and have to “steal” heat from their surroundings. Regions with warmer annual temperatures are attractive real estate for cold-blooded critters. As climate change increases annual temperatures, tick and mosquito habitat ranges will shift. Like many people, mosquitoes and ticks will move into warmer, better neighborhoods. Unfortunately for their new neighbors, the baggage of these insects causes fever, vomiting, and diarrhea (malaria) or rash, joint pain, and numbness (Lyme disease). Yikes!

Other symptoms of climate change (i.e. extreme weather and rising sea levels) have the potential to increase the severity of diseases like heat stress, respiratory diseases like asthma, cholera, malnutrition, diarrhea, toxic red tides, and mental illness (due to forced migration and overcrowding).

Not to be a downer, Patz pointed out that tackling global climate change might be the greatest public health improvement opportunity of our time in terms of number of lives saved, hospital admissions avoided, and ultimately health care cost decreases (which everyone needs!).

Is there any other good news?? Uh, besides less frostbite? No, seriously: on the bright side, warmer weather should increase the amount of physical activity of the average person (not many of us like to run in the dead of winter, you know), and, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin put it, "…an increase of two or three degrees wouldn't be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” So, yeah, there is some good news, but the real question is: does it outweigh the bad stuff?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Thanks for breaking down these important subjects and making it easier for us (non scientists) to understand!
P.S., KelsiDayle, I watch for your entries. Keep up the good work!

posted on Tue, 05/18/2010 - 4:20pm
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

According to yesterday's BBC News story on a study published in Nature by American, British, and Kenyan scientists:

"Climate change will have a tiny impact on malaria compared with our capacity to control the disease..."

posted on Thu, 05/20/2010 - 3:01pm
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

More information on the link between the environment and your health: A June 18th Scientific American article reported on a study claiming that rain forest clear-cutting is linked to rising cases of malaria in Brazil.

"They found that a loss of just four percent of forest cover was associated with nearly 50 percent more malaria cases. And malaria risk was highest five to 10 years after the jungle was cleared."

The main reason? The malaria-carrying mosquito, Anopheles darlingi, thrives in disturbed areas.

Rain forest destruction also increases CO2 levels in the atmosphere and decreases biodiversity (see NASA's Earth Observatory site for more).

posted on Wed, 06/23/2010 - 10:34am
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

As covered by Scientific American, another article recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, confirms that climate change is indeed a threat to public health, saying:

"...heat waves threaten the vulnerable, storm runoff overwhelms city sewage systems and hotter summer days bake more pollution into asthma-inducing smog..."

posted on Tue, 07/13/2010 - 3:55pm
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

Spread of Deadly Cryptococcal Disease in U.S. Northwest Linked to Global Warming

"A deadly infectious disease once thought to be exclusively tropical has gained a toehold in the Pacific Northwest, and health experts suspect climate change is partially to blame."

posted on Tue, 07/27/2010 - 1:46pm
tedsheldom's picture
tedsheldom says:

As we well known with the fact that human being are always suffered from various diseases during climate change, just because of lack of body resistant power so climatic changes are always hits with different varieties of diseases.

posted on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 12:27am

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